Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Post-Easy Riders and Raging Bulls...

Good piece in Slate yesterday about the "competition" between Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Lucas vs. Spielberg - The worst best friends in Hollywood.

I think it's fair to say I grew up on the films of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. The Star Wars trilogy, the Indiana Jones trilogy, Close Encounters, ET - these are some of my first 'movie-going' memories (although I don't know if Close Encounters was actually seeing it in a theatre, or just rewatching the video over and over...). Tom Shone, author of Blockbuster: How Hollywood Learned to stop Worrying and Love the Summer, writes this really interesting Slate piece depecting the gradual change in stature of the relationship of Lucas and Spielberg. At first, Spielberg was the apprentice, in self-imposed subjection to his mentor Lucas:
Of the two, Spielberg was the one willing to assume the submissive position, mostly in the form of overzealous praise for his friend. "I was most jealous of George," he says, "because I thought and still do to this day, I just thought American Graffiti was the best American film I'd seen." He would later call Lucas "the best moviemaker of his generation," adding, "I was admiring and jealous of his style and proximity to audiences."

It's a beguiling image: two young men, carving out movie empires for themselves as they build sandcastles on the beach. The important thing to remember, though, is how sad and unbalanced their relationship was at the time: Lucas was very much the top dog, with Spielberg the humble amanuensis, gratefully accepting scraps from the master's table.

But over time, that relationship evolved and changed as Spielberg became the master of his generation, and Lucas seemed to sit back upon the success of Star Wars...
His confidence restored with Raiders, Spielberg would move on to even greater triumph with E.T., which quickly became the highest-grossing film of all time. This time it was Lucas' turn to take out the congratulatory ad in Variety. Lucas, meanwhile, would retreat into Lucasfilm, tending to the effects wizards at Industrial Light & Magic and micromanaging the Star Wars sequels from above. As Martin Scorsese put it: "Lucas became so powerful that he didn't have to direct. But directing is what Steven has to do."

A decade later, Spielberg would coax Lucas back out of his cave, for it was Jurassic Park that lit the fire beneath Lucas' tail and spurred him to direct again. When Spielberg showed Lucas Industrial Light & Magic's test reel of a computer-generated T. rex, Lucas' eyes filled with tears—he hadn't quite realized how advanced his own company's effects had become. "It was like one of those moments in history, like the invention of the light bulb or the first telephone call," Lucas said later. "I'd been working with ILM from the time we finished Star Wars to get to this point. We started a whole computer division and pushed them into the digital age, and we did a lot of research in order to get to what ultimately became the seminal event, which was Jurassic Park."

The piece closes with this:
...the real source of Spielberg's magnanimity is sheer relief that the gulf between him and Lucas has finally assumed the dimensions it has. These days he sounds very much like the older brother protecting the kid who can't defend himself. The contest between the two men now looks very close to being a rout. Even if you put aside the Oscars that Spielberg has won for his more "adult" work, like Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan, and compare the two men solely in terms of their contributions to blockbuster cinema—in terms of pure popcorn—it is clear that Lucas' much-vaunted connection to the audience, which Spielberg once so feared, looks a little rocky. Lucas' career rests precariously on a single film, directed back in 1977. Everything else of his has failed, except Raiders, which Spielberg directed. And so Lucas has been drawn back to Star Wars with an air of glum fatalism, while Spielberg puts on ever more ambidextrous displays of reach and range. Lucas may well win the box-office battle this summer, but Spielberg looks like he's won the war.

Just a really good piece about the relationship between the two storied directors, and how their work has affected that relationship, as well as 'movie culture' as a whole.

I've yet to read Peter Biskind's Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock'n'Roll Generation Saved Hollywood. I did, however, see the documentary and thought it was great. The book is a history of the great 'Director's Era' in Hollywood between the mid-60s and mid-70s. A time when Hollywood was centered around the likes of Coppola, Peckinpah, Hopper, Scorsese, Bogdanovich, Beatty ... that period of Hollywood was quite vital and relevant. It's interesting how the emergance of greats like Spielberg and Lucas - directly or indirectly - led to the downfall of that era...'pure popcorn' killed the 'thinking man's' movie.

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