Try as your mother and father might to do right by you, it is inevitable that they'll end up screwing you up in some way. In fact, it is the divine responsibility of the American parent to brand its children with some form of psychological malady. But while we all end up a little bit nuts at the hands of our moms and dads, not all of us turn that nuts into blockbuster feature films. Only the Steven Spielbergs of the world can lay claim to that transformation.
The time-honored director was featured on Sunday night's episode of 60 Minutes, discussing how his childhood affected his filmmaking career. During the segment, Spielberg discusses a history of being bullied in childhood. "I was a nerd in those days," he tells interviewer Leslie Stahl. "Outsider. Like the kid that played the clarinet in the band and orchestra, which I did."
Spielberg's parents, who are also featured in the segment, reveal that the family undertook a great deal of antisemitism as well. "We lived in an all non-Jewish neighborhood," Spielberg's mother, Leah, states. As Stahl reveals, a movie camera that Spielberg's father gave him was what brought the budding artist to discover his eventual passion. But that isn't the extent of the effect Spielberg's dad, a computer engineer who Spielberg describes as a "workaholic," had on his career.
In the interview, Spielberg discusses his parents' divorce, and how it inspired his 1982 classic E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial. "E.T. began with me trying to write a story about my parents' divorce," the director says, admitting that he did "pin" the blame of the marital split on his father (unbeknownst to Steven for many years, it was his mother who decided to end the marriage when she fell in love with another man). "Even after I knew the truth, I blamed my dad," Spielberg continues. "It's still a mystery to me, but even though my mother was kind of like an older sister to me, I kind of put her up on a pedestal. And my dad was much more terrestrial, much more grounded, much more salt of the earth. And for some reason, it was easier for me to blame him than it was to someone who I ... already exalted."
Beyond E.T. alone, Stahl notes that the "workaholic absent father is a recurring character in Spielberg's movies." Many of Spielberg's other films, including Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and Hook, exemplify strained father-son relationships, or absent fathers altogether. But Spielberg tells 60 Minutes that he and his father "had an amazing reconciliation, which is going on almost 18 years, where we have really been in each other's lives."
As such, a shift in the father-figure character in many of the director's later movies is evident: Catch Me If You Can, War of the Worlds, and even his upcoming film Lincoln deliver dad characters that rise to roles of heroism.
Check out the full interview below. Spielberg's Lincoln reaches theaters Nov. 16.
[Photo Credit: CBS]
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In the new thriller Contagion, the emergence and rapid spread of a deadly virus threatens not just the population but the very foundations of civil society, dividing families and crippling government institutions. Worst of all, it makes Gwyneth Paltrow look really, really unappealing. The film represents the second collaboration between director Steven Soderbergh and writer Scott Z. Burns, who previously paired for the 2009 comedy The Informant! Their third project together, an adaptation of the ‘60s TV show The Man From U.N.C.L.E., is slated to go into production in February (provided it can find someone to star).
In an exclusive interview, we spoke with Burns about Contagion, U.N.C.L.E., and Mr. Soderbergh’s oft-discussed retirement plans.
This is a pretty drastic shift from The Informant! What was the genesis of the project?
When Steven and I were finishing The Informant!, he took me aside and said, “What else do you got?” I’d always wanted to do a pandemic movie, but I wanted it to be based in reality and not some invented virus that was divine retribution or the product of an experiment gone wrong. And there’s a scene in The Informant! where Matt [Damon]’s character goes on a rant after Scott Bakula’s character, who has a cold, coughs into a phone and gives it to Matt. And Matt’s like, “Oh great, so now I get sick and now my kid gets sick and he misses school, and what effect is that going to have on his life, and who pays for it?” The ripple effect of transmissible illness, I’ve always been fascinated by. And Steven said, “I love it. Let’s do that.” I told him the only way to do this was to really immerse myself into the research. I spent the better part of a year really researching before I did much writing at all.
In your research, what sense did you get that something like this could actually happen?
All of the people who we worked with, the creative contract that we sort of made with them was that we wanted to make a realistic movie. At some point you put numbers into an equation and the math takes care of itself. What Dr. Larry Brilliant, who is a famous epidemiologist told me, was that with a disease that has an R-not [a term representing the exponential rate at which a disease spreads; I’ve likely misspelled it] of two or four, which is not unheard of in the world – things like the flu spread at that rate – it’s only 30 steps from two to a billion. Flu may not be tremendously fatal, but what if it changed a lit bit, or something else happened to make it more dangerous? These things are real; they do happen. The 1918 pandemic killed 40 or 50 million people, we think. That’s more than died in World War I, and yet we talk about World War I certainly than the Spanish Flu. And there were other, smaller things since then, outbreaks in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Every years, 20 or 30 thousand people die of seasonal flu. A lot of those people might be immuno-compromised anyway before they get sick, but our whole history on this planet is marked by these things. Even though we’re getting better at medicine, and we think that will keep us safer, we also move around faster than we ever have before. We’re also putting our hands in places we’ve never put them before. We’re going into wild places where we’ve never been and coming in contact with plants and animals that we’ve never been in contact with before.
