Category: The Auteurs

STEVEN SPIELBERG – early works

Published May 30, 2008

You already know of my passion for the works of Steven Spielberg — my Jonesing for Indy posts, and review of Indy 4 have made this obvious. I’ve also posted documentaries, interviews, and other essays. But I recently came across three gems on the web that I knew I needed to share here.
Steven Spielberg gets his Jaws on
Even before he announced his presence with authority with 1971’s TV movie Duel (also posted in its entirety on this site, you can watch it by clicking here), little Stevie Spielberg was honing the craft which would one day earn him the title of the most successful film director in history. Three early films (OK, two clips, and one film), all largely unseen until now, have surfaced through the miracle of the world wide web.

ESCAPE FROM NOWHERE (1959) 13-year-old Steve wins an award for directing a 40-minute war movie.

FIRELIGHT (1963) 16-year-old Spielberg wrote and directed this 140-minute science fiction adventure, which he would later re-work as Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Budgeted at $400, the film was screened in his local theater and generated a profit of $100. A writer for the local Phoenix newspaper reviewed the film, and wrote that he expected great things to come.

AMBLIN’ (1968) Spielberg directs a 24-minute short film about two young drifters, a young man and woman, who after a cute-meet, spend time flirting, hitchhiking, and … amblin’. It was enough to get a contract with Universal television, where Steve would make a name directing episodes of Night Gallery, Columbo, and Marcus Welby M.D. In case you’re wondering if that where the name of Spielberg’s production company, Amblin’, came from … why, yes, it is.

So, without further ado, here is some vintage Spielberg.

ESCAPE FROM NOWHERE (1959) clip only – 1:17
(dubbed nicely with Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyrie)

FIRELIGHT (1963) clip only – 56 seconds
(also nicely dubbed with John Williams CEOT3K score)

AMBLIN’ (1968) the entire film – 25:32


Published March 31, 2008

What can I say about Woody Allen? That Annie Hall and Manhattan are two of my all time favorite films? Undoubtedly. Both are hilarious, touching, and endlessly quotable. That for five decades – as a writer, director, actor, and author – he has produced a staggering amount of classic works, from the absurd to the profound? Unquestionably. That his influence rivals those of his heroes, Groucho Marx, Charlie Chaplin, and Bob Hope? Indubitably.

But rather than wax eloquent on such, let’s let the man speak for himself:


Allen: That’s quite a lovely Jackson Pollock, isn’t it?
Woman: Yes, it is.
Allen: What does it say to you?
Woman: It restates the negativeness of the universe. The hideous lonely emptiness of existence. Nothingness. The predicament of man forced to live in a barren, godless eternity like a tiny flame flickering in an immense void with nothing but waste, horror, and degradation, forming a useless, bleak straitjacket in a black, absurd cosmos.
Allen: What are you doing Saturday night?
Woman: Committing suicide.
Allen: What about Friday night?


There’s an old joke … two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of ’em says, “Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.” The other one says, “Yeah, I know; and such small portions.” Well, that’s essentially how I feel about life — full of loneliness, and misery, and suffering, and unhappiness — and it’s all over much too quickly.

The other important joke, for me, is one that’s usually attributed to Groucho Marx; but, I think it appears originally in Freud’s “Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious”, and it goes like this — I’m paraphrasing — um, “I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member.” That’s the key joke of my adult life, in terms of my relationships with women.

I thought of that old joke: This guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, ‘Doc, my brother’s crazy, he thinks he’s a chicken.’ And the doctor says, ‘Well why don’t you turn him in?’ and the guy says, ‘I would, but I need the eggs.’ Well, I guess that’s pretty much now how I feel about relationships. They’re totally irrational and crazy and absurd, but I guess we keep going through it because most of us … need the eggs.


I think that people should mate for life, like pigeons or Catholics.

I can’t express anger. That’s my problem. I internalize everything. I just grow a tumor instead.

She’s 17. I’m 42 and she’s 17. I’m older than her father, can you believe that? I’m dating a girl, wherein, I can beat up her father.


My love life is terrible. The last time I was inside a woman was when I visited the Statue of Liberty.


No, I don’t think you’re paranoid. I think you’re the opposite of paranoid. I think you walk around with the sick delusion that people like you.

