The Fabelmans The privilege of cinema

When it comes to the biggest hit of next year’s Oscar season, when the Hollywood director Steven Spielberg returned to his roots, continued to work with his old partner Tony Kushner (“Munich”, “Lincoln”, “West Side Story”) to write the semi-autobiographical film “House of Dreams”. Based on Spielberg’s life experiences, the story focuses on the main character Sammy’s family relationships from childhood to youth, his laughter and sadness with his parents and sisters, his boundless love for film and pursuit of his dreams, as well as his school life where anti-Semitism was prevalent, the budding and troubled youth.

The House of Dreams has been nominated for five Golden Globe Awards, including Best Drama, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Screenplay and Best Original Score, and earlier won the most important award at the Toronto International Film Festival, the People’s Choice Award, which was voted by the audience.

In 1895, the Lumière brothers filmed “Train Coming in”, marking the birth of cinema. For nearly a minute, the roar of the train, the approach from a distance, the passengers waiting at the station and the boarding and alighting, seemingly unadorned and uncut today, completely shocked the Parisian audience at the time. The train thus became one of the earliest and most enduring “spectacles” in the history of cinema.

Although “The Train Enters” was not scripted or shot with any skill, there is no real objective truth in it, because while we were frightened by the realism of the train colliding head-on, we were also surprised by the calm restraint of the passengers on the platform, who did not know that a huge machine was filming and capturing their every move not far away.

In fact, the “passengers” walking around were of course aware of the camera’s presence, and most of them were friends and relatives of the Lumière brothers, pretending to be passengers they didn’t know in order to create the effect of real strangers on the platform. It should be said that these passengers were the earliest actors in the history of cinema. In an era when filming technology had not yet caught up, “acting” took the lead in playing an important role in re-enacting objective facts in films.

The reason for mentioning “Train to the Station” is not only because Spielberg opened “House of Dreams” with the same “King of Players” in which the train derailed and collided with the car in a fierce disaster spectacle as the source that prompted young Sammy to get involved with the film, but also because the key point is that since the beginning of cinema, in addition to recording objective facts/reality that can make the audience gasp in amazement, “faking” can also achieve such an effect.

If the Lumière brothers still had to wait for the train to enter the platform while filming, “King of Players” uses a half-century-old cinematographic language and technique of cinematography, editing and compositing to capture the tragic scene of a train full of passengers tumbling into each other in a safe and secure manner, while the cars and people as props and actors are intact.

Sami’s first and lifelong impression of cinema was a man-made “disaster”. When he returned home, he took the first 8mm camera given to him by his mother, Mitzi (Michelle Williams), and used a miniature train model made by his father, Burt (Paul Dano), to repeatedly simulate the train derailment and collision scene in the film. Here, Spielberg uses a lot of subjective perspectives to show the boy’s amazement at the oncoming train, and the boy uses his own hands as the screen of the projector and stares at the image, at which time he has already appreciated the quality and charm of the film “fake – dream” from the perspective of the general audience, but is the first time from the director’s position to experience the privilege of “controlling everything” given by the film.

Spielberg shows us from the beginning of the film that it is impossible for a film not to have “fake” elements, especially for an imaginative boy, and that such “fakes” are precisely interconnected with a world full of childish fantasies, and the film becomes the “event” vehicle for Sami to transform his daily experiences into the whims of his mind, and then inscribe them on the image: a trip to the hospital to have his teeth pulled (a childhood nightmare for most children), a mummy, and a mummy. His sisters and parents became the initial actors and “frightened” audience.

Just as the Lumière brothers mobilized their family and friends to make “Train to the Station”, which was the beginning of world cinema (but still essentially a family film), Sami’s process of making a film with light equipment and gathering family members together can be seen as the birth of his personal (family-based) film history, and this is what the title “The Fabelmans” means. This is the deeper meaning of the title “The Fabelmans”: “family” is often the origin of dreams about cinema, about creativity.

As he enters adolescence, Sami’s (Gabe Labelle) creative environment gradually leaves the confined confines of his home, allowing him more space for on-set scheduling and direction, and the group of actors changes from his parents and sisters to his schoolmates. At the same time, as director, writer and editor, Sammy’s skills in filmmaking have been enriched and extended, and he has become involved in more and more complicated shooting work, including directing actors’ performances and positioning, camera scheduling, lighting and music, boring editing work, and even trying to solve the problem of lack of realistic scenes.

For example, Sammy was inspired by “Two Tigers butchering the Dragon” and participated in the first western shot at the Scout camp. He perforated the film to create the “special effects” of the cowboy shooting, with the rousing background music, the audience in the auditorium were deeply impressed by the heart-stopping plot and the gripping duel between good and evil.

With the help of the soundtrack, special effects and camera editing, the combination of the raw footage, which looks very childish and fake, immerses the audience in it, which is precisely a “fake into dream” viewing experience. It is as if they are the protagonist of the screen, and what is happening around them is different from daily life, but familiar as a dream.

Spielberg juxtaposes the growing sophistication of Sami’s filmmaking skills with the separation between his cinematic dreams and his family’s reality, as well as the discrimination (anti-Semitism), curiosity and confusion (sexuality) he encountered growing up, showing a clear negative correlation.

In order to appease his mother’s grief over the loss of a loved one, Sami uses his camera to record the family’s laughter on a camping trip, and while editing the footage, he accidentally discovers that his camera has captured a certain “invisible” emotional connection that is not allowed by the world. He was the only one who knew that behind the seemingly casual smiling faces and happy moments lay the “truth” that could cause a happy family to collapse in an instant.

