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139: A New ‘Greatest Movie of All Time.’ Plus: Plus, Steven Spielberg interrogates his life and his art in ‘The Fabelmans.’

December 6, 2022
Notes
Transcript
On this week’s episode, Sonny Bunch (The Bulwark), Alyssa Rosenberg (The Washington Post), and Peter Suderman (Reason) talk about the Sight and Sound’s decennial 100 Greatest Films of All Time list, which crowned a new champ … but not without controversy. Then we reviewed The Fabelmans, Steven Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical movie about his childhood and how the art of film shapes his relationship with the world. Make sure to swing by Bulwark+ for our bonus episode on Friday, in which we’re discussing Andor is it the latest Star Wars property to be “the best since Empire?” You better believe it! If you enjoyed this episode, share it with a friend!
This transcript was generated automatically and may contain errors and omissions. Ironically, the transcription service has particular problems with the word “bulwark,” so you may see it mangled as “Bullard,” “Boulart,” or even “bull word.” Enjoy!
  • Speaker 1
    0:00:11

    Welcome
  • Speaker 2
    0:00:11

    back to Across the Movie aisle presented by Bullwork Plus. I’m your host, Sunny Vonch, Culture Editor of The Bullwork, I’m joined as always by list of Rosenberg of The Washington Post and Peter Suderman, a recent magazine, Alyssa Peter, how are you today? I’m swell. I am happy to be talking about movies with friends. Up first, in controversies and controversies, there is a new greatest film of all time, at least according to the Desenial list from the British film Institute, sight and sound magazine, Jean Dillman, twenty three, keyed to commerce, ten eighty Bruce Selles.
  • Speaker 2
    0:00:41

    Think I’m getting that mostly right. You know, I’m not a I don’t I’m not a I’m not a fancy foreigner. It’s a it’s a feminist, slow cinema masterpiece from Shantel Ackerman, and it leaped from number thirty six on the twenty twelve. List all the way up to number one on this year’s edition replacing twenty twelve’s King Vertical, which had in turn replace it as in Cain. The film that had topped the list for four decades prior to that.
  • Speaker 2
    0:01:02

    I used the term master piece a little advisably here. I I’ve seen the film once and that was back in college on a VHS that may have been bootleged or possibly a semi pirated DVD. I don’t even remember it was for a class. But I’m not gonna argue with the experts assembled to make the choices. Well, experts, that’s another term I’m using kind of advisably here because the pool of critics was massively expanded, nearly doubled in fact from eighteen from eight hundred to sixteen hundred or so.
  • Speaker 2
    0:01:29

    Some well known names of critics dropped off a list, stalwart friends of the show, or at least maybe not the show, but of us, Glen Kenny, Paul Shrader, folks who, you know, have been on the list for a long time, didn’t didn’t submit one this year. Meanwhile, lots of folks were picked up who as best as anyone can tell or just kind of on Letterbox. The movie blog, social media site, or have a podcast, you know. Rumors have kind of circulated that there were two rounds of invites and when when can imagine a scenario in which the initial ballots come back and sight and sound looks at the list and they panic. Because it’s just the same and there are no films by a woman.
  • Speaker 2
    0:02:04

    Or a a black director in the top ten. And they’re like, oh my god, what are we gonna do? We’re gonna seem so out of touch. We gotta commission another round of invites from a younger and more diverse and more importantly. A group of voters more concerned with diversity to beef up that that list.
  • Speaker 2
    0:02:18

    Indeed, the writer director, Shrader, who actually did submit a list to the director’s list, but not the critics list. Suggested as much on his firebrand Facebook account. He he loves mixing it up over there. He he and here he is basically saying, the quiet part out loud, quote, the sudden appearance of John Dealman in the number one slot undermines the SNS pulse credibility. It feels off as if someone has put their thumb on the scale.
  • Speaker 2
    0:02:42

    By expanding the voting community and the point system this year’s SNS poll reflects not a historical continuum, but a politically correct rejiggering. Ackerman’s film is a favorite of mine, a great film, a landmark film, but its unexpected number one rating does it no favors. John Dillman will from this time forward be remembered not only as an important film in cinema history, but also as a landmark of storted, woke reappraisal and quote, just throwing bombs. Again, though, this is one hundred percent, what the folks running the site and sound poll wanted just as it is one hundred percent what the Academy Awards wanted when they expanded their voting poll. Just as it is one hundred percent what runs made us wanted when they expanded its voting pool.
  • Speaker 2
    0:03:25

    Right? But folks are very mad at traitor force speaking plainly? What is supposed to be kind of a secret truth here? And if you wanna understand how a movie like, say, get out or Portugal Lady on fire or parasite or moonlighting, all of which made the top hundred, are considered better than the collected works of, Steven Spielberg, Howard Hawks, John Carpenter, Terence Malek, Robert Altman, and the Cohen Brothers, none of whom had a single film. In the top hundred, well, This is how it happens.
  • Speaker 2
    0:03:51

