A week in books
Boyd Tonkin is Literary Editor at The Independent. An award-winning journalist, he was formerly Social Policy Editor of the New Statesman and has broadcast extensively for BBC arts and current affairs programmes. He has judged the Booker Prize, the Whitbread biography award, the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the David Cohen Prize for a lifetime's achievement in literature.
Saturday 21 December 1996
$900 million in box-office receipts and a place of honour in most living- rooms: not bad for a movie with all the wit of a brontosaurus brain. It belongs in a sequence of epics - from Jaws to Schindler's List - whose role as modern sacraments far outrun their value as mere films. Oprah Winfrey once even said to him: "I sometimes feel that you aren't a real person, Steven, but that God has loaned you to us". Time for what Barry Humphries would call a Technicolour yawn.
That quote surfaces in Andrew Yule's new biography, Steven Spielberg: father to the man (Little,Brown, pounds 16.99). Yule is a dogged sleuth with a rather wearing line in Variety-style Hollywood patter, but his tireless research only serves to show how hard it is to fix in words this nerdy shaman's power. This book can explain, for example, why Spielberg knocked a year off his age. (Supposedly born in 1947, he has in fact just passed what Yule calls "the big 5-0".) However, Spielberg's ability to create an ersatz catharsis in Bradford and Bogota alike calls for a critic with the combined strengths of Pauline Kael and Claude Levi-Strauss. Faced with the task of assessment, Yule too often reaches for his fat cuttings file. It could be that the non-reading tycoon will always baffle old-style verbal types. Rather than respecting words, he stifles safe Good Books (The Color Purple, Empire of the Sun, Schindler's Ark) in primitive reverence.
If the movies' future turned on what lies under Spielberg's baseball cap, we might well despair. But as John Pierson's smart and breezy chronicle of low-budget hustling in Spike, Mike, Slackers & Dykes (Faber, pounds 11.99) shows, one glory of recent US indie cinema has been its flair for fast and funny scripts. From Spike Lee's She's Gotta Have It to Kevin Smith's Clerks, nifty words have staged a comeback. And no one could accuse the ultra-gabby Tarantino of promoting strong, silent heroes. So, with luck, the future on film may sound a bit more eloquent than the roar of a digitised T Rex.
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