A Fable, Spielberg's Most Personal Film
I watched Steven Spielberg's latest film, "The Fabelmans", and I have to say, it was a powerful and thought-provoking experience.
It's essentially a part fiction, part true tale of Spielberg's family. The film tells the story of a young boy named Sammy Fabelman, who is deeply affected by the train crash scene in Cecil B DeMille's "The Greatest Show on Earth" and becomes obsessed with recreating it at home using a toy train set and an 8mm camera. Spielberg may be referencing Orson Welles's famous quote that a movie studio is like the "biggest electric train set any boy ever had."
Sammy goes on to make home movies including terrorizing his sister's in homemade horror films and making his fellow school students go off to the nearby Arizona desert to make war films, much like Spielberg himself.
As Sammy (played by Gabriel LaBelle) grows older and enters his teenage years, he and his sisters are faced with the challenge of constantly moving around the country due to his father's work. The transition to living in new places, such as Arizona and California, is not without its difficulties, particularly for Sammy who faces bullying and anti semitic abuse in high school.
Sammy's mother Mitzi, played by Michelle Williams, portrays a complex individual, whose depression is hidden behind a facade of distant and disconnected mannerisms. She is portrayed as a gentle and whimsical soul who gave up her career as a concert pianist to raise her children. It is suggested that Sammy inherits his artistic talents from her, as well as a hint of melancholy and self-pity. The character of Sammy's Uncle Boris, played by Judd Hirsch, adds a touch of humor to the story as a former circus performer. He serves as a warning to Sammy, telling him that art and family will inevitably cause him pain.
At the heart of Sammy's family life is a deep and painful wound. His mother has a secret love for his father's employee and friend, Bennie Loewy (played by Seth Rogen), who is affectionately referred to as "Uncle" Bennie. Bennie is a constant presence in the family's home and joins them on holidays.
Sammy creates a special home movie of a camping trip they took together, where his mother impulsively performs a playful dance in her nightgown in the car headlights, causing much embarrassment for her daughters. However, more importantly, Sammy captures evidence of his mother's illicit relationship with Bennie by noticing them holding hands in the background.
He removes these incriminating scenes from the film and shows his parents only the picture-perfect version. This only serves to further mask the heartache and pain that plagues his family. Later, when he confronts his mother with the knowledge of her secret relationship, it only adds to the overwhelming sadness that surrounds his family.
The story of Sammy Fabelman serves as a captivating and thought-provoking metaphor for Spielberg's own cinematic vision, as well as his own complex family values and his desire to reshape and redeem flawed reality. It is striking to see how, through the character of Fabelman, Spielberg highlights the importance of editing as the central creative act in filmmaking - the decision of what to include and what to exclude, and how to present the truth.
The film's performances are top-notch, particularly Michelle Williams as Sammy's mother.
The film was beautifully shot and captures the love of cinema and film making. when Sammy confronts his mother with the knowledge of her secret relationship with Bennie, and the emotional turmoil it has caused within the family. This scene showcases the depth of the emotions in the family and the impact of the mother's actions on her son. The acting performances, the dialogue, the camera work and the music could all come together to create a powerful and memorable scene.
Whether you enjoy or like The Fabelmans depends on your point of view on the director Steven Spielberg. If you are ambivalent to his films or see them as glossy but ultimately shallow then you are less likely to be invested in such a personal story. However if you grew up on his films and see the magic of his films it's an interesting peek behind the curtain behind his talent and reframes his past movies in the context of his fragmented childhood.
I really enjoyed the Fabelmans. It was superbly acted and beautiful to look at especially the shot of the Young Sammy watching his home movie projected on his hand. I loved it.
Not only is it obviously a deeply personal film for Spielberg, it's also a story about choosing to follow your heart even in the face of self doubt and fear. It also marks the last time one of history's greatest partnerships will unite in John Williams and Steven Spielberg, and seems a suitable film to close that chapter.
We are taking a slight break for a couple of weeks and then we will be back with the last part of our Spielberg collection, up next is Raiders of the lost ark and then Et: The Extra Terrestrial.
This week's sketch....