    There’s more to discuss about the list. The top ten was rounded out by vertigo, citizen Cain, Tokyo Story, in the mood for love, two thousand one, a space odyssey, Boitravail. Maul and drive man with a movie camera and singing in the rain. But, Alyssa, we have to ask, is Shrader right? And b, if that even really matters, if that is just how we are going to do cannon formation from Alan.
  • Speaker 3
    0:04:13

    So first off, this is not the real scandal of the sight and sound hundred best list. The real scandal is that this group of critics thinks that Sherlock junior it’s a better movie than the general, which is wrong. It’s objectively wrong. And the fact that you know, people are scandalized about the wrong thing, is further proof that the entire film community is degenerate and fallen and should be pushed off into see. Look, I can’t say if John Dealman is the best movie ever made because I have never seen it as a person who likes movies, but did not have, like, sort of a formal cinematic education.
  • Speaker 3
    0:04:50

    I, you know, can’t claim to have seen everything on this list. And In fact, I would say I like, the fact that everyone is as bothered as they are by this is something that on some level, I just cannot relate too. Right?
  • Speaker 1
    0:05:04

    Like,
  • Speaker 3
    0:05:05

    lists like this are meant to be reflections of consensus that change over time that obviously reflect the pool of people invited to contribute to them. And there’s something funny about the idea that anyone involved with or invested in the exercise. Would treat it as if, you know, like, the cinema gods have, you know, handed down the tablets. Like,
  • Speaker 1
    0:05:31

    the
  • Speaker 3
    0:05:31

    fact that you’re doing it over and over and over again, like, there there there is no mountain to go up to and, like, retrieve the cinema law. And return down to your people and have things set in stone. Like, everyone is too invested in these lists as meaning anything. And traders, of course, correct that, like, not in the sense that he’s complaining about, you know, quote capture of the listener. But just that, like, Lister the product of human beings who are themselves the product of, you know, sight and sound sitting there and assembling the people that they want to contribute to the conversation.
  • Speaker 3
    0:06:04

    Like, their contingent, it’s fine. It’s just not that big a deal. But, yeah, sure. Of January, not nearly as good as the general.
  • Speaker 2
    0:06:10

    Peter, what do you make of the list? And the reappraisal here? Oh, I think it’s the apocalypse. Oh, good. Movies are over.
  • Speaker 1
    0:06:18

    That’s it. We’re gonna have to cancel the podcast. This is worse than COVID. We just it’s it’s done. I just the whole art form.
  • Speaker 1
    0:06:27

    I think it’s ruined. No. Look. Let’s do do we wanna come on. Like, this is I I’m in some ways, I I agree with a lot of what Alyssa said, which is that I do not relate to the to the freakouts over this list.
  • Speaker 1
    0:06:43

    But let’s just think a little bit about what Trader is saying here. His argument in some sense is that the results are not legitimate because of who was included. Right? I mean, that’s essentially he’s saying that this is that because the because of the expansion of the list because of the inclusion of new critics. The results no longer carry the weight or the meaning that they used to carry.
  • Speaker 1
    0:07:08

    That is That’s the a pretty direct implication of what he’s saying. And I guess I Like, on the one hand, you can see the argument for that in in that well, you know, the the the the massive expansion means that the that the there’s no continuity, right, from with previous lists, and that changes the meaning of the list. Right? If so, if you if you suddenly have a whole bunch of different people who are at right? Like, then it’s not a consistent measurement over time because what you’ve done is you’ve changed the makeup of the of the voting pool.
  • Speaker 1
    0:07:49

    And so in some way, you can make it you can make an argument that’s, you know, that sort of doesn’t have anything to do even with who the people are. That’s just like, well, that makes the list less legitimate than if they’d basically just stuck with the old members and the the old ways of adding members slowly, keeping the numbers at know, eight hundred critics or whatever. At the same time, the addition of the letterbox critics of people with podcasts man. The podcast critics are the apps
  • Speaker 2
    0:08:16

    the worst. Trash
  • Speaker 1
    0:08:17

    people. Do we think do we think that that is somehow less legitimate? And I guess you could again, you could say, well, look, somebody writing for The New York Times, that A. O. Scott’s opinions, better more.
  • Speaker 1
    0:08:30

    Like, okay, you can make that argument. I don’t think that’s totally insane. But who is it? Who is Creating the new canon of films today. Where are younger critics writing with the with the dwindling of outlets?
  • Speaker 1
    0:08:46

    Where are where are movie opinions being shared and hushed out? Frankly, the young critics are writing on weird little web sites that you might not have heard of or letterboxed or whatever it is. And they’re hashing out opinions on Twitter and on podcasts. And so I think there’s there is an argument that these folks are just as legitimate today as the, you know, the old newspaper critic.
  • Speaker 2
    0:09:09

    Here’s the cinema — Twenty four thirty years ago.
  • Speaker 3
    0:09:12

    Right? Yeah. And also, look be honest, like a lot of film magazines were essentially the equivalent of, like, weird little blogs. Yeah. So it’s I mean, every generation of Arts writers has its weird little fill in the box here.
  • Speaker 1
    0:09:27

