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The Life & Films of Steven Spielberg + Myth and Reality in THE FABELMANS w/ Joseph McBride – Parallax Views

On this jam-packed, monster-sized edition of Parallax Views, acclaimed film historian Joseph McBride returns to the program to discuss the life and times of Hollywood filmmaking legend Steven Spielberg, his films, and his latest feature, the autobiographical coming-of-age drama The Fabelmans. McBride many books on cinema include Frank Capra: The Catastrophe of Success, Orson Welles: Actor and Director, Searching for John Ford, Billy Wilder: Dancing on the Edge, and The Whole Durn Human Comedy: Life According to the Coen Brothers, and, of special note to this conversation, the unauthorized Steve Spielberg: A Biography.

Among the topics covered in this lengthy conversation:

– Spielberg’s early career, working in television with The Twilight Zone/Night Gallery creator/host Rod Serling, his made-for-TV thriller Duel and horror Something Evil

– The success of E.T.: The Extraterrestrial and the point where Spielberg became a household name

– The importance of Jaws to Spielberg’s career

– The resonance of Close Encounters of the Third Kind with move-going audiences; applying Carl Jung’s book on flying saucers to Close Encounters of the Third Kind; the positive portrayal of aliens in Spielberg’s films; Spielberg and immigrant liberalism; the role of the broken family in Close Encounters of the Third Kind and how in some ways the movie may be about his divorced mother and father

– Spielberg wasn’t a darling of film critics when McBride wrote his biography of Spielberg; the phenomenon of Spielberg haters; the lackluster box-office of West Side Story and The Fabelmans at the box office and mixed-reviews from critics

– Steven Spielberg and Alfred Hitchcock; the idea that Spielberg is a master technical filmmaker but has little to say; Hitchock’s 1976 film Family Plot starring Bruce Dern and Spielberg’s attempt to meet Hitchcock

– The approach Joseph took to the research and writing of Steven Spielberg: A Biography; interviewing “ordinary people” rather than just celebrities; Robert Caro’s Lyndon Johnson biography; Joseph interviewed over 300 people for the book; interviewing people from all over the country because Spielberg lived in so many different cities and states, especially when he was growing up

– Joseph’s interview with Arnold Spielberg, Steven’s father, and the said moment for him during that interview; the underrated role of Arnold Spielberg in Steven’s life and amateur films; Steven’s relationship with his father and the way it is portrayed in The Fabelmans; the schism between Steven and his father Arnold

– The traumatic impact of Steven’s parents’ divorce on him in his adolescent years; family rupture, broken families, and the role of irresponsible father and mother figures in Steven’s films

– Picking apart the mythologized portrayal of how Steven got into Hollywood and the true facts of how he got into Hollywood

– The ambitious 1964 science fiction film Firelight, which Spielberg made at the age 17

– Spielberg’s dyslexia, his poor performance as a student in school

– The story of a young Spielberg’s experience seeing The Greatest Show on Earth and his recreating of that film’s train crash

– The common criticism that Spielberg’s movies are too sentimental or schmaltzy; the darker elements of Spielberg’s movies

– Spielberg’s first 35 mm short film Amblin and the role it played in  kickstarting Spielberg’s career

– MCA/Universal Studios head honcho Sidney Sheinberg and Steven Spielberg

– Spielberg as an actor’s director

– Spielberg’s mother Leah Adler

– The obstacles Joseph faced writing an unauthorized biography of Steven Spielberg

– The factual accuracy of The FabelmansThe Fabelmans as a semi-autobiographical film, and Francois Truffaut’s 400 Blows (Spielberg was a Truffaut fan and even cast him in Close Encounters of the Third Kind)

– The Fabelmans‘ tornado scene and Steven Spielberg childhood tornado experience

– A teenaged Steven Spielberg’s film Senior Sneak Day, Steven’s penchant for casting both his friends childhood bullies in his early films, his 1962 WWII film Escape to Nowhere

– A young Spielberg’s experiences with antisemitism and antisemitic bullying

– How a young Spielberg had trouble with his Jewish identity; wanting to assimilate with gentile in his youth; a telling moment where a young Steven was embarrassed by his ultra-Orthodox grandfather

– Spielberg’s use of Christian iconography in his films including in Amistad and E.T.

– Alienation, Other-ness, Otherization, and persecution in Spielberg’s films; Spielberg’s interest in communication with “The Other” as a theme

– Alice Walker, Black Americans in Steven Spielberg’s films, The Color Purple, and Spielberg as a “Minority Director”; the attacks on Spielberg over The Color Purple;

The Sugarland Express, Goldie Hawn, class, and the role of outsiders in Spielberg’s films

– The dark side of suburbia and smalltown America in Spielberg’s films

– E.T. and the truth of modern life; E.T. as resonating because it was unlike some of the Disney-style family entertainment of the time

– The accusation that Spielberg manipulates his audiences; film editing as inherently manipulative

– Spielberg, Stanley Kubrick, and Orson Welles

– Schindler’s List, Spielberg’s USC Shoah Foundation, and Spielberg’s meeting with black youths who had a much lambasted inappropriate reaction to the movie; Spielberg’s initial apprehension about directing Schindler’s List; Stanley Kubrick’s Aryan Papers, Roman Polanski’s experience in the Kraków ghetto, and the difficulty of making films about the Holocaust

– Liberal politics and the films of Steven Spielberg

– Joseph’s analysis of The Post, which attempted to chronicle the Washington Post and the Pentagon Papers story, and the problems McBride has with it

– Spielberg, 9/11, the Iraq War, the Patriot Act, and the Bush years; War of the Worlds and Minority Report

– David Lynch’s cameo in The Fabelmans as John Ford; Joseph’s interview/experience with John Ford

– The changing landscape of cinema, the dominance of superhero movies, and the history of the trend towards juvenile movies being cranked out by Hollywood rather than serious “adult” movies; are Spielberg and George Lucas responsible because of movies like Jaws and Star Wars?; cultural obsessions with superheroes and juvenilia and the effect of that on politics; The cultural shift from wanting realism in film to ‘magic’ and escapism

– The success of Jaws, national TV advertising, and myths concerning Jaws‘ theatrical release

– Billy Wilder’s attempt to sophisticate and “European-ize” American cinema; the Coen Bros. as the “Sons of Billy Wilder”; Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard and the blending of tragedy and comedy; Hollywood was upset that Sunset Boulevard criticized the film industry; was Billy Wilder a cynical nihilist?; the Coen Bros. and European funding; the Coen Bros mixing of comedy and violence

– Spielberg had trouble getting funding for Lincoln; John Ford’s lesson about film funding

– And much, much more!