While it’s easy for film snobs to dismiss Steven Spielberg’s body of work as little more than popular entertainment and not particularly worthy of deep analysis, there are some very artistic elements and recurring themes and ideas in the director’s filmography. One of the most famous and easily recognized is the phenomenon of “The Spielberg Face.”
Defined as a shot of a character with “eyes open, staring in wordless wonder in a moment where time stands still,” the shot can be found in literally every film Spielberg has made over the years – often multiple times. Kevin Lee, of Fandor.com, has crafted an intriguing video essay about The Spielberg Face and what it all means, which you can check out below.
The piece is extremely well done, highlighting scenes and faces from countless Spielberg films. We’ve little doubt that it’ll be turning up in Film Study course lectures as it does succeed in taking the work of one of our most recognizable American filmmakers and examining it in a new, if highly focused, light.
What really sets the piece apart is the way Lee delves into The Spielberg Face. Where a lesser videographer would have been content to just compile a clip of shots of the face from all the various Spielberg films, Lee has crafted a thought-provoking essay to go along with it. He posits that Close Encounters of the Third Kind was the film where Spielberg really grasped the power of the expression (The Spielberg Face turns up more often in that film than any other), and that the director found a way to subvert it’s child-like wonder and amazement in his post 9/11 films like War of the Worlds. Lee posits that Dakota Fanning’s use of The Face in that film radically changes the meaning and dynamic of it from previous Spielberg films. We’re inclined to agree.
The only real disappointment here is that Lee glibly dismisses pretty much everything prior to Close Encounters, which means Jaws gets about two seconds of screentime. While Close Encounters may be the film wherein Spielberg finally takes the conceit and runs with it, the fantastic reverse zoom onto Roy Scheider’s Spielberg Face as he watches little Alex Kintner get devoured right before his eyes is arguably the greatest use of the technique in the director’s career. Too bad that in Lee’s eyes, a horror film doesn’t seem to be quite as important as A.I….
That minor complaint aside, check out the clip – it’s sure to give you a new appreciation for Spielberg’s work, and you can even use the knowledge of The Spielberg Face to impress your friends when you sit down to watch War Horse or Tintin this holiday season. Point it out whenever it pops up onscreen and your friends and family will surely think you’re one of those high-falutin’ film critics in the making.