    It can take us upstart who build their own outlets and their own publications. Right? Who don’t who don’t go through established channels and who are writing either in direct reaction to the older establishment or just without much regard for it because it’s a to they live in a totally different world. And I I, you know, I like I I will say I have, like, some sympathy for this idea that this I that the poll was rejiggered to get a specific outcome. And therefore, like, okay.
  • Speaker 1
    0:09:58

    Like, that changes the meaning of it. But what counts as what makes someone legitimate as a film critic? What makes their opinion matter? Is it that they is it the outlet that they write for? Or is it the force and strength of their opinion?
  • Speaker 1
    0:10:13

    Now, you know, again, to to go back to and make maybe Paul Schroeder’s point, what he might say here is, well, do we have an assessment of each critics’ legitimacy and and, you know, why they’re being included here and what makes them, you know, worthy of inclusion? We don’t. I don’t think there’s a list of of critics that, like, gives us a rating for each one. And it’s like, here’s why we included this person rather than say somebody else. The same time, I just, like, there’s no way to do this.
  • Speaker 1
    0:10:38

    That isn’t where That isn’t that isn’t in some sense arbitrary, that isn’t in some sense sort of direct did by someone who by someone or someone’s who have probably some sort of agenda. Like, there’s no way for for for the sight and sound poll folks who are running it to not have an like, for them to have an objective, like, oh, we just want objectively the best films. There’s the whole business is subjective. That’s what we do. We we make subjective judgments about which films are good and which films aren’t at every single week on this podcast.
  • Speaker 3
    0:11:11

    And so own it right about the, you know, the process of selecting invitations, but in, like, be honest and clear about what you were trying to do and making up the list of nominators. Just like, own the contingency, own the non biblical nature of the process. And then also just everyone on the Internet, like, chill except that explanation argue about it. Like, the arguing should be fun, not some sort of deeply embedded high stakes freak out.
  • Speaker 2
    0:11:41

    Well, this is this is one of the things that I find so funny about the whole conversation is that a lot of people are very very mad at pulse radar. Even though he is again, I I think this is obviously just objectively what Sight and Sound was trying to do. They were trying to broaden the pool of voters. They were trying to make it younger, more diverse in order to create a a a different cannon to update the cannon somewhat, and they got what they wanted. And I like, I don’t I don’t understand why anybody would would object to stating that plainly.
  • Speaker 2
    0:12:13

    But I I think that traitor is also right that it creates a disjunction with previous iterations of the poll. Listen, you said you said something that this it’s not like there’s a mountain to scale or or tablets to be handed up. But that’s actually not entirely true. Right? One of the stories of the sight and sound poll was the increase in respect for like vertigo, right, which climbed up a poll every year and finally toppled citizen Cain.
  • Speaker 2
    0:12:35

    There’s there are interesting stories to look at the the people who are moving up and down the list. In the films that are moving up and down the list and what comes on and what drops off. And when you have this disjunction in the poll, it does create a kind of before and after feeling, which maybe is good and maybe it’s bad, but it it is it is, again, it’s just objectively I think true.
  • Speaker 3
    0:12:59

    But then, you know, this is also a problem that can be solved with some creative presentation. Right? Like, you know, let people filter the results by critics lists, for example. Like, you could do a version of it where you see, like, classic mode or you could you know, breakout overt you could I mean, you could literally create a web tool that allows you to pick the pool of critics that you’re interested in and generate are ranking based on what they submitted. See,
  • Speaker 2
    0:13:25

    this is this is somebody with the Washington Post Tech Team desk at her disposal offering up suggestions. Right here. That’s that this is all very fancy. It’s not just
  • Speaker 1
    0:13:35

    the list, but also
  • Speaker 3
    0:13:36

    it’d be fun. I mean, I think it would be really interesting to see what the, like, the site and town classic version of the twenty twenty two poll is versus, you know, what the newbies are bringing in. Or, you know, it could be really interesting to sort of the critics by gender generation like I think that allowing look for something like this. Yeah.
  • Speaker 1
    0:13:54

    And with the cross tabs on this. Right? Like, let’s treat this like a — Yeah. — let’s treat this like a political. I actually no.
  • Speaker 1
    0:14:00

    This is is both a good idea, but it also undermines the the central purpose of this, which is to establish a cannon that is that does that can’t be split apart and broken. That’s what they’re that the goal of the sight and sound poll is to say there’s one list, there’s one objectively best film, and I just think that’s a crazy kind of goal. Right? Like, there’s and and it’s not something that is gonna go.
  • Speaker 2
    0:14:23

    The goal is to create the the goal is to start a jumping off point for argument. And I feel like we’re arguing about the wrong thing right now. Right? Like everyone is arguing about the methodology of the poll and not the quality of the films.
  • Speaker 1
    0:14:35

    Man, that feels really familiar. It’s like some way here with, like, I don’t know, the American politics something. I feel like I, like, encountered that.
  • Speaker 3
    0:14:45

