Saturday, March 31, 2007
Born on December 18, 1947 at Cincinnati, Ohio in the United States, Steven Spielberg is the oldest and the only male child of the four children his parents had. His father Arnold Spielberg, was an electrical engineer and was involved in early development of computers while his mother Leah Adler, was a former concert pianist.
Steven Spielberg's birth almost coincided with the first sightings of UFOs over the United States. There is some controversy to his year of birth as it is said that he was probably born a year earlier than what is generally believed. In the next few years, Steven was followed by three sisters, Anne, Sue, and Nancy. Steven would later complain that he spent his childhood in a house with three screaming young sisters and a mother who played the piano with seven other women. Although he was born in Ohio, young Steven would later grow up in Arizona.
In his childhood, he watched television most of the time as his mother indulged in an affair and his father too was busy in his own world. As a child, he kept shooting in the backyard with a camcorder. In 1952, one night, his father woke him up in the middle of the night and took him to an open ground where people were lying with blankets on, looking up at the sky. He was taken there to see the meteor shower. He remembers that it was scary to be awakened in the night and taken somewhere without being told where but it was quite pleasing to watch the cosmic meteor shower. From that moment he never looked at the dark skies as scary, but as a source of such wonderful occurrences. This incident helped him form an orientation that mystery offers promise and not threat
Another event in 1952 was his first experience of a movie theater. Again it was Arnold, his father, who took him, after carefully explaining what they were going to see. Not carefully enough, however, since Steven thought Cecil B. DeMille's film about a circus, The Greatest Show On Earth, was a real circus and not one on film. The circus interested him, since his mother had told him how an uncle had run away with one as a boy, the same uncle, it seems who had been in the black market, and had had hidden contraband watches under the family bed. The circus left a strong and everlasting impression on his mind. He was especially very impressed by one of the scenes: a train crash. As soon as he had a train set, Steven repeatedly recreated the train crash, and shadows of DeMille's cardboard characters drift through many of his films.
An Early Taste For Movies
He continued to find movies, unlike television, emotionally overwhelming. Especially Disney cartoons. At eight, he would come screaming home after watching Snow White and The Seven Dwarves. His parents did not understand it, because Walt Disney cartoons were not supposed to scare but to delight and enthral. His parents tried to keep him away from the feature cartoons.
He enrolled in Scottsdale's Arcadia High School but whatever school meant to him, it wasn't higher education. He's always avoided discussing classes or his academic record. At Arcadia High, he signed up with the Boy Scouts, and was admitted to its honor society, the Order of the Arrow. He began to study the clarinet too, and to march in the school band. His mother's preoccupation with her piano prejudiced him against the classical repertoire, and he would never warm to pop or rock. His ideal was movie music, of which he soon had an encylopedic recall. Once he had begun making his own amateur films, he would noodle tunes on his clarinet, but only for his mother to transcribe for piano and record as soundtracks. Shorn of friends and relations by the move to Arizona, and hungry for acceptance, Spielberg took refuge increasingly in showmanship. He began having puppet shows when he was eight years old. For the rest of his life, displays of virtuoso invention would alternate with attempts to create the suburban contentment for which he envied others.
A Strange Moment
Physical awkwardness remained his greatest humiliation. In a school footrace, he once found himself second last, only just ahead of an even slower handicapped boy. It was this boy the crowd cheered on, yelling 'C'mon, John, you can beat Spielberg!' With the compulsion to win but also to satisfy the expectations of an audience that became characteristic of him as an adult, Speilberg contrived to trip so that the other boy could pass him. Then, once the other was well ahead, he threw himself into almost catching up, coming in a close last. John was carried off in triumph, while Spielberg, winner and loser at the same time, stood on the field and cried for five minutes. 'I'd never felt better and I'd never felt worse in my whole life.'
An Angered Son
The year 1959 was a year of significance for Spielberg. References to it riddle his films. It was the year he was bar mitzvahed (a Hebrew ritual). This was also the year when he began to resent his father's obsession with his work. His father brought home a transistor, and told him, 'Son, this is the future.' Speilberg grabbed it and swallowed it.
At 12, he had made his first film with script and actors and at 13, he won a contest with his 40-minute film, Escape to Nowhere. As he was old enough to be allowed to see almost anything at his local cinema, he plundered Hollywood for ideas to make movies.
