Friday, January 26, 2007

AT ONCE RUTHLESSLY SADISTIC AND CLOYINGLY SACCHARINE: Interested in a provocative essay on Steven Spielberg, Hollywood, and the war on terror? Yes, it throws around a lot of big words for a Friday morning, but this piece by J. Hoberman is worth your time:

As a manipulator of the medium, Spielberg ranks with the greatest — king of cute Walt Disney and master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock. In a sense, Spielberg synthesizes Disney and Hitchcock. Astoundingly attuned to mass-audience psychology, he is at once ruthlessly sadistic and cloyingly saccharine, a filmmaker who opened his first blockbuster by implicating the audience in an aquatic sex-murder committed by a giant serial-killer shark, and the only filmmaker since Disney who might sincerely employ “When You Wish Upon a Star” (the original closing music for Close Encounters of the Third Kind). Naturally privileging sentiment above reason, Spielberg’s movies are shamelessly dependent on such cues. But music is hardly his only means of persuasion. Jaws amply demonstrated Spielberg’s willingness to inflict pain upon the spectator.

Different as Disney’s Snow White or Hitchcock’s Psycho might be, each film exhibits a rage for control readily attributable to its maker. And yet, one doubts Disney ever questioned the purity of his intentions or Hitchcock lost sleep pondering the psychological implications of his films; as the world’s preeminent maker of entertainments for children, the former was a priori virtuous while, as the professionally ghoulish virtuoso of on-screen murder, the latter had no need to demonstrate his moral virtue. Spielberg, however, is the representative of the aging “movie generation”—and thus acutely self-conscious, if not downright anxious to do the right thing.

There is a sense in which Spielberg’s oeuvre is divided against itself, characterized by the Good Steven’s feel-good movies and the more hostile entertainments devised by his evil twin. . . .

Via The House Next Door, where Matt Zoller Seitz thinks Hoberman's political claims are completely daft, and the resulting conversation is fascinating.

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