I don't cry watching movies. I weep. Sometimes inconsolably. Certain classic movies can press my buttons in a way that isn't affected by repetition. It's a Wonderful Life always hurts me. Weirdly, the bit that is the most 'I'm not crying, you're crying' moment is when Old Man Gower hits George and then realizes he's made a a mistake. Other films get me all lachrymose and I couldn't tell you why. Even adverts at times. Re-watching E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial it was embarrassing. My daughter told me to pull myself together.
Raiders of the Lost Ark was the first Steven Spielberg film I saw on the big screen, at The Astra cinema, Barrow-in-Furness in July 1981. I was 9 years old. And it changed my life.
Stanley Kubrick said it should have been marketed as a drama. John Milius saw it as an opportunity to make a historical film about a general to rival Patton. Steven Spielberg admitted he might have been better off making the film as a musical. On one thing everyone seems to agree. 1941 didn't work as a comedy.
Steven Spielberg is a home-wrecker. Literally. In Sugarland Express, the foster parents of Baby Brandon have their home invaded and their windows smashed by the sniper team and in Jaws, we have Quint’s home The Orca wrecked and sunk by the great white shark but Close Encounters of the Third Kind takes domestic destruction to a whole other level.
Jaws was shown on ITV 8 October 1981, its UK television premier. A Saturday. I was 9 years old. 23 million others watched it the same night. Almost half of the UK population.
I came to Steven Spielberg's first film very late. Only a couple of years ago. I might have seen some of it on TV as a kid but I never sought it out and its fame was obscured by the mega-fame of the subsequent Jaws. But The Sugarland Express is a beautifully shot tragicomic road movie with a surprisingly dark undercurrent.
TV movies come with their own constraints. The budget is low; the schedule, tight and the ambition, narrow. Steven Spielberg got his shot with a Richard Matheson script based on Matheson's own experience driving home from a golf game the day JFK was shot. But Duel broke through a ten day shoot and the threat of Gregory Peck - his casting would have seen Spielberg booted off the project - to become one of the best TV movies ever made.
I remember reading in one of Bob Woodward’s books about George W. Bush that the man’s idiocy was overstated and that actually he was a very clever man who simply had difficulty expressing himself, especially when he was called on to do improv. As proof was a challenge he had with Karl Rove to read one hundred books in a year. It rocked me on my heels to think about Bush reading that many books and still claiming his favourite children’s book to be The Very Hungry Caterpillar, which was published while he was already an adult. So when I saw on GoodReads that you could challenge yourself and your friends to a reading competition I flung myself into it but hating to lose aimed for the decidedly lower figure - by about 50 percent - of 50.
You know things are bad when everyone you meet tells you that you've lost weight.
At the end of October I visited China for the first time and I wanted to write a post about it. So I guess this is that post. I was there to participate in the first - year zero - edition of the Pingyao international film festival. I’ve already written reports for Sight and Sound and Film Bulletin and Il Manifesto, about the festival itself. And I wrote a piece on the politics surrounding China in the time I was there for Tim Marshall’s The What and the Why website. But I wanted to do something more personal. All of the observations that I found interesting but don’t quite fit in with those particular forums.
John Bleasdale is a writer. His work has appeared in The Guardian, The Independent, Il Manifesto, as well as CineVue.Com and theStudioExec.com. He has also written a number of plays, screenplays and novels.