    But but should continue my sort of Jewish theological metaphor here, which also perfectly sets us up for the next movie that we’re gonna discuss. Like, the thing about canon, like Moses descends from the temple mount with the ten commandments. And in Jewish tradition, you have these text called midrashes, which are just rabbis arguing over what the talmud means. Right? Like, there there is a long tradition of like, okay, yes, we have the canon.
  • Speaker 3
    0:15:11

    Like, yes, we have the rules. Yes, we have the bible. But come on. Things are still not set Well, if we have to argue them out, and that’s how something like this should function. Even if it’s canonical, you’re gonna be setting it up for interpretation and argument.
  • Speaker 3
    0:15:27

    And, you know, presenting it in a way that allows for that kind of commentary and discussion and then encourages that sort of commentary and discussion as a feature not a bug. And then readers bring a willingness to engage would just make for a healthy or culture around all of this. So, you know, film critics should be more like Jews, many clearly, that’s the best model of this.
  • Speaker 1
    0:15:50

    I think we just put Sunny in charge of everything. Yes. And then, finally And then all of the complaints go directly to him so that he can respond to them on Twitter.
  • Speaker 2
    0:16:00

    Number one movie, in the sight and sound poll, in two thousand and thirty two. Zach sniper’s justice league. Well, well, come on. Let’s not be ridiculous. Unless, that’s that’s like number twenty or thirty.
  • Speaker 2
    0:16:11

    The other the other thing that is interesting here, I just wanna briefly touch on this because it is an interesting little tidbit. I think of the hundred films on this list, some fifty or so, nearly half the list is distributed by Janicecriteria, which is the kind of beloved art house indie distributor, which I think says a lot about the process of canon formation in the first place. There’s like a gatekeeper above the gatekeepers. Saying, like, you know, what’s pretty good? It’s the Chantal Ackerman, fella, Lady.
  • Speaker 1
    0:16:41

    The four hundred blow. What’s your movies?
  • Speaker 2
    0:16:44

    And I again, it’s it’s, you know, there there’s always there’s always somebody with a finger on the scale somewhere. It just depends on where you where you wanna look. Alright. What do we think? Is it a controversy or controversy that the sight and sound list has been perverted by rogue woksters,
  • Speaker 1
    0:16:59

    Alyssa?
  • Speaker 3
    0:17:02

    Controversy also nerds
  • Speaker 1
    0:17:05

    up here. It’s a controversy. It genuinely doesn’t matter movies are either good or bad or you like them or you don’t. And this list is mostly irrelevant to that except you know, in the sense that it’s gonna inform a little bit of, like, what today’s, you know, sort of a budding salonists are gonna, you know, try to educate themselves on.
  • Speaker 2
    0:17:25

    It’s definitionally controversial to the extent that the whole point of the list is to prompt arguments as we’re discussing. The whole point of the list is to to, you know, create a create a fight over which movie is actually the best film objectively ever made. But it’s also a controversy because I just if you’re telling people who are interested in the art of film that this three and a half hour movie about a woman that is cooking dinner in her house for large portions of it is the best movie of all time. You are creating you’re creating a real hurl for some folks who wanna get into films. I think it’s I think it might be actually bad.
  • Speaker 2
    0:17:57

    Just capital be bad for the the art of film loving, but that’s possibly a debate for.
  • Speaker 1
    0:18:02

    It’s No. Bullhorn Drive. That’s for sure.
  • Speaker 2
    0:18:06

    Well, I mean, that movie also has challenges. But I well, I yeah. Anyway, at any rate. At any rate. Make sure to swing by ATMA adoptable dot com on Friday for special bonus episode on the Disney plus series and or which we have all finally caught up on and would like to discuss with each other and you, Gentle listeners.
  • Speaker 2
    0:18:25

    Now, onto the main event. The Fableman’s Steven Spielberg’s semi and really mostly autobiographical look at his own childhood. The Fableman’s has been pitched to audiences as, you know, a sort of movie about movies. Right? It’s a movie about the magic of movies.
  • Speaker 2
    0:18:40

    Movies are dreams that you can hold on to forever or whatever. But it’s not that exact. It’s not it’s not exactly that. It’s much more a movie about a kid trying to figure out why his parents can’t quite make their relationship work and why he can’t really relate to them. Entirely and and why he can only really relate to the world through the lens of film.
  • Speaker 2
    0:19:01

    Right? Either by watching life through a camera or by piece it all together in an editing bay by figuring out how to make the world of movies look like, the world of life, etcetera, etcetera. The best sequences in this picture involve that figuring that process of discovery. Right? Young Sammy Fableman, the speaker Spielberg stand in, is asked by his father to cut together footage from the family camping trip in an effort to boost his mother spirits.
  • Speaker 2
    0:19:23

    The father knows she needs something he can’t give her in hopes that his son can help. She She’s the family artist, a pianist. He’s the family technician, a computer guy, and Sammy is kind of the synthesis of the two of them. We watch him, cut the film together, While Spielberg is cutting between Sammy, putting the film together, and his father Bert, who is smiling at Mizzie, who is very sad playing the piano, And as Sami is cutting his camping film together, we and he start to see something, Mizzie and family friend, Benny, in the background, their whole holding hands. They’re sharing hats.
  • Speaker 2
    0:19:54