STANDUP YEARS (1964 – 1968)

I feel sex is a beautiful thing between two people. Between five, it’s fantastic.

A fast word about oral contraception. I was involved in an extremely good example of oral contraception two weeks ago. I asked a girl to go to bed with me, she said “no.”

Basically my wife was immature. I’d be at home in the bath and she’d come in and sink my boats.

I was in analysis. I was suicidal. As a matter of fact, I would have killed myself, but I was in analysis with a strict Freudian and if you kill yourself they make you pay for the sessions you miss.

I was thrown out of college for cheating on the metaphysics exam; I looked into the soul of the boy sitting next to me.

I tended to place my wife under a pedestal.


It seemed the world was divided into good and bad people. The good ones slept better … while the bad ones seemed to enjoy the waking hours much more.

I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work … I want to achieve it through not dying.

Having sex is like playing bridge. If you don’t have a good partner, you’d better have a good hand.

His lack of education is more than compensated for by his keenly developed moral bankruptcy.

I don’t tan, I stroke.

I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve immortality through not dying.

I have an intense desire to return to the womb. Anybody’s.

If my film makes one more person feel miserable, I’ll feel like I’ve done my job.

Life doesn’t imitate art, it imitates bad television.

Sex is only dirty if it’s done right.

If you want to make God laugh, tell him your future plans.

94.5% of all statistics are made up.

I do not believe in an after life, although I am bringing a change of underwear.

The BBC documentary series, Scene By Scene, hosted by British film historian Mark Cousins, profiled Woody Allen around the turn of the millennium. If you’re a fan of Woody, and you’ve never seen it, I am posting the six-part doc below. Entertaining, eye-opening, and verrrrrry funny. I was laughing out loud before the five minute mark.

Here you go.








Published March 28, 2008

In regards to film debuts, few directors announce themselves with the authority that James Cameron did in 1984. The Terminator, besides being A Little Movie That Could, and launching Arnold Swarzenegger’s career into the stratosphere, screamed that this writer/director was someone to be taken seriously.

Filmed on a very low budget (6.5 million), by a director whose only previous credits were effects work on Roger Corman films and a seven day stint as director of Pirahna II – The Spawning (he was fired), The Terminator became Cameron’s golden ticket for future projects. It is arguably, the most kinetic excitement, pound for pound, dollar for dollar, ever featured in a movie with that small of a budget.

James Cameron
The most valuable storytelling lesson I learned from The Terminator was exposition on the run. There’s a lot of back story that needs to be told, and Cameron has Reese tell Sarah Connor the facts about the future while evading The Terminator in a speeding car. While racing madly from a futuristic robot that … “…can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop. Ever. Until you are dead!” Brilliant.

It’s been nearly a quarter century since then, and James Cameron has only made six feature films (not including IMAX-3D documentaries like Ghost of the Abyss or Aliens of the Deep – still pretty cool). They are, of course …

The Terminator
The Abyss
Terminator 2: Judgment Day
True Lies

I could say much about that arc, that oeuvre, but I think I will let the video below do that. It’s been 11 years since Titanic (budget: 200 million, worldwide gross: nearly 2 billion), and while that is undoubtedly a tough act to follow, James Cameron is finally shooting his next feature film, Avatar. Set for a December 2009 release, the 3-D sci-fi epic stars Sam Worthington, Zoë Saldaña (Uhura in the new Star Trek), and (reuniting for the first time since Aliens), Sigourney Weaver. Cameron says his inspiration was “every single science fiction book I read as a kid.” The story involves a crippled soldier who somehow projects his consciousness into an alien being, an avatar, on a utopian planet. Project is said to be greatly inspired by Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars series.

I’ll admit, when I first heard about this 3-D aspect of Cameron’s new film (this was a few years ago — it’s been in pre-production forever), I practically rolled my eyes. I thought, 3-D is cheesy, man. And then, I saw Superman Returns in IMAX 3-D, and I was blown … freaking … away. 3-D technology has come leaps and bounds since the days of my youth. It is not so much things moving conspicuously toward the camera — there is a constant depth of field that puts you right there in the action. Amazing.

