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January 30, 2012


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None of those sentences even convey an actual idea so I can't wait to see what Bill "In Another Land" Wyman has to say about Spielberg's ideas.

The Siren

" Still, I couldn’t understand, watching it, why a propensity by a highly commercial filmmaker to include in his films religiously lit close-up shots of the human face looking up in wonder would be considered anything more than axiomatic."

Axiomatic? In all sincerity, I don't understand what he means by that. Self-evident? Relating to axioms? Wouldn't any such visual trope be self-evident? Or maybe not; if it's self-evident, why was Kevin apparently the first person to pile up a string of examples and give the device a name? If Wyman is saying the "Spielberg face" is there, and once you have identified it there is nothing more to be said on the matter, that is also dismantled by Kevin's essay, which Wyman had just called intelligent and elegant.

And then again, Wyman is also saying (I think) that this would be true of any "highly commercial filmmaker," not just Spielberg. And that adds to my confusion.

That sentence is like a brick wall. What am I missing?


Bill Wyman!


warren oates

So if E.T. is Spielberg's LOLITA, what's his PALE FIRE?


Does he mean "idiosyncratic" maybe? I can't read that thing. It's as exhaustive as that dumb multi-part Spielberg video essay that some other outlet with content diarrhea produced late last year.

Keith Uhlich

"A.I." is his "Pale Fire."


God bless you. The idea that an artist must have "something to say" is practically the bane of my existence, but it's, er, axiomatic by this point. The kicker of course being, as BobSolo points out, that those who demand an artist "say something" are rarely able to describe what they believe is being said.

What I'm getting it is, saying things is really overrated.

Glenn Kenny

Damn. Took the words right out of my mouth, Keith.

Voracious Filmgoer

That Slate piece is just the worst. If Wyman really thinks that "Minority Report" and "War of the Worlds" are nothing more than "noisome randomness," he must have some awfully poor comprehension skills.

Keith Uhlich

Glad we agree on that one, Glenn. Such a rich, multilayered work. And says plenty.

warren oates

Part of what really annoys me is that Wyman out and out ignores my two favorite Spielberg pictures -- DUEL and MUNICH -- two of the ones with the kind of recognizable literary chops and thematic maturity that might have easily refuted his dumbass anyway argument.

Peter Labuza

"I'm really glad this articles acts as a counterpoint to those damn Seitz and Arkin video essays. We can't have people going around thinking that Spielberg is a bold and original filmmaker!" -Kois, I assume, when he heard the pitch.

You think Slate would take the time to attack some other filmmaker that is actually universally loved instead of highly contentious. Wyman seems to think he's the first person ever to state that *gasp* he doesn't like Spielbergs films. Oh, and he's also an idiot.


"When Spielberg plays with such things—Pinocchio in A.I.,[...]—the resonances are one-note. (E.g., will the robot become a real boy?)"

Yep, that's what A.I. is about. It's about if the robot will become a real boy. This dude nailed it.

I also love this:

"He takes images and archetypes he knows will work—because they have in the past—and presents them without additional nuance or complication. (His partisans will say that they are nonetheless effective. Fine; the artistry remains second-rate.)"

There's nothing like inventing the argument against your points so you can shoot them down. Never mind that he does no such thing. Wyman's definition of first-rate artistry is never forthcoming, because I don't think he knows what it is. Hell, I know he doesn't know what it is. His jumping off point for this whole article is the "surprisingly uneven" track record Spielberg has with Oscars. Stick to playing the bass, you idiot!


The age title that appears at the top of my browser -- Steven Spielberg's Complete Movies: I've seen every one, and I almost wish I hadn't -- is like a parody of a AICN piece. Structurally, grammatically, conceptually... I guess it's a fair warning.


And that should be "page title" .. I guess I shouldn't be throwing rocks in my glass house.


He also needs to realize that a phrase like "concert cum monster" should never be used without hyphens (or at all).


I love A.I. For me, it's his great masterwork.

And I think "axiomatic" in that case does mean self-evident or obvious. But if we are gonna nit-pick I nominate "Beneath all his technical wizardry is only a simulacrum of aesthetics." Now that's sentence that doesn't really mean what (I presume) the author intends to say which is "not a lot going on"

D Cairns

And Woody Allen's films are "technically indifferent" -- I guess he means unambitious (which is untrue of Zelig, for one)...

I think the most demented stuff is about how Spielberg doesn't get great performances, which turns out to be about how he doesn't use big stars, oh, except when he does.

Glenn Kenny

What's great about Slate's "contrarian" stance in general is how everything begins with the premise that "X" is overrated, or something, and then critical goalposts are trotted all over the field to hammer down the point. Wyman's miffed that Spielberg's films have no "ideas." Like he's so big on Straub and Huillet or something. If Spielberg's films DID have ideas, they'd have to be the WRONG ideas, then. And so on, and so on, and so on. The pretzel logic is a feature, not a bug, at that particular outlet—Jonah Weiner's showboating "Wes Anderson is a racist" thumbsucker was a particularly unforgivable example. But Wyman, who I'm almost NEVER on the same page with but who usually goes to the trouble of building a much better case, takes a particular case in the scattershot department. When he finally gets around to citing continuity errors as narrative holes you can tell he's really grasping at straws.

Michael Adams

Paul Giamatti could play Charles Kinbote in Spielberg's film of Pale Fire.


"What's great about Slate's "contrarian" stance in general..."