    They’re stealing looks. They are quite obviously in love. Sammy recoils from the editing bay when he sees this. He’s almost physically repelled by it. Film has shown him something he cannot see in the real world and something he doesn’t want to see in his real life.
  • Speaker 2
    0:20:08

    Right? It pulled back a hidden truth. And he kind of resents the knowledge that it has imparted onto him. Again, this is this is the movie at its best. Right?
  • Speaker 2
    0:20:17

    When it’s it’s not It’s not a movie about movies. It’s a movie about somebody who can only understand the world through movies. And I feel like I’m splitting hairs here, but it’s a very important distinction. And again, it’s very autobiographical. It’s honestly a little bit masturbatory.
  • Speaker 2
    0:20:31

    But here’s the thing. Steven Spielberg is the signature American visual artist of the last quarter of the so called American century. He is almost indisputably the greatest critical and commercial force in the most important artistic medium of that age. And as such, I’d rather see him address his life in the medium he has mastered, that is the feature film than in a ghostwritten autobiography or some ten part mini series on HBO Max. Right?
  • Speaker 2
    0:20:54

    The film meant probably too long certainly a little self indulgent doesn’t entirely hang together. It’s a bit soggy, but there is greatness in the individual scenes and sequences. As when Sammy shows the film he made of senior ditch day at prom or when he meets John Ford, it was played with comic abrasiveness by David Lynch. Judd Hirsch has a memorable turn as the kind of ultra Jewish uncle whose life and entertainment has led to family heartbreak. Gabriel Lebel was quite good as Sammy Fableman, though I’m I’m alone in this.
  • Speaker 2
    0:21:20

    I’m, like, almost entirely unmoved by Michelle Williams as his mother and Paul Deyno as his father. They’re fine. But weirdly mannered and stilted. I just didn’t I didn’t like it. I didn’t like what they were doing for whatever reason.
  • Speaker 2
    0:21:34

    The movie is okay is what I’m saying. Peter is okay enough.
  • Speaker 1
    0:21:39

    I think it’s much better than okay, although I’m not quite sure it’s great, somewhat weirdly. This movie felt kind of like an MCU film to me, like a Marvel movie. Right? Except, you know, because it’s it’s just, like, filled with sneaky Easter eggs and, like, references to a whole a whole bunch of other movies and all these, like, sort of kind of fan theory things, except the universe isn’t a big comic book universe. It’s Steven Spielberg’s life.
  • Speaker 1
    0:22:11

    And the formative films of the nineteen seventies and eighties that he grew up with and were sort of part of his coming of age as a direct Right? So you you mentioned that incredible sequence where Sam is cutting together a bit from the camping trip that his family went on and comes to realize that his mother and Betty are in love. That whole thing, as you pointed out in your review, Sunny, is the whole thing isn’t a clear reference illusion to Brian DiPalma and blowout. But just to the sort of Brian DiPalma way of seeing the world and of cutting together these moments where you come to understand something through the slow sort of repetition and build of audio or video Right? Of Like, it’s sort of this pure cinema thing.
  • Speaker 1
    0:22:55

    It’s so wonderfully shot. It’s so effective. It’s definitely the best sequence in the film, but The movie has quite a few sequences that are really quite effective along those lines. And there’s also just there’s references to all up to, you know, other parts of like Spielberg’s work to eat and Indiana Jones, in particular, maybe to nineteen forty one and definitely to saving private Ryan if you’re looking for them. But also, I think you could pick out references to Martin Scorsese.
  • Speaker 1
    0:23:23

    Right? Like the all the stuff with his Christian girlfriend under the, you know, under the cross, and Church Lucas And just that whole recurring bit that you mentioned about John Ford in the payoff at the very end, that’s so great. And so it’s It’s just kind of fascinating as an act of critical movie brain synthesis. Right? And like Spielberg is famous for having, like, perfect recall of every shot of every movie he’s ever seen.
  • Speaker 1
    0:23:52

    And you can see that in this and that he remembers and once in his shaping and is casting his own life through the lens of the movies he made but also of the movies that his contemporaries made. Right? He he can only understand life through movies. And so the the movie of course just tells us that kind of indirect language sometimes. But it’s also showing us that is that he he sees everything through the lens of movies And then it does this other weird thing.
  • Speaker 1
    0:24:22

    He This is this is a movie about Steven Spielberg, about Sammy, the Spielberg Stand It. But it’s kind of weirdly not about Sammy. It’s about his parents. And he sees himself almost entirely through the lens of his parents’ psychology his his parents’ psychology’s and the and the interplay between them. And so it would be like, if I asked you, Sunny, tell me a little about yourself.
  • Speaker 1
    0:24:49

    And you didn’t say one word about yourself, instead you started with, well, my dad was a and then my mom was a and I was supposed to then infer from that what you’re like. And it’s it’s just this sort of fascinating thing where it’s like we almost don’t get any direct insight into the Spielberg stand in. We get instead the story of his parents and who they were and their conflicts and how their conflicts were the thing that he had to to deal with as a kid and the thing that in some ways defined him and his family. And there’s a way in which Spielberg is saying, I my movies are in some sense. Like, there’s nothing to me.
  • Speaker 1
    0:25:33

