I lived with my mother by the ocean for many years — first in Alaska, later in Hawaii and California’s Bay Area. She found the beach infinitely more appealing than the water itself, due in large measure to the movie that introduced us to the work of Steven Spielberg. It was “Jaws,” released in 1975.
I vividly recall the afternoon we hit the theater to see “Jaws” together — though saying we actually “saw” the film is a bit of a stretch. We spent most of the movie huddled together trying to hold back our screams. It’s one of the few things I remember actually experiencing with my mom at that age. I was on the cusp of a difficult phase and convinced she was the barrier to all my bliss.
I lost my mother to cancer more than a decade ago, but plenty of things still call her to mind. Even the 1982 Spielberg film titled “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.” I remember her watching “E.T.” often once it was released on video tape, and getting especially teary-eyed during the “phone home” scene — perhaps because her only child was off at college and readying to wed when the movie first opened.
Among films directed by Spielberg, my own early favorites include “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”– released in 1977. My three children enjoyed a “close encounter” of sorts with Spielberg and his family one day after we watched them pile out of a minivan and file up the pathway to a neighbor’s front door.
Apparently the little gingerbread-like house we once owned on a quiet Arcadia street was right across from the home Spielberg lived in while attending Arcadia High School. When our children simply couldn’t contain their excitement, James walked them dutifully across the street to say hello to the man whose movies they found simply enchanting.
Millions of us grew up with Spielberg’s own unique spin on storytelling, from “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981) to “Jurassic Park” (1993) — and beyond. Another generation can now do the same, thanks to two films being released in late December.
“The Adventures of Tintin,” based on a beloved comic strip by a Belgian who used the pen name Hergé, is directed by Spielberg — and opens in American movie theaters on Dec. 21. It’s a bit of history meets mystery featuring “Billy Elliot” actor Jamie Bell as “the young reporter whose love of a good story thrusts him into a world of high adventure.”
“War Horse,” a Spielberg-directed film scheduled to open in the U.S. on Dec. 25, is a love story of sorts — between a boy and a beloved horse sent with soldiers into battle during World War I. It’s based on the children’s book by Michael Morpurgo and the 2011 Tony Award winner for best play.
I saw “War Horse” performed earlier this year at Lincoln Center, with my youngest daughter Lizabeth. We held each other and got teary-eyed throughout, moved by the power and beauty of the story we’re now eager to enjoy together on the big screen.
Lizabeth is a freshman studying acting at Pace University in New York City, living on a dedicated “film floor” inside one of the school’s dorms — where students routinely gather to watch and discuss a diverse selection of films. She’ll get to attend tapings of the Bravo television series “Inside the Actors Studio” featuring James Lipton.
The show — which features interviews with famous folks from the crafts of theater, television and film — is taped at Pace University, home to the Actors Studio Drama School (which offers the M.F.A. in acting, directing and playwriting).
Still, I know nothing will ever match Lizabeth’s excitement at running across the street in bare feet to meet the Mr. Spielberg she considers not only a legendary filmmaker, but also — quite simply — a very gracious man.
Note: Click here to learn more about “The Adventures of Tintin” and here to learn more about “War Horse.” To enjoy a Michael Cieply piece titled “What Makes Spielberg Jump?” from The New York Times, click here.
Coming up: Mask-maker musings, Tales from a fourth world, A leaf of faith?