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Steven Spielberg: An intelligent entertainer

Steven Spielberg made his first feature in 1974. It was "The Sugarland Express" with delightful Goldie Hawn. The Express  steamed in during the era of directors in Hollywood, that of studios and their bosses having been long over. Legends such as  David O' Selznick had passed into history. So too had stars like  Viven Leigh and Clarke Gable and Humphrey Bogart.

Spielberg's entry into the hallowed portals of Hollywood could  not have come at a better time. It could not have come at a worse  time either.

Audiences were no longer enamoured of the stars of the time:  Carry Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Omar Sharif, Julie Andrews and Peter  O'Toole among others had begun to slip into the shadows.

But, it was also when established helmers like Martin Scorsese,  Robert Altman, Francis Ford Coppola and Brian de Palma had got  out of the restrictive studio system, much like their "god" Orson  Welles, who filmed "Citizen Kane" without his production bosses  snooping around his set. These auteurs had become strong brand  names and were almost monopolies.

Spielberg walked into this mood, switched on the lights, got the  camera rolling and pushed "The Sugarland Express" into what he  then felt was unknown terrain. But his reels of film surged  ahead, picking amazing speed. Which showed little sign of slowing  down. Which still show no fatigue or hesitation.

Steven Spielberg

Spielberg made many movies, the most interesting -- for, of course, varied reasons -- being "Jaws" (1975), "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial" (1982), "The Color Purple" (1985), "Schindler's List" (1993), "Jurassic Park" (1993), "Amistad" (1997) and
"Saving Private Ryan" (1998).

"Jaws" and "E.T. The Extra Terrestrial" highlighted Spielberg's showmanship. But they were not just mass hype. They had an impressive degree of class.

To dismiss Spielberg as just an entertainer, even a stylistic  entertainer, would be unfair to the history of cinema. He was  undoubtedly an artist: remember his "The Color Purple" and  "Schindler's List" where a fusion of form and content, elegance  and emotion tugged your heart strings. It appealed to your eye as it did to your mind.

Yet, it took Hollywood almost two decades to honour Spielberg with an Oscar: it  came for "Schindler's List", Best Director and  Picture.

He was ignored in the era of directors, but recognised, as it  were, at a time when market ruled and stars were once again  riding out of their Beverly Hills enclaves.

Why was Spielberg cast away ? He had made equally captivating  films before Mr Schindler compiled his list. "Jaws" and "Jurassic  Park" were stunningly novel. "The Color Purple" was fascinating.

We would never know, as we would never know why Sean Penn was  ignored till "Mystic River". Was he not many shades better in  "Dead Man Walking" ?

For Spielberg, many awards followed the Oscars. He has just been  made the Knight of the French Legion of Honour, the highest  trophy from the Gallic nation, for his fight against hatred and  intolerance.

His battle continues relentlessly. With two years to go before  he turns 60, he has not slowed down. His "Terminal 2004" is on,  where Tom Hanks plays an immigrant fleeing a war that is  destroying his European nation. He is stranded in a New York  airport when his country no longer exists. This leads to a  dilemma, for his passport and visa are invalid.

"Indian Jones 4" will follow "Terminal 2004". Spielberg's camera  perseveres and persists to freeze moments of magnificence. In  1998, Time listed him as one among the 100 best artists and  entertainers of the century. It wrote: "In the history of the  last third of 20th century cinema, Spielberg is the most  influential figure, for better and worse. In his lesser films he  relied too much on shallow stories and special effects for their  own sake. (Will anyone treasure 'The Lost World: Jurassic Park' a  century from now ?) In his better movies he tapped into dreams  fashioned by our better natures."

There were essentially two elements that contributed to his  success: wonder and hope. They came to him as a child, one night,  in fact, when his father woke him up in the middle of the night,  bundled him into a car and took him to a park, where Spielberg  watched in utter amazement a shower of meteor. The cosmic  occurrence soothed him, did not frighten him. What did was being woken up !

When you watch Spielberg's works these two feelings keep  cropping up. There is great wonder at what man is capable of  creating in "Jurassic Park".(Remember the spellbinding first  glimpse of the living dinosaurs.) There is hope in what he can  dare in Schindler's List". Spielberg draws you to discovery, and the key shot in many of his films is the revelation of wonder.

Well, Spielberg struggled and fought to give us all this. He was  denied admission in movie schools. So he studied English, and  went on a tour bus around Universal Studios.He jumped off it,  wandered around the back yard, made friends with janitors, found  an abandoned closet, turned that into his office and at age 24  was the youngest to be signed to a long-term deal with a major  Hollywood studio.

The Spielberg express races on.

(This story was posted on the website on September 15 2004)

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