    And my movies are just a product of of the the interplay between my parents and their, you know, hit my father’s very technical approach to the world, somewhat emotionless and my mother’s very sort of emotional and artistic approach to the world. And my mother’s, you know, right, he sees his mother somebody who has sort of stifled creatively, you know, and and followed in part of the argument, I think, implicit in this, is that she followed her passion and left Ad for Betty because of the artistic stifling that she felt right like that that was the time when she had to follow her passion. Interestingly, if I understand correctly, Spielberg in real life did not find out that his mom was the instigator until much, much later. And so his first couple of movies were actually about you know, how about bad dads. Right?
  • Speaker 1
    0:26:20

    It sort of had these bad dad relationships. And it was only later in life that he discovered that his it was actually the breakup was driven by his mom because he, as a young man, if I understand correctly, blamed his father for the breakup. But it’s just it’s a fascinating, you know, sort of approach to not quite autobiography because, obviously, not all the details are real. But to sort of thinking about the self and self definition and why you are the way you are and his you know, other people will sort of when you ask them about themselves, they they tell you about them. And his story is, well, let me tell you about my parents.
  • Speaker 1
    0:26:58

    Let me tell you about my lineage and where I came from. It’s interesting in the in
  • Speaker 2
    0:27:02

    the pre roll before this movie at the Alamo Drafthouse. I saw it at the Alamo Drafthouse with a paying audience. In in the pre roll, they they show a clip from Spielberg’s parents on inside the actor’s studio, in which the host of of thatcher James Lipton mentions closing counters of the third kind and says, you know, in this In this movie, you have the scientist who is merging science and arts, you know, with the lights and the the music and the the colors and all that. To kind of synthesize the experience of the transcendent. And, you know, Is that is that you in conversation with your mother and father at the same time and Spielberg’s like, I’ve never thought of it that way.
  • Speaker 2
    0:27:45

    But yes, that is exactly what I was doing. And that’s kind of what this whole movie feels like, Alyssa. Right? Is is like him kind of trying to piece together that childhood experience in a way that not only helps him understand it, but also helps us understand him.
  • Speaker 3
    0:27:58

    Yeah. Well, and I mean, the movie is, you know, you have that opening scene. Where his parents are trying to explain to him what he’s about to experience and how it’s created. And for all the movie, you know, spends a certain amount of time talking in the text about sort of the emotional experience of filmmaking and the extent to which it’s calling for Sami. It’s also a very technical movie.
  • Speaker 3
    0:28:21

    Right? I mean, we see him editing. Right? Which is not the part of filmmaking that’s dealing with people, but it’s this sort of saletary technical, you know, one of the great first achievements is when he figures out how to, you know, put pin holes in the film to simulate explosions in a way that are more realistic.
  • Speaker 1
    0:28:38

    There’s that whole bit when he finds out that his girlfriend’s dad has a sixteen millimeter camera and he just starts spouting off facts about how that camera works. And, like, you can just see his brain spinning about, like, oh, sure. I could shoot six minute reels rather than right in. It’s just this because that’s the part that, like, occupies his engineer brain.
  • Speaker 3
    0:28:55

    Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. And I mean, you know, Peter, you were talking a little bit about you know, this is a movie where Spielberg doesn’t really tell you about himself, but about his parents. But it’s also very much a movie about being seen and interpreted.
  • Speaker 3
    0:29:10

    Right? And look, that’s what children even who children who are not, you know, artistic geniuses. Due to their parents. They observe them and they try to figure them out. They mythologize them, and one of the primal experiences of childhood is seeing that mythology, you know, wear thin or get stripped away, and then having to sort of rearrange the world around that.
  • Speaker 3
    0:29:31

    And part of what makes Sammy interesting is, you know, his sort of intensity of seeing And so you have I mean, I think a lot of the high school stuff doesn’t work well at all at all. I mean, like, as a treatment of sort of mid century California anti Semitism, it’s just really thin. But there’s one scene in it that works tremendously well, which is the moment after he screens the, like, best, you know, ditch day movie, and Logan, you know, who has who he’s sort of repurposed as the star of the movie, just comes to him in is clearly cheaply unsettled by the way that Sammy has portrayed him. And then when he doesn’t really get into why. Right?
  • Speaker 3
    0:30:15

    Like, you know, we don’t know if Logan is, like, uncomfortable with his Golden Boy image. We don’t know if he’s, like, actually gay. We don’t know, you know, we don’t know what’s going on there. But he asks Sammy, you know, why did you make me see that? Why did you use me to a certain extent?
  • Speaker 3
    0:30:32

    And Sammy says, you know, maybe I wanted you to be nice to me for five minutes. Maybe it made my movie better. I don’t know. And it’s obvious that it’s the second quest that’s the second answer. Right?
  • Speaker 3
    0:30:43