What interested me about this film, and what separates it from other pandemic movies, is that it’s as much about the cure as it is about the disease. In many ways, the cure is worse than the disease, in terms of what it reveals about human nature.
I’m glad you said that, because what the virus brings out, I think, is our fear and self-interest and all of these other things that, when we’re put under pressure, always come to light. That was what I really wanted to talk about, and what you noticed, which is gratifying to me, is those things don’t go away when the cure appears. What I wanted to do with each of our individual characters is resolve their stories in ways where they make peace with things.
For the most part you avoid Hollywood over-dramatization, but you do touch upon some darker, more conspiratorial aspects. They tend to metastasize in these circumstances, don’t they?
Yeah, I think that’s a part of the problem, and it’s kinda the big metaphor we invested in. Information and misinformation travel with the same transmissibility as the virus. And so some of the things that Jude Law’s character says are true, and some of them, for some people in the audience, may provoke their conspiracist [leanings]. But he also spreads a lot of misinformation, and that becomes a huge danger.
I remember when H1N1 was at its zenith, there were all sorts of conspiracy theories revolving around the vaccine and its supposed effects.
Jude’s character became the receptacle for all of that. I just read a couple weeks ago that the guy who created that flu stuff, Zycam, he also created some homeopathic H1N1 cure. Well, it was bogus and he was just indicted. And it was the same thing. It was this guy who went on the internet and said I have this herb that’s gonna cure H1N1, and it didn’t, and he made a lot of money. All of these things when they happen, in their randomness and in their inexplicability, they become opportunities for every agenda. Again, that’s another problem that doesn’t go away with the cure. There is no cure for that.
By my rough estimation, this is the fourteenth film Soderbergh has made with Matt Damon. Did he have you write with him or any other actors in mind?
No. Steven and I will generally talk about the movie before I write a little bit, and then we don’t really talk much while I’m writing. I knew Matt was going to do The Informant! pretty early on, and it was helpful to me when writing some of the monologues for that to hear Matt’s voice in my head. But we didn’t start casting this until the script was done.
[Caution - Minor Spoiler Alert]
How present were you on-set? Is Soderbergh the type of guy who likes to re-write on fly?
On The Informant! we barely changed a word. On this movie, there were new opportunities constantly coming up. There’s a lot of material we ended up not using in the final cut. If we were sitting around the bar at night and thought oh, it would be really cool if Kate Winslet’s character ended up building the hospital she ends up sick in, that that would be a really great thing, we’d go and shoot an additional scene. So that’s the great opportunity for me in being on-set. I’m sort of the steward of the story, and if I can come up with ways to make it better, Steven and Greg Jacobs, our producer and A.D., will always try to make it happen.
Is that a challenge on film like this, when you have so many different characters and storylines, to come up with new material so quickly?
It’s a challenge in that you need to find ways to tell just enough of a story to keep that character afloat in the movie without tipping the movie over. That’s the trick to it, figuring out how little information you can give to the audience and still get them emotionally invested in this character, and making sure that you leave a scene early enough so that the audience wants to know what’s gonna happen next. So it’s just creating little emotional cliffhanger after cliffhanger, to give the movie a sort of forward momentum.
Having worked with Steven for as long as you have, what do you make of all this talk about his retirement from filmmaking?
I hope he doesn’t retire. Look, Steven has made a lot of really great movies, and I think like any artist, he wants to push himself to continue to try and do new things. And I think he’ll retire when he can’t find a good reason to go make another movie. I know we’re going to do Man From U.N.C.L.E., and I hope by the time we’re done doing Man From U.N.C.L.E., we’ll have an idea for something to do after that. I really hope he doesn’t retire; I really think he has a lot to contribute to American cinema. I’d be sad to see him go.
What can we expect from The Man From U.N.C.L.E.? Will it be a straightforward take on the material?
Yes. It’s gonna be period. So it will be set in the ‘60s. Some of it has, I hope, the wit and wryness of the series. It was a really brave series in its day, because it was a Russian and an American working together, and they didn’t have a government. They were working for U.N.C.L.E., and I think Steven and I both loved the idea that there was this unaffiliated organization trying to make the world better. That sounds awesome to me.
