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On Spielberg and "Manipulation" 
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Post On Spielberg and "Manipulation"
A horror director is praised for scaring you. A comedic director is praised for amusing you. So why does Spielberg take so much shit for "manipulating" your emotions? Isn't that what a director should do? Elicit an emotional response? Isn't it the height of snobbery to prefer a cold, distant movie that didn't get to you emotionally over a movie that made you feel?

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Mon May 20, 2013 4:31 pm
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Post Re: On Spielberg and "Manipulation"
My theory is that because he always tends to put out "Oscar bait," coupled with the fact that he's as mainstream a director as it gets for one who puts out those kinds of movies, he naturally ends up with a lot of haters. You know the kind, people who love to be contrarian just for the hell of it; they think he's "too popular and successful" and want to kick him down a notch or two.

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Mon May 20, 2013 4:39 pm
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Post Re: On Spielberg and "Manipulation"
Every director and every movie ever is manipulative. The question isn't whether or not there's manipulation afoot, but whether or not it's being done well. It's like stage magic. You don't blame the magician for trying to fool you. That's why you're there--to be fooled. You can start blaming the magician if he's sloppy or unskilled with his sleight-of-hand. It's an insult to expect the audience to accept a poorly-crafted, unconvincing illusion.

Spielberg is not a particularly clumsy director. It is rare to see his hand slip. Perhaps that's why people make such a big fucking shitshow out of it when it does.

I think part of the problem with movies (and perhaps viewers) as of late is that it's considered corny or insincere to make an earnest display of emotion.

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Mon May 20, 2013 4:43 pm
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Post Re: On Spielberg and "Manipulation"
Ken wrote:
Every director and every movie ever is manipulative. The question isn't whether or not there's manipulation afoot, but whether or not it's being done well. It's like stage magic. You don't blame the magician for trying to fool you. That's why you're there--to be fooled. You can start blaming the magician if he's sloppy or unskilled with his sleight-of-hand. It's an insult to expect the audience to accept a poorly-crafted, unconvincing illusion.

Spielberg is not a particularly clumsy director. It is rare to see his hand slip. Perhaps that's why people make such a big fucking shitshow out of it when it does.

I think part of the problem with movies (and perhaps viewers) as of late is that it's considered corny or insincere to make an earnest display of emotion.


Okay Ken, you just posted a variation of what I was thinking... WHEN WILL YOU SHARE YOUR TELEPATHIC ABILITIES WITH THE REST OF US?!?

Yeah, but what Ken said. I can't think of a movie where Spielberg's hand slips more than once, at least off the top of my head. The slow motion sex scenes in Munich, for example. It's been too long since I've seen E.T. but even as a kid, the goodbye scene at the end felt over the top. The ending to A.I. has issues, although not the ones most people think of. I think someone mentioned Minority Report because of it's "happy ending", but I don't recall the ending bothering me really, although I kind of remember it being downbeat (but it's been a few years).

So, I don't think I can think of a movie where he goes really off the rails more than once in a film, which is overall, pretty impressive.

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Last edited by thered47 on Mon May 20, 2013 5:09 pm, edited 1 time in total.



Mon May 20, 2013 4:59 pm
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Post Re: On Spielberg and "Manipulation"
I don't mind films being somewhat "maniplative" as long as it's done well, most of the time I don't mind when Spielberg does it, though I have to say that sex scene in Munich felt WAAAAAYYYYY out of place with the rest of the film.


Mon May 20, 2013 5:06 pm
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Post Re: On Spielberg and "Manipulation"
I think most mainstream director's strive to accomplish what Spielberg has mastered. It is why Spielberg is one of the world's greatest directors. That said, it seems (perhaps superficially) to me he has largely achieved this by distilling down the manipulation "formula" to appeal to the lowest common denominator - and make no mistake this "formula" certainly seems to work for an incredibly wide range of people; the young and old, rich and poor and across all cultures. Let's be honest, who really consistently hates what Spielberg produces? Robert Zemeckis springs to mind as being similarly "Spielbergian" in this regard.


Mon May 20, 2013 6:25 pm
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Post Re: On Spielberg and "Manipulation"
O.K. to sum it up: I think Spielberg is really great. One of the all time greats. He knows what the word magic means. In interviews he usually appears to be nice, down to earth, respectful and keen to explain why he did stuff and how. He even admits missteps.

There are just two propblems: he seems to rely a little too much in general about the childhood sense of wonder often using the American middle class (or better: their cinematic version) so audiences can identify.

He also went at least twice for Oscar bait, which is O.K. when you are successful but all too often dismissed as mainstream and lighweight. Spielberg definitely wants to leave a great body of work after he will be gone (which hopefully will be in the very distant future).

I do have a problem with the sappy and cheezy overacting he hammers out from time to time from his thespians. Examples:
Laura Dern opening her mouth in awe when seeing the first Dino. You can almost hear Spielberg giving her precise directions, it's so unnatural and exaggerated.
Hook: when Peter Pan's son whispers: "I love you daddy!" - yeah!!! American suburbs and its family values are the best!
Check "Jaws" - the trio of actors simply nailed it from start to finish. There was still an edge which Spielberg seems to have lost ever since.

Make no mistake: I still consider Spielberg one of the all time greats. Period.


Mon May 20, 2013 6:34 pm
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Post Re: On Spielberg and "Manipulation"
Ken wrote:
I think part of the problem with movies (and perhaps viewers) as of late is that it's considered corny or insincere to make an earnest display of emotion.


Bingo. Nicely said.

Has anyone here seen Empire of the Sun? It really crystallizes my Spielberg thoughts.

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Mon May 20, 2013 6:44 pm
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Post Re: On Spielberg and "Manipulation"
I'll say a few things (since it seems it was I who opened this whole can of worms in the first place :? ):

Don't get me wrong, I think Spielberg's a great filmmaker. But I just can't help but wonder why, "Munich" aside, I practically never like his 'serious' films as much as most of his crowd-pleasers. I have no problem with manipulative filmmaking (it IS part of filmmaking, after all), but when applied with such a heavy hand as Spielberg often does, it sort of takes me out of the film. As I said in the 'unpopular opinions' thread, it often feels more as though he's trying wring the desired emotions out of us rather than let them come out naturally. It's almost akin to the same reason I despise all these mainstream R-rated comedies these days; for me, they basically hit you over the head and say "LAUGH AT THIS!" instead of letting me laugh of my own accord. I suppose it's a wonder "Schindler's List" is among Spielberg's 10 best films considering it has one of the most discordant scenes in his entire oeuvre (the afore-mentioned 'I could've gotten more' scene) and one of the most contrived- and calculated-sounding lines ("The list is an absolute good. The list is life."). "Saving Private Ryan" remains a middle-of-the-road effort of his due to that damn framing device, and the very 'meh' characters. Despite the fact that he considerably diluted the film's source material, the reunion of Celie with her children at the end of "The Color Purple" is one of the few moments that DID bring a lump to my throat among his prestige pictures... and I don't even have kids (nor do I ever intend to :P ). "War Horse" also worked fairly well for me, since I don't feel he went overboard on any particular emotional moment. "Lincoln" was brought down mostly by its talky, preachy script.


Mon May 20, 2013 9:14 pm
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Post Re: On Spielberg and "Manipulation"
H.I. McDonough wrote:
contrived- and calculated-sounding lines ("The list is an absolute good. The list is life.").


Love that line, actually, but you left out the coda. "All around the margins lies the gulf." I'm not sure what exactly it means literally, but it sounds beautiful. Not contrived at all.

H.I. McDonough wrote:
"Saving Private Ryan" remains a middle-of-the-road effort of his due to that damn framing device, and the very 'meh' characters


The framing device has been overused since, but the sleight-of-hand Spielberg employs gives it enormous power.

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Mon May 20, 2013 9:24 pm
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Post Re: On Spielberg and "Manipulation"
JamesKunz wrote:
The framing device has been overused since, but the sleight-of-hand Spielberg employs gives it enormous power.


Serious question...is the framing device meant to be a sleight-of-hand? I think so, but the first time I saw it...

[Reveal] Spoiler:
...I saw the name "Capt. Jon Miller" at the beginning on the grave! So I knew Tommy Hanks was gonna get killed! Did Spielberg slip up by letting us see the name?


Mon May 20, 2013 10:58 pm
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Post Re: On Spielberg and "Manipulation"
This blog entry (on Saving Private Ryan) discusses this topic in considerable detail: http://www.spectacle.org/998/spielberg.html
I agree with the gist of what he says on the technical and narrative devices Spielberg continually recycles, but he literally states Spielberg makes BAD films ("Saving Private Ryan is a very bad movie"). Having seen all of Spielberg's movies (except Lincoln), if you seriously think ANY are "bad" then surely you haven't seen very many (bad) movies.
Personal Spielberg favourites for me are Minority Report and A.I.


Mon May 20, 2013 11:24 pm
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Post Re: On Spielberg and "Manipulation"
Beyond a certain point, there's no accounting for taste. I flat-out love Spielberg. He's one of our finest visual storytellers. While I won't say he's never made a bad movie, I will say that he's made mostly good ones--if not great ones.

It's interesting, the dilemma between how a movie makes us feel and the evidence that we bring to bear in order to explain that feeling. We might agree on the experience but not the evidence, and we might agree on the evidence but not the experience.

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Tue May 21, 2013 12:17 am
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Post Re: On Spielberg and "Manipulation"
I don't like how the original question is phrased, because it is a bit of a "straw man" argument. It is a truism that all directors attempt to manipulate the audience into having a certain reaction to their movies and often to elicit an emotional response. Consequently, criticising Spielberg for being a "manipulative" director is like criticising him for being a director at all.

However, the criticism of Spielberg's "manipulativeness" - if that's a word - doesn't refer to him trying to get emotional responses out of his audience. It means that he goes about it so obviously, i.e. the manipulation of our feelings, which we accept and actually invite, becomes visible and therefore loses its effectiveness.

Personally, I like quite a few Spielberg movies and dislike a few others. Most of them simply don't do much for me. His craftsmanship is impeccable, but he has very middlebrow tendencies and I don't like the sentimentality evident in a lot of his films.

For instance, the ending of "A.I." is awful, incongruous to the preceding movie and seems like a tacked-on happy ending. The movie should have ended with the android boy having sunk to the ocean floor and staring at a decaying statue of the blue fairy in the hope that she might make him a human. This would have been a bleak ending in line with a relatively bleak movie, and it would also have posed the question of whether the determination and act of self-denial on the part of the android boy is part of his programming and he just acts like a "stupid" machine or whether it constitutes an act of real love and he has actually achieved human qualities. Instead, some thousand years later, the android boy is found by Aliens/evolved Mechas (it doesn't matter it all what they are) who manage to conjure up a happy ending for the boy providing closure. No further questions asked, you may digest your popcorn in the peaceful knwoledge that everything will be all right. (Yes, I'm aware that Spielberg claims that the ending has been Stanley Kubrick's idea, to which I say: Mr. Spielberg, this is your movie and yours alone. You may take credit for everything which works wonderfully in this movie, but you also deserve criticism for what's wrong with it. If the ending was Kubrick's idea, you should have changed it.)

Another example: Have you seen "War of the Worlds"? There is a scene where Tom Cruise's son rushes onto a battlefield, which should have meant immediate disintegration by ray gun for him. Inexplicably, he is there at the end of the movie, apparently having made his way through a combat zone to the place where Tom Cruise was going to with severe difficulties. No child characters may be harmed in a Spielberg blockbuster.


Tue May 21, 2013 5:37 am
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Post Re: On Spielberg and "Manipulation"
Unke wrote:
I don't like how the original question is phrased, because it is a bit of a "straw man" argument. It is a truism that all directors attempt to manipulate the audience into having a certain reaction to their movies and often to elicit an emotional response. Consequently, criticising Spielberg for being a "manipulative" director is like criticising him for being a director at all.


I don't really think that's a straw man argument, thank you very much, as every detractor of Spielberg's says this about him, so I'm hardly making up a person in order to defeat their argument.

Unke wrote:
Another example: Have you seen "War of the Worlds"? There is a scene where Tom Cruise's son rushes onto a battlefield, which should have meant immediate disintegration by ray gun for him. Inexplicably, he is there at the end of the movie, apparently having made his way through a combat zone to the place where Tom Cruise was going to with severe difficulties. No child characters may be harmed in a Spielberg blockbuster.


Yeah I still hate that part too.

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Tue May 21, 2013 6:26 am
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Post Re: On Spielberg and "Manipulation"
What's wrong with sentimentality?

(That's not a rhetorical tactic. It's a genuine question and I'm interested in how people answer it.)

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Tue May 21, 2013 6:39 am
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Post Re: On Spielberg and "Manipulation"
Ken wrote:
What's wrong with sentimentality?

(That's not a rhetorical tactic. It's a genuine question and I'm interested in how people answer it.)


Sentimentality itself is fine and very valid an expression to be shown on screen, written in a novel, part of a piece of music, etc.

It is many times avoided because it is "uncool". Real dudes are never sentimental (sure they are, but they don't admit it).

