E.T. (1982, Spielberg)

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Robert-Bresson-Film-Sound

At the risk of going too Spielbergy, I submit today’s post because I just came across this movie on HBO the other day and was reminded of this great moment, which is more about a shot that’s NOT there and how that effects the story telling.  (Also, the late French auteur Robert Bresson, film maker and theorist, has as much to do with today’s post as Steven.) I’d be really interested in hearing how this moment came about, whether it was the result of a production logistic or was always planned.

Robert Bresson and Spielberg Conspire

Just before this sequence, Elliot’s brother Michael, played by Robert MacNaughton, is on the run from the government people.  He manages to shake them and make it to the woods where Elliot (Henry Thomas) had last seen E.T. cobbling together his satellite “phone.”

In this clip, Michael discovers E.T. laying chalky-white in the river bed with a poor raccoon that, by the look of its deer-in-headlight performance, is just as shocked to be in a movie as he is to possibly be seeing (or eating) an extra-terrestrial.  No matter!  Michael shoos the animal and tries to cover his friend with the sheet, just as the stakes ratchet up when it’s clear the pursuers have caught up.

And here’s the surprising moment for me, which, in my mind, echos the words of Robert Bresson: ” When a sound can replace an image, cut the image. ”  

Have a look and listen (and please note the raccoon in the freeze frame below!)

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Seeing this movie a couple years ago, after having not seen it in many, I actually remembered a shot of a helicopter. But as you can see, in this (and the other version), there is only the sound effect of a chopper and no visual of it.  It was such a surprise to me.   The effect of the chopper sound was so full that my brain had created its own visual memory!

Bresson had many theories in his Notes On Cinematography (“cinematography” being his generic term for cinema), and a lot of them were about sound.  Here’s just a few:

  1. What is for the eye must not duplicate what is for the ear.
  2. If the eye is entirely won, give nothing or almost nothing to the ear. One cannot be the same time all eye and all ear.
  3. When a sound can replace an image, cut the image or neutralize it.  The ear goes more toward the within, the eye toward the outer.

Case in point with today’s clip.  My brain was given a sound, and it was so wrapped up in the emotion of the moment, that it totally ran with that audio.  Note to self: next time you need a helicopter for your movie – maybe you can save a big rental and gas fee if you just listen to Monsieur Bresson.

THE ABSENT MINDED PROFESSOR (1961, Stevenson)

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Steven-Spielberg-Images-Close-Encounters

Today’s post is pretty fun, if you ask me.  There is no doubt in my mind what an influence this Disney film must have had on a young Spielberg (someday I’ll ask him), and I think today’s 2 shots from The Absent Minded Professor, starring Fred MacMurray, prove it.

It’s well known how Spielberg admired Disney, but re-watching the Disney film a while back I was suddenly certain I had found proof that some of its visuals must have indeed stuck in Spielberg’s subconscious and influenced two of his most famous sci-fi works, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. The Extra Terrestrial. 

To wit…

Steven Spielberg’s Flubber Homage

Recall if you will, the moment in CE3K when Richard Dreyfuss is driving at night, and waves a car from behind to go on by.  The first time, the driver calls him a jackass for taking up the entire road.  The second time, the “car” turns out not to be a car at all, but a UFO, which floats up behind him, an eerie and comic moment.

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Compare, if you will, with the seed of that very image at 44:53 in this youtube of The Absent Minded Professor – it’s the exact same shot!  (And how perfect would this guy in the car on the ground have been to play Mad Men‘s Pete Campbell had he been born 50 years later?!)

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The second shot that struck me as (what would become) downright Spielbergian, is the moment when the always-delightful Keenan Wynn (son of hilarious Ed Wynn) goes to throw an apple out his window, only to catch a glimpse of the flying model T passing before the moon, with a romantic piano score setting the transcendent mood (even the music is Spielbergian) – a tone and image that would find their way into the iconography of E.T. I’m not saying it’s the exact image, but I think very easily could have been the seed of the idea, nay, probably was, my opinion.

That moment is in the same Professor above clip at 50:00.