    Like, it made his movie better. And, you know, if seeing in this movie is an act of revelation, that kind of like close careful watching that lets him understand that his mother is having an affair with Benny, It is also I mean, the movie is aware that there can be something kind of a moral in what Sammy is
  • Speaker 1
    0:31:01

    doing.
  • Speaker 3
    0:31:02

    Right? That, you know, he can see people deeply, but he also has the power to kind of reshape them and represent them without their consent. And so there’s an extent to which he is merciful to his mother. Right? Like, he, you know, in a limited way.
  • Speaker 3
    0:31:19

    Because to a certain extent, showing her that movie is is cruel. Right? It’s like it’s a it exposes her fully to herself. And the only kindness is sort of in that he doesn’t show the version of it that reveals the affair to his family. Right?
  • Speaker 3
    0:31:37

    I mean, he could have exposed her sort of public And, you know, he does not hold back from that with Logan. Right? And he uses the film kind of as a weapon to set up a rift between these two guys who have been bullying him. And the movie again, like, doesn’t get a sort of a deeper dynamic there in a way that might have been more interesting or enliven that section of the movie.
  • Speaker 2
    0:31:59

    Can I suggest that there is something mildly interesting there at least in in the way so in this for folks who haven’t seen it, which is a lot of you because not doing great at the box office. But the the the way this section of the the movie is set up, you know, there there are two essentially bullies. There’s the golden god, and then there’s his kind of, like, smaller but meaner sidekick And the smaller but meaner sidekick is like the real vicious anti semite of that pairing. He is a he’s he’s, like, really getting at Sami Fableman for being Jewish. And is is incredibly cruel.
  • Speaker 2
    0:32:33

    And the the golden god guy kinda goes along with I don’t think he cares that much. He it’s mostly just kind of the background prejudice of the time. Right?
  • Speaker 3
    0:32:41

    And he and he likes having a sort of sicker fan. And he
  • Speaker 2
    0:32:45

    likes having a sicker fan and he doesn’t he just doesn’t wanna he doesn’t he doesn’t wanna rock the boat, really, more than anything else. And the way that Sammy Fableman puts that that film together, it splits them apart. It splits the, like, real vicious anti semite makes him the subject to fun, the butt of jokes, like, the the goat of the the class. Away from the golden god figure. And I do think there’s something interesting there about the power of art to split real bigots away from, like, people who just of tolerate bigotry.
  • Speaker 2
    0:33:14

    I think there’s there’s an interesting thing going on there, but like so much else in this movie, it’s not really fully developed. It just kind of sits there.
  • Speaker 1
    0:33:21

    It seemed to me like it was his first experience creating a movie star. Right? Like and that was the the one of the main things we were supposed to get from it. I have wondered if it was at least a little bit about Harrison Ford specifically just given that he’s this super, you know, hunky, right sort of right like, kind of all American boy who in that pivotal moment where he’s saying, why did you do that to me? What does he do at the end?
  • Speaker 1
    0:33:45

    He pulls out a joint. And he like, we’re supposed to see that actually, he’s a little bit of a weirdo. Right? He’s a little bit of, like, he has he’s not quite the hyperconfident sort of, you know, superhero who you see, who for who we see. In fact, when he’s first bullying, Sammy, but also who the audience sees when he’s on screen.
  • Speaker 1
    0:34:04

    And that is if you know anything about Harrison Ford. Harrison Ford is like on the one hand, kind of what you see on screen. And also like a little bit weirder and a little bit more of like this guy was like a kind of odd pot smoking art Artsy guy who just be happens, who have become the most popular actor on the planet for about twenty years. And so I I didn’t know if I you know that’s speculation. But I think it was about it was partly about the creation of movie stars, but it was also I think you’re right, Alyssa, to to pair that with his seeing of his of his mother’s not quite infidelity, but sort of where her heart is at.
  • Speaker 1
    0:34:42

    Because in one case, cinema is revealing a truth that he can’t escape. And in another case, he’s using cinema to create a truth that may not be fully real. And so that it is, to me, a sort of paired argument about what cinema can do. On the one hand, It shows you something that you may not want to see, but that you find it to be true and you can’t help it. And on the other hand, it creates a reality because what he did when he created that movie star was he showed Logan, I believe, the the runner’s name is.
  • Speaker 1
    0:35:19

    He showed Logan to his classmates in a new light. In a way that they already saw to some extent, but he highlighted it, exaggerated, built that legend in that myth and made that legend and that myth real to the rest of the class. And so it’s, to me, those those two moments are sort of paired beats. About the ways that cinema both reveals and creates truth.
  • Speaker 3
    0:35:41

    One wish I had for both of you. Did you think his father thought that Sammy would end up sort of finding the evidence of the affair. What
  • Speaker 1
    0:35:51

    do you mean? Like,
  • Speaker 3
    0:35:52

    when he sort of when he really pushes him to, like, make this movie ramping trip.
  • Speaker 2
    0:35:57