Contagion opens everywhere Friday, September 9, 2011.
HOLLYWOOD, Aug. 17, 2000 - He's been known as the "pope of trash," the "king of suburban exploitation," and other similarly flattering titles. And in a directorial career pushing 26 years, 15 oft-revolting films have spawned from his gross-out mind, any of which could make the Farrelly brothers' films look like Disney stuff.
After years of cult veneration, John Waters -- America's campiest film auteur -- is inching within reach of the pop-culture radar with "Cecil B. Demented," another absurd exercise about a guerilla filmmaker (Stephen Dorff) who kidnaps a movie starlet (Melanie Griffith) to sabotage the Hollywood system.
Waters on the set of "Pecker" While the plot might be offbeat to those accustomed to romantic comedies or blow-em up actioners, the flick is actually one of Waters' most mainstream to date.
It lacks (perhaps mercifully) the outrageous, tasteless stuff of his early work, like the dog poop-eating transvestite (the late, great, 300-pound Divine) in 1972's "Pink Flamingos." Moreover, Waters' movies have become decidedly more "normal," for lack of a better term, since he split from his old partners-in-crime, the Dreamlanders, a motley crew of actors including Mink Stole, Cookie Mueller, David Lochary, Mona Montgomery and the aforementioned Divine.
To give you an idea, here's a brief rundown of the director's films:
"Hag in a Black Leather Jacket" (1964) A 8mm short, shot on roof of his parents' house, the film follows a wedding between a black man and a white girl with a Ku Klux Klansman performing the ceremony. The 17-minute short is rumored to have cost a total of $30.
"Roman Candles" (1966) His second 8mm, this one's got 40 minutes worth of plotless meandering involving sex (between a priest and a nun) and random readings from the "Wizard of Oz."
"Eat Your Makeup" (1968) Moving up to the world of 16mm, this film, clocking at 45 minutes, follows a governess and her boyfriend as they kidnap hapless models, then force them to do the title act and model themselves to death. "Mondo Trasho"
"Mondo Trasho" (1969) A 16mm full-length feature (135 minutes), the haphazard story follows a young fashion slave who chances upon a foot fetishist and ends up getting her toes sucked in a local park. And like we said, that's only the beginning.
"The Diane Linkletter Story" (1969) Largely improvised, this 15-minute short is based on the true-life suicide of Diane Linkletter, daughter of TV personality Art Linkletter.
"Multiple Maniacs" (1970) Also 16mm, it has Divine playing a ringleader of a traveling carnival that's entertaining and murdering its audiences. "Pink Flamingos"
"Pink Flamingos" (1972) Competitions soar as a group of weirdos attempt to wrest the title of "The Filthiest Person Alive" from trailer trash Divine. Besides the poop-eating scene, there's the equally bizarre act involving a chicken and Cookie Mueller.
"Female Trouble" (1974) This one tracks the slow demise of one doomed teen (Divine, of course) as she goes from juvenile delinquent to serial killer, all because her parents refuse to buy her cha-cha heels for Christmas.
"Desperate Living (1977) After a rich housewife kills her husband, aided by their fat maid, the two go on the lam and find temporary refuge in a criminal colony. "Polyester"
"Polyester" (1981) A moneyed housewife (Divine) living in the 'burbs tries to get a handle on things while her son goes crazy, her daughter gets knocked up, and her porno-king husband leaves her for his secretary. The original theatrical release of the film came with Waters' patented "Odorama" scratch n' sniff cards.
"Hairspray" (1988) Making her feature debut, Ricki Lake, with a head of huge hair and all the right moves, triumphs over many things including Sonny Bono and Debbie Harry to become reigning queen of a popular TV dance show.
"Cry-Baby" (1990) A "West Side Story" musical on ... something. Amy Locane plays good girl to Johnny Depp's bad boy as they, in love story cliché, fall in love despite opposition from all sides. Watch for Patty Hearst, who makes her feature debut with this flick. "Serial Mom"
"Serial Mom" (1994) Instead of popping Valium, soccer mom Kathleen Turner prefers to spend her time, er, killing random people.
"Pecker" (1998) Edward Furlong plays a kid working at a sandwich shop who suddenly becomes the sh*t of the New York art world.
Profile of transvestite performer Divine. Born Harris Glenn Milstead to an upper-middle-class family, Divine found fame for his shocking on-screen behavior in John Waters' films "Hair Spray," "Polyester" and "Pink Flamingos." Divine died of a heart attack at age 42 in 1988.