Oscars 2013 and Spielberg: The storyteller is part of our cultural DNA
Oscars 2013: Oscar or not for 'Lincoln,' Steven Spielberg has not only shaped our fantasies, he's influenced a generation's perspective on history.
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Developing a degree of teflon to criticism, and following his gut and an uncanny eye and ear for storytelling, Spielberg has matured and broadened his skills over the years, now doing more than just jerking everyone's emotional chains of terror, love, hate, embarrassment, anger.Skip to next paragraph
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After such crowd-pleasing, popcorn action movies as "Jaws" and a couple "Indiana Jones" movies, he turned to face head-on some of the truly complex moral topics of contemporary life. Those include racism and prejudice ("Amistad," "The Color Purple," "Schindler's List"), historical and cultural memories ("Saving Private Ryan"), technological morality ("A.I."), scientific ethics and governmental intrusion ("Minority Report"), immigration restriction ("The Terminal"), state-sponsored assassination ("Munich"), and the morality of war ("Empire of the Sun," "War Horse").
Fast-forward to 2012, and it's still clear Spielberg hasn't abandoned his inner child. He recently told Oprah Winfrey how he had to leave the set of "Lincoln" because of the emotional resonance of one of Daniel Day-Lewis's Lincoln speeches: "I think the first time [I cried] is when [Mr. Day-Lewis] gave his very, very long and important explanation of why he needed to get the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery passed as constitutional law."
Spielberg said that at that point he moved to another room so that no one else could see him crying, because getting emotional in front of everyone is "not a good thing" for a director.
The key to figuring out how Spielberg manages to make history leap off the screen may be in the way he focuses attention on personal stories within a complex web of actual events. It makes viewers experience the broad sweep of time through the eyes of a particular person. That's what he did with Oskar Schindler, the greedy German factory owner-turned-savior; with Cinque, the proud African-turned-slave in "Amistad"; and with the ambivalent assassin Avner in "Munich."
In "Lincoln," however, Spielberg faced far more complicated challenges, because he re-creates the tumultuous last four months in the life of one of the most revered and well-known figures in American history. Based on Doris Kearns Goodwin's book "Team of Rivals," Spielberg's "Lincoln" offers up a man who emerges as an intricate blend of idealist and pragmatist, of visionary and horse-trader. Yet this brooding, even melancholy, president fits comfortably into Spielberg's obsession with broken families that need parental healing. The distraught father figure must reconstitute the shattered Union into one nation, and by doing so, mend the painful wounds that have ripped apart the American family.