So, in the final home video, Sammy is left with only the bright smile of his mother and the graceful dance under the moonlight, such beautiful and touching memories and images, but we all know that such a “dream-like” mother is created by the director’s careful editing, and the mother and his father’s best friend Bernie (Seth Rogen) secret love affair, may cause the family breakup of the “harmful” footage All of them were eliminated. This is perhaps the first time that Sammy is disgusted by the privilege granted by the film, because no matter how skillful Sammy is in cutting and synthesizing the video footage, there is nothing he can do to stop the fact that his father moves frequently due to his work, leaving his family behind, and that his long-suppressed mother has fallen in love, especially when he rewinds over and over again to see how sincere his mother’s smile is when she faces her lover.

Nevertheless, Sami can only keep the secret, this moment once loved the film has become a medium for secret expression of sorrow. In the war film, Sami can’t help but integrate his confusion about his mother’s cheating into the mind of the surviving officer facing his dead comrades, the officer who gave the wrong order and caused his men to fall into the Nazi trap, killing them all. The officer can refer to both the mother who made the wrong decision (in the eyes of her family) and Sami, who realizes the danger of the images – there are no secrets in front of the camera – and chooses to punish himself. The irony is that the audience marvels and cheers at the thrill and violence on screen, but has no idea that it is fed by a teenager’s despair at a family life that is falling apart. How is the audience’s awe not a form of violence against the creators themselves?

Even though the talented Sami can control the movie “what to shoot” and “how to shoot” (Spielberg deliberately arranged a scene, in Sami’s camera, the family moved into the new home of warm images, the next scene is the reality of the parents on the verge of divorce), but ultimately can not control the sudden and cruel changes in the process of life and growth.

The inseparability between “dreaming” and “reality” is further developed: if the “family film” (a fairy tale like documentary) satisfies the parents’ and sisters’ demands for a happy family and parent-child relationship, then for Sami, who is both the director and the son, the price paid for providing the audience with laughter and hope is the unbearable sadness and melancholy after knowing the truth alone, and in reality The mother with flaws also became Sammy’s (Spielberg) future muse to create the “perfect mother” on the screen.

Sammy was so disturbed by what he had captured that he sold the camera and stopped shooting. Once the film lost its dream-making function, people (including the creator himself) also lost the power to cope with the ever-changing, cold and unforgiving world of reality from the symbol of eternity on the screen. Therefore, when Sami has the courage to pick up the camera again and start filming “Truant Day”, the potential tension between art and life also tears out a private space for Sami to face and bear the pain (broken family, school violence, lost love) alone: the pursuit of art is precisely “selfish and lonely”.

The school documentary screened at the high school dance is, on the surface, a youthful spectacle of unbridled flesh and sweat, but Sami’s “dream” is no longer about giving the audience the strength to face the hardships of life, but about using the danger lurking in the images (the camera sees through the unnoticed “glitter”) to “praise and denigrate” the anti-Semitic students who bully others with their own desires and hatred. “By creating a heroic image on screen that can never be reached, Spielberg torments and humiliates the other side. Spielberg takes this opportunity to show us that cinema is not only beautiful and innocent, but that it can also be a self-centered and aggressive tool.

In “No”, Jorden Peele warns us how spectacle can eat up any audience or filmmaker who tries to capture and challenge its authority; for Spielberg, it was the dazzling “spectacle” that led him on his journey to pursue his cinematic dreams, so the old man believes that spectacle itself is not scary, but rather the important thing is to learn how to control and harness those crazy ideas about film and art in his head The important thing is to learn how to control and manage those crazy ideas about film and art in your head. As Sammy talks to his elderly uncle Boris (Judd Hirsch), who used to perform with ferocious animals in the circus, Sammy asks, “Is it art to put your brain in the mouth of a lion? The uncle laughed at this and responded, “No, sticking your head in a lion’s mouth is just gutsy, making sure the lion doesn’t bite your head off is the art.

It can be said that “House of Dreams” is not only a semi-autobiographical film of Spielberg, but also a spectacle of “film and people”: the camera records everything in life, whether it is good or ugly, positive or negative, without any bias. Olds refuses to be labeled as a nostalgic “this is my private memory and emotion, no trespassing”, and the child in front of the screen who is struck by the magic of light and shadow, the teenager with the camera capturing tiny things everywhere, can be every viewer outside the screen. The characters enjoy secrets equally, and the film, the image becomes a dark room where they exchange secrets with each other, and all the sadness, joy, anxiety, pain and regret are reflected in it and transformed by the camera into a constant source of life energy.

What pushes Sami to believe in his dreams and pursue them again is perhaps no longer the innocence and passion of his childhood, but the numbness and despair of the increasingly bad reality of life, which also excludes the tendency of the film to reminisce about the past, but more the language, ideals and actions belonging to the present. For most people, in front of the flood of life, movies are not important at all; however, for others, if even movies are lost, then there is nothing left.

At the end of the film, John Ford, played by David Lynch, says to Sammy, “When the horizon is at the bottom, it’s fun; when the horizon is at the top, it’s fun; when the horizon is in the middle, it’s boring as hell! Even if life and growth are cruel, please don’t give up the curiosity of “looking up” or “looking down” to explore the unknown, to record, to express, to create dreams / chase dreams, which is both the sincere advice given to us by John Ford, David Lynch and Spielberg, and the “privilege” given to all by the movie.

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