    No. No. I don’t think so.
  • Speaker 1
    0:35:59

    I think that was an example of his father’s guilelessness. Right? Of of of the way in which his father did not understand what was going on with his mom. We were supposed to we were supposed to understand that his dad just just saw a distraught woman and who who was having a hard time and wanted and he the one thing, you know, his his dad was not in touch with art or with him with emotions. But he kind of had this this sense that his wife connected with the world through art and maybe through her son’s art and was just sort of like kind of he he didn’t fully under he didn’t fully understand his son’s art or his wife’s, but he he knew that they were intimately connected in some way or another.
  • Speaker 3
    0:36:46

    So did Did you interpret the early part of the movie as his father not understanding that his wife was having an affair with his best
  • Speaker 1
    0:36:56

    friend? Yes. I am not certain it even rose to the level of affair at least in the direct sexual sense. There’s that moment in which she says whatever you imagined it didn’t go that far. And I also yes.
  • Speaker 1
    0:37:12

    I very much did not interpret this as as the father knowing that that was happening. If there’s a whole line about how he couldn’t possibly imagine that anything is wrong with their relationship?
  • Speaker 2
    0:37:24

    Well, there’s there’s also there’s the line in the car when they’re driving to California. Right? Where he says, I had a dream last night that I got in a fight with Benny. How funny? How funny is that?
  • Speaker 2
    0:37:34

    And I again, I don’t think that is him. I I didn’t I did not even read that as him like kind of you know, subtitization.
  • Speaker 3
    0:37:42

    So this is so interesting to me because I thought part of what was fascinating about the movie was the clear current of understanding between that, you know, these two characters that, you know, there’s something that is that Bert is tolerating on some level, Mizzie’s relationship with Benny. And periodically trying to pull it away and then recognizing that it’s a necessary accommodation. And part of what is so devastating about the scene where they announced the separation is the extent to which, like, bird is giving her permission and sort of excusing her. And that is that almost more than the separation it self is what is so upsetting for the kids. I mean, you have that sort of back and forth where you have the scene talking about the fight.
  • Speaker 3
    0:38:46

    You have this scene where they where Mizzie is, you know, in just like in a way that is so inappropriate and emotional insisting that BERT. Get Benny the transfer to Arizona. You know, you have that clear that scene when Benny buys Sammy the camera,
  • Speaker 1
    0:39:06

    where
  • Speaker 3
    0:39:06

    he’s talking about, like, how they need to go to California, like, this sort of separation is good for all of them. And I think part of what is sort of interesting and, you know, rich about the movie is actually its portrait of you know, parental accommodation and bargaining and deal making and Burt’s sort of tolerance of something unconventional and, you know, destabilizing and his inability to sort of make that work. So I interpreted the entire movie as him understanding that sort of depth of feeling and trying to negotiate it. So it’s interesting to me that you guys didn’t see it that way, which is not to say either of us is right or wrong.
  • Speaker 2
    0:39:52

    I think he clearly recognizes that there’s an affinity there between the two of them and that, you know, they are they are friends. I I just I don’t I don’t know that it it I I am not a hundred percent sure that is The
  • Speaker 1
    0:40:07

    the scene that’s — The extent. — that to me that convinced me that he didn’t know because I I will say I wondered briefly whether he knows and whether the movie is gonna tell us, oh, he’s he’s known the whole time. Seem that convinced me he didn’t was where he’s just like, well, Benny is my best friend. And he’s just it’s this sort of totally clueless thing that he says to Miski about, like, he’s just saying, well, he’s my best friend. He’s not up to it.
  • Speaker 1
    0:40:32

    He doesn’t understand what they’re actually arguing about. And with the movement there and that’s because he doesn’t fully understand what’s going on between his wife and Betty. And
  • Speaker 3
    0:40:45

    I think I interpreted
  • Speaker 2
    0:40:46

    that scene differently as like a sort of unspoken negotiation. I will say the only the only time I thought that Bert might know was when when he sees them getting into the car together and kind of like Cox’s head like a dog who was confused by something he has seen. He was like, whoa. That was that that was the one that was the one moment where I was like, yeah, maybe but I I still don’t think
  • Speaker 1
    0:41:11

    I agree. It’s a plausible interpretation, but I didn’t see it that way when I was watching watching it.
  • Speaker 2
    0:41:16

    Alright. Alright. So what do we think? Thumbs up for thumbs down on Fableman’s. Alyssa.
  • Speaker 3
    0:41:20

    Thumbs up.
  • Speaker 1
    0:41:21

    Peter. Thumbs up. It actually hit me pretty hard in some ways for idiosyncratic personal reasons. It’s a little long. It’s like in the California, high school stuff doesn’t totally work.
  • Speaker 1
    0:41:31

    But It’s a very good movie.
  • Speaker 2
    0:41:33

    A cautious thumbs up. Alright. That’s it for this week’s show. Make sure to swing by at m a dot brook dot com for your bonus at So on Friday, make sure to tell your friends strong recommendation from a friend is basically the only way to grow podcast audiences. If you don’t grow, we will die.
  • Speaker 2
    0:41:46

    If you did not love two days up, so please would me on Twitter at study button shop them and see that it is in fact the best show in your podcast feed. See you guys next week.
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