A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Steven Spielberg, 1977)

Cary Guffey in Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Roy Neary: Richard Dreyfuss
Claude Lacombe: François Truffaut
Ronnie Neary: Teri Garr
Jillian Guiler: Melinda Dillon
David Laughlin: Bob Balaban
Barry Guiler: Cary Guffey
Project Leader: J. Patrick McNamara
Farmer: Roberts Blossom

Director: Steven Spielberg
Screenplay: Steven Spielberg
Cinematography: Vilmos Zsigmond
Production design: Joe Alves
Film editing: Michael Kahn
Music: John Williams

There are two undeniable facts about Steven Spielberg as a director: He is one of the great visual storytellers, and he often doesn't know how to end his movies. The latter is usually held against him, as with the extended didacticism of the concluding scenes of two of his greatest films, Schindler's List (1993) and Saving Private Ryan (1998). We can see both at work in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the film that let everyone know that his big breakthrough movie, Jaws (1975), was more than just beginner's luck. Spielberg resists spelling things out for the viewer through dialogue from the beginning, letting images and situations carry the narrative weight. Even a simple gag can work wonders: Roy Neary, the lineman out to resolve a power outage, is stopped at a railroad crossing to look at his maps when we see headlights behind his truck. A car then pulls around him and the driver calls him an asshole. But then another set of headlights shows up, and instead of pulling around him, the lights go up and over the truck as Roy has his first close encounter. The first sightings of the alien ships are thrillingly enigmatic: Where can Spielberg go with this? But by the time we get to the final payoff, things drag out much too long, as if Spielberg has become so enamored of the special effects that he can't bring himself to lose a minute of them. Nevertheless, Close Encounters is epochal filmmaking, not just in its elevation of sci-fi to a major film genre but also in its revelation of Spielberg's genius for instilling a sense of wonder in an audience.

No comments: