As Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans shoots the station wagon and brings rich, shaky cinema and American nostalgia to UK screens from 27 January, we look back on the film.
And how closely we came across this movie already.
“This movie is his life. You don’t want to ruin Steven Spielberg’s life!” Fabelmans star Gabriel LaBelle recently briefed PA about the movie starring the 20-year-old director’s likeness.
“The first thing I asked him was, ‘How much of this scenario has actually happened to you?’ it happened. He said, ‘All of them’.”
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Starring Michelle Williams (The Greatest Showman) as mother Mitzi and Paul Dano (Batman) as father Burt, The Fabelmans is the true story of Spielberg’s real-life parents Leah and Arnold and younger siblings Anne, Sue and Nancy.
Watch a trailer for The Fabelmans
Blessed with parents who continued to witness the film careers of their eldest children until they were nearly a hundred years old, Spielberg’s determination, loyalty, and pride in their intelligence engulfed the Fabelmans.
Williams’ casting as Leah in a slim disguise is most notable – complemented by her recognizable pixie cut, playful pose, Peter Pan collars and constant creativity.
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When her son Steven won Best Director at the 1994 Academy Awards for Schindler’s List (1993), he called Leah his “lucky charm.” Williams is easily The Fabelmans’ own auspicious talisman – that same beatnik that Spielberg first noticed in Williams in Fosse/Verdon (2019) also brings that Gwen Verdon quality.
Steven Spielberg has wanted to do The Fabelmans ever since he first picked up the Bolex 8SL movie camera and shot Firelight, the 1964 UFO piece he directed when he was already a film proficient 17-year-old.
His parents, schoolmates, neighbors, various homes and three sisters have always been the big screen shoot for the famous director. And the constant home movie co-stars, as The Fabelmans lovingly portrays from start to finish.
The director, who made the best childhood film of the 1980s – ET The Extra Terrestrial in 1982 – and whose work has improved the VHS lives of mop-haired children for multiple generations and their crawling in their after-school boot jeans, has long wanted to “walk those hot roads.” ‘ and he returns home himself.
Various scenarios, incarnations, and nostalgias fed into what became The Fabelmans. Collaborating with different authors at different times, After School, A Child’s Life and Growing up turned into this work.
It is interesting when the horizon is at the bottom. It is interesting when the horizon is overhead. It’s boring when the horizon is in the middle.John Ford, Fabelman Family
It’s a respectful departure, a warm look at what 24 frames per second can do to a mind, as well as a film about a generation in the mid-1950s immersed in consumption, white goods, the media, and recent atrocities and war casualties. Fabelmans proves that things can only take meta.
Spielberg’s famous camera-frame hands lead the camera-frame hands of both the uncannily sensitive Mateo Zoryan Francis-DeFord and Gabriel LaBelle, who play both versions of Sammy Fabelman. Still, perhaps the film’s greatest achievement isn’t that Spielberg has great motion picture entertainment by recreating the homegrown movies of his youth.
This is how he usually celebrates creativity, with Williams portraying Sammy’s biggest cheerleader, Mitzi. And six of his own pianist skills are highlighted by a simple piano note by John Williams.
But Father Burt’s technology and computer acumen are also an important part of Steven’s story. The Fabelmans not only depicts the very real young adult movement of living with her divorced father to be closer to the Los Angeles film courses and studios that Spielberg longed for.
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It also pays homage to how Spielberg would later facilitate major software developments in the media; this is unintentionally a tribute to the pioneering computer work that his father Arnold did for General Electric.
One of The Fabelmans’ biggest hits is that so many scenes, frames, moments, and design choices don’t show that Spielberg remembers his very married childhood.
They show how this film has already woven its story and emotions into much of their work. The dry, dusty afternoons of this film’s Arizona youth are already present in Spielberg’s Amblin (1968).
The layered chatter and conversation chaos of the suburbs is reminiscent of the chatter of The Sugarland Express (1974) and Jaws (1975). And Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) has the exuberant comic rides of Sammy in stagecoach raids and launching young soldiers.
The deliberate references are also evident when Mitzi recalls the same rhythm in Richard Dreyfuss’ Neary’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) when the rear view of Burt leads his young children to spontaneously watch the whirlwind skies while being left on the driveway. A breaking point and career station wagon is the only thing standing between her, the sky and divorce.
The wonder and imagination of the after-school lockers, bike rides, and toy lockers of ET The Extra Terrestrial (1982) is huge when her son Sammy finally holds the secrets he has to reveal to his mother Mitzi.
When young Sammy is fascinated by Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), Close Encounters’ Neary is there almost begging his children to fall in love with a promised matinee of The Ten Commandments (1956) by the same director. .
The Fabelmans actually exists in the alien-eyed wonder of ET following a John Ford classic, before having the same director as a grizzled end-screen sage played by true movie legend David Lynch. And anti-Semitic sentiments from high school athletes willingly remind the innocents in Schindler’s List (1993) of the same xenophobia inflicted by children.
And it’s not just Spielberg’s own cinema added to this movie. It’s all cinema. As he is about to enter a movie theater for the first time that changes his life, from an opening shot at Sammy’s height, this is Spielberg, aware of the miracle, hidden passions, and adolescent politics in François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows (1959).
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Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up (1966) comes to mind when distraught young Sammy embarks on a fictional journey to uncover the extramarital affair lurking in the corners of holiday motion picture frames.
But it would be easy to see The Fabelmans immersed in the floodlights of nostalgia. It’s also a hot article on navigating adulthood—like ET, Empire of the Sun, and AI Artificial Intelligence. This is a work about not making art as much as protecting art. It’s a commentary on consumerism, popular culture, computer advances, corrupt metaphors, and Americana that led to the second half of the twentieth century and the Spielberg legend to exist and flourish.
Perhaps The Fabelman’s greatest achievement is that it sheds so much light on Spielberg’s art. In the box office bombshell of the breakthrough films of the 1970s and 1980s, matinee adventure and new age technology have always flown and returned against the movie moon.
Here and oddly enough, there is a study from the man himself that highlights how not everyone can combine a chase. Not everyone knows how to advance a cut or hold a frame. When does a hobby turn into life? When it comes to talent.
The Fabelman Family begins and ends with the principles of filmmaking – the art, talent and perseverance needed to bring this miracle to life in the dark.
Spielberg hasn’t just come home. There is popular culture cinema. And as evidenced by the latest scene from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – the horizon works best under the frame. John Ford was right.
The Fabelmans is in UK cinemas from 27 January.
Take a closer look at the movie below.