The Spielberg Hundred #001: Introduction

Spielberg directing a dinosaur on the set of Jurassic Park: The Lost World

I’ve been asked to contribute a chapter to a forthcoming anthology of extended essays on the work of Steven Spielberg, to be published in 2015. I’m going to be focusing on his use of special and visual effects, with particular interest in his longstanding relationship with the effects house Industrial Light and Magic. Aside from a couple of pieces on Georges Méliès, I’ve never done a study based on a single director, so this will be a fun exercise for me. I might even manage to produce a couple of articles out of it if it proves fruitful. Aside from his recent work, and a couple of films I re-watched during research for Performing Illusions, I haven’t seen the old Spielbergs since I was firmly in their target demographic. His films defined my childhood cinematic experience. It’s a toss-up whether Close Encounters was the first film I saw, or if it was Pete’s Dragon, at age 3 (memory eludes me), and I followed avidly anything he made, or had a hand in. As I start to read around the subject, the first thing I notice is how strange it is to be reading contemporary reviews or responses to those early films. I consumed them as an enraptured, enthralled child, so to find them analysed, panned, or railed against by critics, scholars, and skeptics, in whose ilk I now find myself. It’s fascinating, for example, to see Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom reviled as a nasty, racist, sexist, career-low, when all I can recall is how thrilled I was by it when I was 9 years old. And even if I hadn’t seen Raiders of the Lost Ark for more than two decades, I’ve found, revisiting it, that I can remember every shot, every line, every facial expression, thanks to compulsive repeat viewings of a copy taped from the TV and worn out from multiple rewinds and freeze-frames. It’s extraordinary how firmly logged those images were, buried deep in my brain, and how readily they tumble back out again when prompted.

Anyway, there’s no place for these personal reflections in an academic study of Spielberg’s work. However interesting and uncanny it is for me to return to a body of work I once knew inside out and haven’t approached for a long time, it’s not what I need to be examining. So, as an outlet for that side of my responses to the films (I’m re-watching every feature film in sequence, and about to see if I can make it all the way through E.T. without choking back a few tears), I’ve decided to turn to this blog. And because I like setting myself ridiculous tasks when I have plenty of other work I should be getting on with, and because I want to give this blog a boost, I’m pledging to write 100 short posts about Steven Spielberg. They might be brief thoughts on a single moment from a particular film, an image gallery or short video, or an excerpt from something I’ve read that’s worth sharing. They are footnotes to a bigger project, a sidebar to my scholarship. Or something like that. The Spielberg Hundred begins here and now, and will be concluded by the time I submit the first draft of my chapter in April 2014. There are only 99 more to go…

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