The only problem I have with sentimentality is when there is rather little at stake. I have problems feeling sentimental when a small boy grows up with mom only (but under fairly wealthy circumstances in a large suburban home and all the toys there are) - because daddy had left for another woman. It would be more convincingly sad if either daddy died and/or the family is in serious financial trouble. The same goes for "daddy never has time for his children, he never goes to see his son play ball in high school". This happens all the time. It shouldn't be one of the basic premises of any story. It is that kind of "the American middle class dream has to be completely perfect, otherwise it is a drama of grand proportions and everyone in the audience needs to weep! - mentality which I can't buy. Classic Disney (one of Spielberg's obvious influences) often went the way of having an (empoverished) orphan as the protagonist. I find this to be much more dramatic and a stronger reason for the audience to sympathize. In "Finding Nemo", the title character is the only son left (no annoyingly cute little sister and no clumsy older brother for comic relief - E.T. anyone?) after a Barracuda has eaten all eggs due to hatch except one (Nemo) and the mother - and when Nemo and his dad finally meet again it is genuinely sentimental because Dad thought he had lost his last surviving son and Nemo thought he would grow up an orphan. Why not have the balls to go this far in real life action movies? Too scary for children? Do it off screen through exposition. Anything but a dad who uses his cell phone too often and doesn't pay enough attention to his son. So: throw away the cell phone and screw the job (where the money comes from after that is anybody's guess). Puh-lease!
Spielberg sentimentalty is sometimes (or rather: often) watered down Disney sentimentality. Sure, the orphan in Disney movies often proves to be a princess, which is very hard to swallow if you are older than age 10, but you can get away with this in an animated movie (and this is another topoic anyway).


Tue May 21, 2013 8:01 am
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Post Re: On Spielberg and "Manipulation"
JamesKunz wrote:
H.I. McDonough wrote:
contrived- and calculated-sounding lines ("The list is an absolute good. The list is life.").

Love that line, actually, but you left out the coda. "All around the margins lies the gulf." I'm not sure what exactly it means literally, but it sounds beautiful. Not contrived at all.

It strikes me too much as a blatant "Writer Line" -- a bit of dialogue that might seem OK on the page, but doesn't really sound like anything any actual person would ever say in real life. :|
Unke wrote:
For instance, the ending of "A.I." is awful, incongruous to the preceding movie and seems like a tacked-on happy ending. The movie should have ended with the android boy having sunk to the ocean floor and staring at a decaying statue of the blue fairy in the hope that she might make him a human. This would have been a bleak ending in line with a relatively bleak movie, and it would also have posed the question of whether the determination and act of self-denial on the part of the android boy is part of his programming and he just acts like a "stupid" machine or whether it constitutes an act of real love and he has actually achieved human qualities. Instead, some thousand years later, the android boy is found by Aliens/evolved Mechas (it doesn't matter it all what they are) who manage to conjure up a happy ending for the boy providing closure. No further questions asked, you may digest your popcorn in the peaceful knowledge that everything will be all right. (Yes, I'm aware that Spielberg claims that the ending has been Stanley Kubrick's idea, to which I say: Mr. Spielberg, this is your movie and yours alone. You may take credit for everything which works wonderfully in this movie, but you also deserve criticism for what's wrong with it. If the ending was Kubrick's idea, you should have changed it.)

I don't agree that its ending is a happy one at all (except maybe for David himself :ugeek: ). Since I'd rather not rehash it here, see my "A.I." post on Page 11 of the "Unpopular Opinions" thread. I consider the ending of "Minority Report" is far more incongruous to its preceding movie.
Ken wrote:
What's wrong with sentimentality?

(That's not a rhetorical tactic. It's a genuine question and I'm interested in how people answer it.)

There's nothing wrong with sentimentality in and of itself. But surely you can't deny that in movies it's often taken a bit too far -- to the point of becoming manipulative (there's that word again :? ). I think I agree with Unke in that the way Spielberg goes about creating emotional moments is all too obvious and transparent for a lot of more movie-savvy people.


Tue May 21, 2013 8:28 am
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Post Re: On Spielberg and "Manipulation"
Ken wrote:
What's wrong with sentimentality?

(That's not a rhetorical tactic. It's a genuine question and I'm interested in how people answer it.)


I think it's hard to deal with when it's foisted on the plight of quaint middle-class folk with no real problems in the world beyond not immediately living out their wildest most beautiful dreams. You know, the kid in ET is annoying. Ditto the kids in Jurassic Park. And Hook - well, you get it!

I think I get what Threeper and Unke are getting at here. I like Spielberg very much, but there is a sickly sweetness about some of his protagonist that will alienate members of the audience from, or have seen, the other side of the tracks. Tom Cruise in War of the Worlds isn't working class. He's Tom Cruise in a leather jacket.

it's not the sentimentality. It's where that sentimentality is (seemingly without irony) targetted.

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Tue May 21, 2013 10:53 am
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Post Re: On Spielberg and "Manipulation"
Ken wrote:
What's wrong with sentimentality?

(That's not a rhetorical tactic. It's a genuine question and I'm interested in how people answer it.)


I should have written "excessive sentimentality", as there's nothing wrong with sentimentality in movies per se. I'm afraid I'm not a very sentimental person in general (which makes me a real dude, as I have learned from Threeperf35's post) and, sonsequently, don't appreciate overt sentimentality in stories or music as much as others. Indeed, I occasionally find it off-putting, such as in the afore-mentioned ending of "A.I.".


Tue May 21, 2013 11:02 am
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