All Cameron films have a few things in common:

1) THINK BIG! There is epic scale to this man’s visions.
2) Every James Cameron movie has been in someway groundbreaking. Remember the water tentacle from The Abyss? This may have been the first appearance of morphing on film, used to greater effect in Terminator 2. (And then, of course, in every other commercial on TV.) Even Titanic, especially Titanic, was one of the most stunning pieces of celluloid I have ever seen. Working on all cylinders as a period piece, a romance, and balls out action movie. Genius. I’d never seen anything like it.

So … when James Cameron invents a virtual 3-D camera, and sets out to change the way we watch movies, I’m excited.

AFI’s The Directors series featured James Cameron not long after Titanic. I am posting the 6-part video below. While some editing choices and incorrect facts irk me (The Abyss was released in 1989 not 1986), it’s pretty fascinating. I love the bit about how he got his first directing gig by “getting meal worms to act.”

James Cameron has a love/hate relationship with many of his recurring actors. He has been called everything from a cinematic perfectionist to an egomaniac with a flaming temper to a despotic tyrant. (Ed Harris, star of The Abyss, nicknamed the movie The Abuse.) Even so, if his behavior allows him to produce the caliber of films he has so far … he must be doing something right.

UPDATE 1/5/09 — The original embedder of this video has since pulled it off You Tube. If it becomes available again, I will put it back up. Sorry.








Published March 23, 2008

When it comes to filmmaking, I’ve said for years there is a fine line between homage and rip-off. With that in mind, I think no other filmmaker has straddled this line quite so successfully as Brian De Palma. His early films, especially those from the 70s and 80s, were by and large “Hitchcockian” thrillers. What was so shocking about them — other than the obvious subject matter — was the extent they actually succeeded in spite of their obvious nods to the British Master of Suspense. But hey … if you’re gonna steal, steal from the best. Brian De Palma has not only done this, he has done it with style to spare.

Brian De Palma
Yes, I do have a De Palma shelf in my DVD library, but not all of his films are represented. Just my favorites, which include:

SISTERS ~ (1973) Margot Kidder stars in this terrifically suspenseful tale of beautiful Siamese twins, one benevolent, the other murderous. Hitchcock influences: Rear Window, Psycho, and a chilling Bernard Hermann score

PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE ~ (1974) Campy mix of Phantom of the Opera and Faust, with disfigured composer seeking revenge on producer who stole his songs. A flop in its day, now a cult classic. Characterization of Phantom as a masked, caped, asthmatic, synthetic-voiced menace may have inspired DePalma’s friend George Lucas in his creation of Darth Vader three years later.

OBSESSION ~ (1976) Cliff Robertson as a man who loses his wife and daughter, only to meet his wife’s doppelganger years later. Hitchcock influences: Vertigo, Vertigo, Vertigo. Bernard Hermann (who scored Vertigo) composed this soundtrack as well.

CARRIE ~ (1976) DePalma puts Stephen King on the Silver Screen with this tale of an abused loner (Sissy Spacek) with mother issues, telekinetic powers, and a really bad prom experience. Also starring Piper Laurie and John Travolta. Hitchcock influences: Psycho

THE FURY ~ (1978) More telekinesis, more bloodshed, and cinematic style galore. Amy Irving’s climactic revenge on John Cassavetes is a highlight. With Kirk Douglas and Andrew Stevens.

DRESSED TO KILL ~ (1980) One of DePalma’s most stylish, suspenseful, and scary thrillers involves sex, murder, and psychiatry. To reveal more would be criminal. Film stars Angie Dickenson, Michael Caine, Nancy Allen, and Keith Gordon. (I think this was the first R-rated movie I ever saw, and it scared the shit out of me!) Hitchcock influences: Psycho

BLOW OUT ~ (1981) Variation on Antonioni’s Blow-Up, with movie sound-man (John Travolta) accidentally recording political murder. Tense, exciting, extremely well-crafted. Also starring Nancy Allen, Dennis Franz and John Lithgow.

SCARFACE ~ (1983) Remake of Howard Hawks’ classic tale, updated to the 80s with cocaine replacing booze. Al Pacino claims this is his favorite role. Cult film remains potent, with a record number of F-bombs, but isn’t nearly as violent as one remembers (at least not onscreen).