But 'Spielberg is a lousy filmmaker' isn't really a contrarian stance, is it? I certainly endorse the general viewpoint, and I don't imagine I'm alone. It seems more cliche than contrarian.

I'm not a fan of Slate, but I'm not a fan of Spielberg either. The article in question is not particularly good, (it badly misunderstands Woody Allen's oeuvre, among other things), but at least its heart is in the right place, which is unusual for Slate...


I wish he would have looked at his television films. Duel and Something Evil are a lot of fun.


I wish he would return to whatever high school newspaper he was cherry-picked from. Who cares what this twit has to say about Duel or anything else? Read his responses in the combox. He just keeps enlarging his vapid vortex. I think he wants us all to be impressed that he's seen -- and even enjoyed/"got"! -- Lynch films.

Josh Z

I'm with Petey on this. The notion that Spielberg ISN'T overrated is the actual contrarian viewpoint.

There are people who actually like A.I.? Seriously?

James Keepnews

"...heart in the right place"? How's this for "axiomatic", or at least hypothetical? IF the Academy doesn't like the most successful producer/director of films in Hollywood history, THEN something can't be right with him! Although, say, that Scorsese fella didn't get no kind of Oscar for a while, neither, and he wasn't half as successful! Guess it's not about financial success OR inherent artistry! Mmm. Yeah. And now, I don't feel well...can't keep the contrary contrarianistisms straight without a scorecard over there in Slate-land. The Oscars are stodgy and need a bathing-suit contest or something but are Exhibit A and springboard for a barer-than-thread (page) hit job on little Stevie more revealing of the hit man than his intended target.

Though, like Petey, I do think Spielberg's work deserves to be knocked and on the regular, though Wyman's critiques are as superficial as he maintains Spielberg's films are. Spielberg's craft is so superior that you rarely feel the manipulation, but it's so often there, leading you by your nose and bloodying it with the John Williams two-by-four. And the mantle of artist rests on him sometimes amusingly -- recall his public agon about how he could go on as a pop director after SCHINDLER'S LIST, a condition deliciously skewered in Stuart Klawans' Nation review of Spielberg's actual follow-up, JURASSIC PARK 2, which he treated as though it were a sequel to SCHINDLER'S. But, Good Lord, there's so much great, serious work after E.T. alone -- I'll add EMPIRE OF THE SUN, about which you could almost feel the heat from Pauline Kael's tears of gratitude in her review -- he's not only the most successful American director of all time, he's the damnedest and so much more worthy of a genuinely engaged consideration than this armchair shrug of a gloss.

I mean, what are we to do with this episteme: "I've never understood the complaints about the consequences Spielberg’s early hits—Jaws, Close Encounters, and the like—supposedly had on the movie business. What's wrong with unforgettable action movies with imaginatively conceived sequences and snappy writing—films that, for a time, brought an entire country together in a shared aesthetic experience? Pulp Fiction still got made, and so did Blue Velvet." Seriously, shut up already! Just 'cause you hate on shared homeland aesthetics and like A.I. and shit, well, back when Steve was cool we all stood in line and afterward you got blockbusters AND two left-of-center films over the next two decades -- you know, plus RAGING BULL! That's THREE! -- and all I hear is your pissing and moaning and your inability to perceive an arc of failed promise...Jesus, I think! It's not exactly TINKER TAILOR but it is an effing puzzle and my brain hurts and I'm upset and I'm going to go be mean to people all day now. Thanks.

Straub/Huillet, you say, Glenn? As Tom Cruise put it in RISKY BUSINESS: no, I do not believe so.

Glenn Kenny

Well, James, you can't deny those two had IDEAS.

And yes, I LOVE "A.I.," and have no problem saying so. I remember going to an early screening with my Premiere colleague Howard Karren and being rather awed but also kind of confused: had I, in fact, seen what I thought I had seen? And no, what I thought I had seen had zip to do with any kind of "Pinnochio" concern over whether the protagonist would become a "real boy" but instead a rather wrenching and deeply pessimistic conundrum on the nature of both "reality" and mortality. So we saw it again at our earliest convenience and were both surprised and gratified to run into a critic for a major newspaper who was having the same intimations, whose resultant review is here:


Anyway, I stand by my own review as well. I understand that "A.I." is "polarizing" (I have a funny story about HOW polarizing, but I can't tell it, which in itself should indicate how polarizing), but I'm unshakably pro.


Oh, I very much love A.I. I'm with Glenn in thinking it's a deeply pessimistic film. Wyman must have turned the film off early-- you know before humanity comes to an end-- if he thinks the point was whether it's about a robot becoming a real boy. Or perhaps he only becomes a real boy at the end when he basically dies, which is hardly a reassuring sentimental idea.


Josh Z.: I also love A.I., so with Glenn, Howard Karren, ZS and A.O. Scott, that's at least five of us. Oh, and I'll bet Armond White is on board, even if we'd like to leave him out of it.

Heck, until the last year or so, I was under the impression that Spielberg's critical rep had gotten rather healthy. In the aughts alone, you can find lots of good will toward A.I., MINORITY REPORT, CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, MUNICH and even WAR OF THE WORLDS if you know where to look. Maybe that CRYSTAL SKULL debacle undid all that for some folks.


I think WAR OF THE WORLDS is his most purely realized film of the Oughties and certainly one of the best examples of 9/11-as-horror-film.


I think A.I. is like Armond White's favorite film....which is almost enough to ruin it for us defenders. Of course, he likes Neveldine/ Taylor so the broken watch principle could be at work here.

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