This picture has been placed here because it is relaxing.
Are you sufficiently relaxed?
Because my grades have finally come in.
MEDST 342 (Genre: The Jewish Experience in Cinema) A-
MEDST 101 (Contemporary Media) A
MEDST 250 (Freedom of Speech) B+
Considering that I missed about 40% of Philosophy 105, I think that I did pretty damn well this semester.
Talented hack. Nothing more.
Interestingly, I got my final paper from my Genre class back in the mail yesterday. It was an A-, and he was intrigued by several points in the paper (he liked my analogy that what the Jewish soldiering experience in WWII was similar to that of persons of color in Vietnam).
However, at one point, he gave us a question listing several filmmakers and asked us to describe how their Jewish identity influenced their work. One of the listed filmmakers was Steven Spielberg, and I proceeded to tear him a new asshole. The professor made no comments about this, but the overall grade does suggest that either he disagreed with me, but felt I made some good points, or that he never saw Spielberg in the light that I showed him in.
The fact is, I view Steven Spielberg as an entertaining, but ultimately hollow filmmaker. When he's making a film purely for entertainment purposes (Jaws, the Raiders films, etc.), there are few craftsmen as talented. When he attempts to make something a bit deeper, he never quite gets there. Saving Private Ryan, while decent, is overlong and overly derivative of Samuel Fuller's war pictures.
Furthermore, I felt that referring to Spielberg as a Jewish filmmaker is absurd. If anything, his films attempt to remove any sense of the "other" from the American landscape. Schindler's List was an act of crass opportunism, using his ethnicity to finally get the critical recognition that he never earned before. It is to date the only time that Spielberg has ever acknowledged his Jewishness in a film, but notice that, as usual, it is about a righteous gentile.
I really hope that my essay opened the professor's eyes to this.
I bear no real ill towards Spielberg himself, my real ire is really about this bullshit reverence that people have for his work. Let's go through his filmography and see what we find...
Duel A pretty effective potboiler.
Sugarland Express Road movie. Nothing special.
Jaws A bonafide classic.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind Are we all old enough to finally admit that this movie is boring as shit?
1941 An attempt at comedy. A big mess.
Raiders of the Lost Ark A wonderful update of the old 40's Republic serials.
E.T. Maturity does not serve this movie well at all.
Poltergeist A decent bit of horror. Although Tobe Hooper is the credited director of this film, one needs only look at the damn thing to see who the auteur is. The legends about the fights Hooper and meddlesome Spielberg had are the stuff of Hollywood legend.
Twilight Zone: The Movie (Segment 2- Kick the Can) Saccharine bullshit.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom Although not without its flaws, the breakneck pace and visually arresting action setpieces make this brainless adventure compelling.
The Color Purple Give me a break. Spielberg is way out of his element here and it shows.
Empire of the Sun Interminable.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade The limitations of the formula are really apparent in this flagging sequel.
Always Not so terrible, mostly because he's not taking himself too seriously here, turning down the self-importance.
Hook A nice concept, but unfortunately it falls flat.
Jurassic Park Great special effects. That's about it.
Schindler's List See above.
The Lost World I couldn't even get through the whole thing.
Amistad Again, great idea, but overly preachy.
Saving Private Ryan See above.
A.I. One of the greatest crimes against mankind. Spielberg should have to split his fortune among all those who actually had to sit through this.
Minority Report A distinct improvement over A.I. (like that's saying much), but still quite a confused piece of film.
Catch Me If You Can Again, when Spielberg turns down the "art" and makes something fun, he's great at it. While this breezy story is nothing special, it is nevertheless entertaining.
The Terminal You can't convince me that this is going to be good. This isn't even a good concept, so Spielberg doesn't even have a decent springboard to start from.
Okay, so where's the "Filmmaker of the Century" here? If anybody deserves that monicker, it would be Orson Welles or Alfred Hitchcock or Ingmar Bergman... not somebody whose body of work has some blockbusters, but mostly consists of crap. Furthermore, I feel that any filmmaker that made A.I. needs to be brought before the Supreme Court for having inflicted cruel and unusual punishment upon innocent filmgoers.
Let's also not forget that Spielberg came out for Sydney Jay Sheinberg, and against Terry Gilliam, when the battle for Brazil was raging. Perhaps he was jealous of Gilliam's achievement, and couldn't bear to have Universal distributing Brazil? This is almost, but not quite, as unforgivable as having made A.I..
Of course, if there is one thing that I can say I really like about Spielberg's films is that he tends to get excellent work out of his usual composer, John Williams, who scored all of the above films save Duel (Barry Goldenberg), Twilight Zone: The Movie and Poltergeist (Jerry Goldsmith) and The Color Purple (Quincy Jones, primarily).
Speaking of whom...
As usual with a John Williams score on CD, the soundtrack album for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban unfortunately has significant omissions. While Azkaban isn't as bad as Chamber of Secrets (which leaves off much of the climax and the exciting Quidditch cue from that feature), it nevertheless omits the sinister autoharp theme that appears several times in the film (ostensibly related to the Marauder's Map, although it is also heard when Harry and Hermione enter the Shrieking Shack and when Pettigrew is revealed), and the "Finale" track on the album edits out the second Buckbeak flight. I have also noticed that either "Mischief Managed!" on the CD is slightly shortened or the cue in the film had to be lengthened.
The more I listen to this score, the more I hear in it. Minor leitmotives interweave throughout, including something that appears to be a "history of Harry" theme (it is very noticable in "A Window To the Past," and the "Finale") that is more mature than the "family" theme from the first two pictures. Although very little thematic material is kept from the previous two films, it fits with the very different style that Alfonso Cuarón has brought to Azkaban.
The opinion expressed above is that of Raz and is not necessarily indicative of the opinions of the journal-keeper.
After weeks of not checking on it, I have found that my Howard Shore group has swelled to five times its previous numbers. That is to say, there are now four other people there.