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Seeing “The Fabelmans” on the Big Screen

I went for a rare enough trip to the cinema to see “The Fabelmans,” written by Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner, and directed by Spielberg. I went, both to see the movie, and also to support a kind of moviemaking that seems to be disappearing.

I am sure that many know that the film is an autobiographical tale of the young Spielberg, from a boy of about six, to a young adult, and of his family. It shows how he fell in love with movies and moviemaking from that early age, and how he managed to follow his love, to where he actually becomes a filmmaker, of course presaging his extraordinary success and fame as a director.

I really was never a great devotee of Spielberg’s films, but I liked them well enough. I do not usually like blockbusters like “Indiana Jones,” but with the takeover of the film industry by the Marvel franchise, I am actually somewhat nostalgic for films like “Jaws,” entertaining adventures without much in the way of social commentary, or the construction of an endlessly spiraling fictional universe which churns out dozens of these a year.

I liked “The Fabelmans” quite a bit. It is sweet-natured, but not without its poignant and even sad moments. It has charm, which is fairly rare in films now. He and his family are quire likeable, but of course have flaws. The acting is uniformly excellent, with Michelle Williams, who impressed me so much in the TV show “Fosse/Verdon,” being superb in this as well.” John Williams came up with a different kind of score than his usual rather overwrought ones in his collaborations with Spielberg which certainly did win many Oscars. And I am younger than Spielberg, but the film did make me nostalgic for 1964. They got the girls’ hairstyles just right!

But I am not trying to write a film review; I do not know enough about film technique or even film history (outside of film noir) to write one which would satisfy me. I did want to reflect my sense that in a kind of mirroring, the film evokes a bygone era, while the making of the film itself seems to be one of the last of its kind

That would be a movie which does not have any particular agenda, other than to evoke a humaneness, an appreciation of growing up, and of the choices you make, and the people you encounter. Of course Spielberg is a famous director, but I don’t think that he would have had to have turned out to be, to make this film great,

We’ve seen movies like this: evocations of growing up, and trying to make a place in the world Sometimes these are low-budget films by first-time directors. What I like about them, only if they are done well, of course, is that they are unpretentious, and they try to show you, not tell you; and to let you view the characters through your own lens of perception, and your own history.

I have my own artistic taste, and in movies, it does not include “blockbuster” CGI-driven comic books. I don’t scorn them, I just have no interest in that cinematic universe, or should I say multiverse? Nor do I like to feel beaten over the head with movies about diversity, and various isms. I feel like someone in the 16th Century being subjected to a series of Morality Plays, where the names of the characters tell you everything you want to know about their nature, and how the author wants you to interpret them.

I personally think that the Best Picture winners of the last ten years or so have been, with an exception or two, among the worst ever to garner that honor. I do hope that “The Fabelmans” wins Best Picture, because it is in some ways a return to “old-style film-making.” It is one of the betting favorites to win, but apparently the box office for the movie is not great; and we have seen early favorites beaten out by some quirky, often foreign, film which catches the fancy of the “New Academy.”

I think we need more old-fashioned films, rendered with craft, though obviously tastes differ among the public. “The Fabelmans” doesn’t lecture the viewer, it doesn’t try to get him or her to see things in the way that the writer and director insist that they do.

I am very tired of seeing or hearing about so many films which appear to have a social or political agenda. Of course there is an important place for that, there always has been, since art first began. But it is so refreshing to see a film which is not made from anger, or outrage, or a desire to convert its audience to any movement, but which comes from a sense of shared humanity; about choices made, travails, sometimes humorous, sometimes painful, which we can all identify with, or at least recognize.

“It’s a Wonderful Life,” “The Best Years of Our Lives,” “The Graduate,” “Annie Hall” come to mind. Films that are at times sweet and touching, and which make you feel like clapping when the film ends.

My girlfriend said about ‘The Fabelmans,” that “in the memorable words of Roger Ebert, ‘I want to hug this film.'” Ebert said that about the movie “Ghost World,” which is more whimsical, but also has a charm and humaneness that has caused me to see it several times. So I hope that Spielberg’s film about himself and his family, is shown the appreciation that I think it not only deserves, but is almost a necessity, if the world of films, where people sit down in a theatre in a communal appreciation of the human experience, is to survive.