Movies: Escape From Sadness
By the early 60s, his parents' marriage was failing. Steven fled from the cold silences of the house to the warmth of the cinema In 1962, he saw the film that was to inspire him above all others. David Lean had spent years in the desert making Lawrence Of Arabia, a truly epic picture. He eventually had envisioned about what kind of touch he would like to give to his movies. In 1963, with a singlemindedness that has become characteristic of him, he set out to make his first feature, science fiction adventure called Firelight. He wrote the first draft of the script in a night; the story of scientists who, investigating lights in space, provoke an alien invasion during which the visitors steal an entire city from earth and reassemble it on another planet.
His First Movie
Every weekend, for a year, Spielberg worked on the film with anyone he could cajole or bully into helping. No girl, no football games, no summer jobs diverted him. His enthusiasm and persistence were infectious. Even his mother helped him in taking some shots. Once he was finished, Spielberd edited the film to 140 minutes. Actors had come and gone over the year, but he persuaded students at the nearby University of Arizona to post-synchronize the speaking parts as he ran the film on a sheet stretched over one end of the den. The Arcadia school band recorded some music for it.
The result, though he now deprecates it as 'one of the five worst films ever made', was good enough to screen for an audience. He persuaded his father, who had already invested $ 300 in the project, to gamble another $ 400 for the hire of a local cinema. The audience consisted of friends, relatives of the actors, ex-Boy Scouts and local film fans. Most stayed to the end, and Arnold, his father, pocketed a $ 100 profit.
Move To Saratoga
His entry into the world of cinema was also his exit from childhood and Phoenix. His father had decided to make another move, this time to join IBM at Saratoga, tem miles from San Jose, near San Francisco. Almost immediately they packed up, and set out for California.
After the barren and dry landscape of Arizona, Spielberg loved the hills and vineyards of Saratoga. But this move finally wrecked the marriage of his parents. The separation of his parents wrenched Steven, who developed insecurities about marriage and a sense of loss that would be reflected in his films, which are filled with sons seeking fathers and children deprived of their families.
Saratoga also exposed him to anti-Semitism for the first time. His parents had never been very religious, but at the same time the religion's emphasis on family values fed his need to belong. As an adult, he became a classic Jewish father - and sometimes, mother.
Because of a lack of academic interest, Spielberg's grades, never high, sagged still further in Saratoga. In the summer vacation of 1963, he made a trip to Los Angeles to visit his uncle. There, he visited movie studios and saw what it was really like in the film making world. After the summer of 1963, he returned to Saratoga and high school. In vacations, he would make lengthy forays to Los Angeles. He visited producers trying to find someone to look at his films. Everywhere he went he was rejected, although one did agree to screen some of Firelight but that did not work out either.
The Gradual Rise
Before graduating with BA in English from California State University in 1970, he had almost eight amateur works to his credit. A short film Amblin' directed by him in 1969, which he made for millionaire Dennis Hoffman, went out to win an award at the Atlanta Film Festival, and helped him to get noticed by almost all the big name studios. The struggling period was over. He was finally noticed by Universal Pictures, which hired him to direct television shows. He simply loved this job and soon proved himself by successfully directing Joan Crawford in the TV-movie pilot for Rod Serling’s Night Gallery. He then went on to direct episodes of such weekly series as Columbo, The Psychiatrist and Marcus Welby, MD. He also made three TV-movies; one of which, Duel made in 1971, was released in theaters across Europe, where it received commercial success and critical acclaim.
After the recognition of Duel, Spielberg became much confident and was ready for a theatrical film. His first official big-screen debut came in 1974 with the release of The Sugarland Express. Although, it received favorable reviews like "one of the most phenomenal debut films in the history of movies" from Pauline Kael, it failed at the box-office due to poor marketing.
However, his next film, Jaws, released in 1975 became an all-time box-office hit and grossed more than former box-office champ The Godfather. It was historically a difficult shoot with untrained crew, malfunctioning mechanical shark and erratic seas. However, success of this classic production propelled Spielberg to walk into the list of Hollywood’s best directors. The movie helped usher in, the modern age of movie blockbusters winning three Oscars for editing, sound and original score.
