From The Seats

Storytelling is an art. No, wait…that’s wrong — storytelling is THE art, as far I’m concerned. And stories can — and should! — be told in a variety of ways. Hell, the oldest stories we have are songs to be sung around the fire at night. It’s not just books, or poems, or songs: movies are nothing more, nor less, than storytelling in visual form. Just as is a photography exposition, or a good painting, or a decent manga. Honestly, don’t get me started on just how many powerful ways we humans have to tell stories…

On the movie front, we could talk all day about the directors I admire. Start with my love of, and respect for, the Russian directors, then move into Malle and Kurosawa and a thousand indie directors who still have no “name”…

Never mind, we don’t have the time, and I don’t have enough words in this post.

One name, however, enters every single discussion of directors. One name, that of a man on just about every list of must-sees: Steven Spielberg.

Look, I write. More than that, I write sci-fi and fantasy, which is about as “mass market” as you can get. Because of that, in part, I respect the hell out of folks who can create something popular and relatively simple — something “popcorn” in movie terms — and make it not just fun, but also intelligent.

Spielberg does that.

More, he also makes “serious” movies…movies that most definitely have something to say. Most folks will point to the obvious, to Schindler’s List or The Color Purple, as those works of his that rise to the top of the “serious movie” category. Those are fine, don’t get me wrong, but do you know what did it for me? Empire of the Sun.

christian-bale-in-empire-of-the-sun-1987I’ve mentioned that movie before…for good reason. It is a storytelling masterpiece on the sad meeting of childhood and war, and a commentary on the price we make our children pay for, well, pretty much everything we do. A very young Christian Bale, by the way, is another reason to watch — he was absolutely brilliant as Jim.

I read an article the other day, one that got me to thinking about directors in general…and about Spielberg in particular. The title of the piece was semi-click-bait, but it was effective click-bait: “Can Steven Spielberg Remember How to Have Fun?”

He mentions, in the interview at the heart of the article, that the best of his “popcorn” movies were written and filmed “from the theater seats.” In other words, they were made by someone who loves movies, by someone who loved to sit in those same seats and watch.

Now, the interview is fairly long (read the whole thing here), and it gets into more serious movies as well, but it was the concept of “fun” that got me to thinking: what happens when you lose that sense of fun?

Not just as a director, but as a painter, or a singer…or a writer.

I don’t know about you, but I find it fairly easy to “lose” myself in my stories, and especially in my characters. That’s good for immersion, and for caring about what I write, but does it cost a certain sense of the fun? Does it put at risk the story’s connection with the reader?

It’s hard, I should add, to go through my own stuff as a reader, to go through it with that sense of fun. I have so much invested in what I’ve created, so much energy and time and emotion, that it really is like a parent looking at their kid. And what parent can be truly honest about their own child? There is too much there for complete honesty: too much knowledge, too much intimacy, and far too much history.

On the other hand, that is the point of the whole question, as far as I’m concerned: can I — can any creative storyteller — remember the fun of our creation? Can we, in the end, stop taking ourselves quite so seriously, and write/film/create from the seats?

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