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Spielberg Tells a Story

And it’s a good one, “Bridge of Spies.” I won’t reiterate the plot here as I am sure, dear reader, you will see it soon enough or have already read the euphoric reviews. Steven Spielberg rarely disappoints, he has the clout to hire the best actors, the best screenwriters (the Coen brothers share the credit with Matt Charman), the best of everything. Tom Hanks, in one of the most resonant performances of his career, has the stature of Bogart. Mark Rylance is Mark Rylance. And as my husband said as we walked out: “This is an old-fashioned Hollywood movie. Spielberg’s a great cinematic story-teller.”

We had been to a screening at the Director’s Guild with directors, screenwriters and actors. No food, no drinks allowed, no advertisements before the movie begins, no cell phones on, please. There is security to make sure no one is filming the film and—a final rule—stay in your seat until the last credit rolls.

In other words, the all-professional audience is paying attention—to the script, to the acting, to the cinematography, everything. We are not just there to be entertained, but to study how a film is made and whether or not it has been made well. There is usually some applause at the end, or not. Spielberg: applause. Discussion afterward on the long line to the restroom—it was a long film: So, what did you think? And off we go.

I was a lone dissenter because I do feel—dare I say it—that Spielberg sometimes indulges a sentimental weakness. And maybe if I had a net worth of 3.6 billion dollars, I would do the same. And he doesn’t always do it—certainly not in “Schindler’s List.”

I remembered my disappointment when I went to see “The Color Purple.” It was made in 1985 and starred Whoopi Goldberg and Danny Glover, two good actors. Adapted from Alice Walker’s masterpiece, the adaption was mostly okay until the very end. Spielberg changed the ending into a kind of happier ending with a parade of dancing and singing people rolling down the street. I was mortified.

It’s been a while, and I may not be remembering this particular movie correctly, but I have experienced other mortified moments like this watching a Spielberg film, and I had at least one last night.

(No spoilers, don’t worry.)

Consider this scene: a GDR attorney general, obviously a former Nazi, takes a phone call during his conversation with lawyer/negotiator Donovan (Hanks), and before we know it, we are witnessing a Peter Sellers caricature of a Nazi. It mars the scene—a dead serious scene—because it made me laugh. It was indulgent, over the top, and this is not the actor’s responsibility, it’s the director’s. We know that Spielberg cares a lot about Jewish Holocaust history (The Shoah Project) so what was he trying to say here? And what was in the original script before it became a shooting script? I’m curious.

I know that when an artist becomes rich and famous, those close to him—editors , for example, in the case of a writer—don’t have the courage to speak up. I wish that a colleague of Spielberg would tell him about this creative tic so that he could eliminate it from his cinematic vocabulary. I am always grateful when someone tells me about my tics. We all have them.
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