An Uncanny Knack
In 1977, his next picture Close Encounters of the Third Kind, along with George Lucas’ Star Wars, inaugurated a new era of screen science fiction and special effects driven filmmaking. This became the hallmark of Spielberg movies. His artistry in this movie was the light flooding in through a doorway suggesting brightness and mystery outside. He started showing something amazing that the audiences had never seen before.
By this time, Spielberg had gained an uncanny knack for eliciting and manipulating audience response. He started turning ordinary story lines into mega movies with his brilliant craftsmanship, coupled with special effects. He fell in love with the camera and not the stories. Old style stories of adventure serials of ’30s and ’40s were crafted with cutting edge direction to score an unexpected triumph with Raiders of the Lost Ark in early 80s followed by two sequel movies in the following years. In 1979, he met Amy Irwing, an actress and married her, but the marriage would not last for long..
In 1982, he founded a company using the name of his first professional film, Amblin Entertainment and produced ET – Extra Terrestrial. The film hurtled him to the top slot in the film industry. It won both critics’ appreciation and a huge box-office response. Spielberg continued his success by directing and producing amazing movies in the 80s.
While auditioning for the film Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom he met actress Kate Capshaw who was to do a lead role. He developed a deep relationship with her. Kate was married to Robert Capshaw and had had a daughter before her film career took off.
Success And Failure
In the late 80s, his films, The Color Purple, Always and Empire of the Sun, which dealt with adult subjects, failed at the box-office. At the same time, the Back to the Future trilogy and Who Framed Roger Rabbit produced by him became smash hits. He was now perceived as a producer rather than a director. Through his company, he produced over a dozen films. In 1987, he finally received an Oscar and the Irving Thalberg Award, a career achievement award given to producers.
Divorce And Marriage
In 1989 he divorced Amy Irving and married Kate Capshaw in 1991. Before marrying Spielberg, Kate had adopted a son who was adopted by him later. Spielberg loves children and believes that children keep the child inside him alive. He has six children, five from Kate and one from Amy.
Movies With A Difference
In 1993, Spielberg directed two dramatically different films. Jurassic Park, a fascinating science fiction based on Michael Crichton’s best seller on dinosaur life and created best effects on screen, the world has ever seen. The other one was a three-hour, black and white (sepia) masterpiece, Schindler’s List. This film with tremendous emotional impact and a fine artistic perfection finally earned him an Oscar for the best direction, which he was deprived of, so far.
Dreamworks: Where Dreams Are Reality
In 1994, Spielberg started Dreamworks SKG, a media company, with partners Jeffery Katzenberg and David Geffen. The movie studio, Playa Vista announced under Dreamworks SKG, was supposed to be the first in Hollywood in over 75 years but the deal with Playa Vista was cancelled for some reasons and is now planned at a new location. The company is into animation, film and television software production, film distribution, live action, interactive games, arcade and virtually every aspect of entertainment. Spielberg has understood technology and business very well. In 1995, he along with his partners at Dreamworks SKG announced a creative partnership with Microsoft Incorporated to form Dreamworks Interactive to produce interactive games, videos and teaching materials.
The Highest Paid Entertainer
By 1997, Spielberg’s annual income touched $283 million and he was declared the highest paid
entertainer for the year by Forbes. With Amblin Entertainment, Dreamworks SKG and other successful projects such as Idealab - an Internet content developing company, Dive – a restaurant chain. Business Week of June 1998 estimated his value at $1 billion. Understanding the pulse of entertainment market and flexibility to adopt new technology and business practices has made this entertainer a successful entrepreneur too.
His film, Saving Private Ryan, in 1998 again created history and has been praised by critics as unparalleled in the history of cinema and at the same time has become the most popular film of the 90s. He won an Oscar for the 2nd time, for best direction for this film.
Since mid 80s, Spielberg has kept himself busy in the TV realm too. He has produced TV programs such as Amazing Stories between 1985 and 1987, Tiny Toon Adventures between 1990 and 1995, Steven Spielberg presents Animaniacs between 1993 and 1997 and Steven Spielberg Presents Pinky and the Brain between 1995 and 1999.
Steven Spielberg has contributed significantly to the western world cinema and has changed the course of Hollywood history using masterly art of filmmaking and hi-tech special effects. He has certainly proved to be the most influential person in American cinema and most successful entertainer America has produced so far. His contributions in future will certainly continue to inspire the film industry.