BODY DOUBLE ~ (1984) Kinky film about voyeurism, sex, and murder is another of DePalma’s most popular … and reviled. Love it or hate it, there’s no middle ground here. Melanie Griffith is terrific as ditzy-but-goodhearted porno actress pulled into murder plot. Craig Wasson, Gregg Henry, and Dennis Franz are also good. Hitchcock influences: this film is very much Rear Window meets Vertigo.

THE UNTOUCHABLES ~ (1987) David Mamet scripted this smash hit about Elliot Ness and Company. Kevin Costner, Sean Connery (Best Supporting Actor), Andy Garcia, Charles Martin Smith, and Robert DeNiro as Al Capone also star.

Yes, there are other fine films I need to put in my De Palma collection, including Raising Cain, Mission: Impossible, Snake Eyes, and Femme Fatale, I just haven’t gotten around to it yet. There’s no need to be obsessive, is there?

I’ve never seen Casualties of War, simply because I cannot stomach the subject matter (neither have I seen De Palma’s latest, Redacted, for similar reasons). As for Mission to Mars and The Black Dahlia? I HATED both of those movies with a passion.

(FYI: If there is any actor who honed his craft in multiple De Palma films prior to achieving great success, it is Dennis Franz. Years before he donned a badge for Hill Street Blues or NYPD Blue, Franz played countless sleazy cops and otherwise unscrupulous characters in De Palma movies. See especially The Fury, Dressed To Kill, Blow Out, and Body Double.)

Many critics have accused De Palma of being misogynistic in regards to his penchant for filming females in peril. I have heard De Palma’s rebuttals to such (addressed in the documentary below), and while I don’t completely buy his argument, I am such a fan of his early work, I am not really that bothered by it.

I am posting a five part BBC documentary, entitled Scene By Scene With Brian DePalma. Pretty fascinating. Those interested (and if you’re not, why are you still reading?) should check it out.

(WORDSLINGER’S NOTE: This Scene By Scene series is hosted by British film historian Mark Cousins, who has done a number of profiles of notable filmmakers, including Martin Scosese, Woody Allen, David Lynch and others. I will be posting more of these soon.)

Have fun.


Published March 23, 2008

I don’t own ALL of John Carpenter’s films. In fact, as much as I love him as a director, I’ll be the first to admit his recent films pale in comparison to his work from the 70s and 80s. That said, his first smash hit, Halloween (1978), was for many years the most successful independent film ever made. Not bad for a bunch of kids making a horror film about babysitters and the boogeyman.

A list of the Carpenter DVDs I do own:

Dark Star
Elvis – the movie
The Fog
Escape From New York
The Thing
Big Trouble in Little China
Escape From L.A.
In the Mouth of Madness

Though his later films do have their fans, movies like Prince of Darkness, They Live, Vampires, Ghosts of Mars, etc … fail to measure up to the sheer levels of suspense and entertainment I’ve come to expect from this man. All right, In The Mouth of Madness was pretty good.

John Carpenter
Rob Zombie’s 2007 re-imagining of Carpenter’s Halloween only served to remind one how skillfully the original was constructed. Zombie’s film was 100 times more gory, and 100 times less scary.

Another Carpenter remake has recently been announced, Escape From New York, though the film (once starring 300‘s Gerard Butler) has hit numerous roadblocks of production trouble, and is currently on hold. Here’s hoping it stays that way.

Carpenter’s influence was never more apparent than in 2007’s Tarantino/Rodriguez double-bill homage to the exploitation movies of the 70s, Grindhouse (and shame on fans for letting this very entertaining film bomb). The movie was practically a love letter to John Carpenter. From its flesh-eating zombies-take-over-the-world plot, to its staccato 4/5 synthesizer soundtrack, to the casting of Kurt Russell as the psychotic Stuntman Mike, the spirit of Carpenter held sway over the movie. Assault on Precinct 13 meets The Thing. I loved it, but refuse to buy the DVD until the producers release it as the double-feature I saw in theaters.

I am posting a BBC-produced documentary below, entitled, John Carpenter: The Man and His Movies. It is an hour in length, and while I am not thrilled with chronology of some of the films discussed, nor the films omitted from discussion, it is still a pretty entertaining and informative program. Much is made of the influence of Alfred Hitchcock thrillers and Howard Hawks westerns on Carpenter — other insights are equally fascinating.

John Carpenter still has some classic films in him — here’s hoping he gets around to making them.