An early holiday gift for film geeks has arrived in the form of a new video essay, written, directed, and produced by Kevin B. Lee of Fandor, that highlights the phenomenon of "The Spielberg Face," that look of awestruck wonder that repeatedly occurs on characters' faces in the films of Steven Spielberg. The video was inspired by an earlier photo essay called "The Spielberg Face: A Legacy," and with both War Horse and The Adventures of Tintin being released next week, it's a timely tribute to Spielberg.
Many directors are known for signature themes, like Tarantino's foot fetish, Aronofsky's self-destructive characters, Michael Bay's 360 shots, Malick's nature porn, and so on. With Spielberg, it's that close-up look of astonished amazement that has roots in D.W. Griffith and others, but which Spielberg has decidedly made his own. As the essay puts it:
"If there is one recurring image that defines the cinema of Steven Spielberg, it is The Spielberg Face. Eyes open, staring in wordless wonder in a moment where time stands still. But above all, a child-like surrender in the act of watching, both theirs and ours. It's as if their total submission to what they are seeing mirrors our own."
The Spielberg Face isn't solely confined to the childlike look of wonderment. It also encompasses "sudden shock or creeping dread," as well as "the trauma of remembering the past, or of confronting the future, discovering humanity in another person, or discovering humanity in oneself." From Amblin' to Crystal Skull, many people probably have a favorite Spielberg Face, or can at least readily call one to mind, whether it's Richard Dreyfuss gazing at a UFO in Close Encounters, Roy Scheider first getting a gander at Jaws, or the departure of E.T. seen through the eyes of Henry Thomas' Elliott.
Lee also touches on the increased presence of trauma in the Spielberg Faces of post-9/11 films such as War of the Worlds and Munich, and finds the zenith of the Spielberg Face's inherent manipulation in the movie A.I. "The Spielberg Face" is the first in a series of videos on Spielberg that will appear on IndieWire's Press Play blog.