Tuesday, July 12, 2005

"Film is not the art of scholars but illiterates."

This is a quote from Werner Herzog that I think is appropriate for the interesting discussion happening over Spielberg's War of the Worlds. Sean Collins gives a perceptive and persuasive review of the movie over at his blog and I have to say, his reading of the ending actually is really cool, and I might just adopt such an interpretation myself in order to salvage what I thought was a laughable ending. Afterall, I thought the whole ending was a dream when I first saw the movie.

(The Forager, as well, has a great rebuttle to Sean's review, and I stand by my earlier comments that Spielberg's ending robs the movie of the serious emotional weight it was putting out in its first 110 minutes)

The thing about Sean's analysis of War of the Worlds' ending is that it's an over-analysis. Of course, that's the wonderful thing about Art. We are all free to interpret a work of art in any way we choose. But to say that Spielberg intended this reading of the film, that he was going for this subversive critique of happy endings, is a stretch too far, I think. Spielberg is too good a director to fail so utterly at making his point; he understands Herzog's maxim. The audience should know what's going on in a scene -- not always in terms of story or plot, those elements can be confusing and the film can still "work" overall -- but a scene should be clear in terms of tone. An art for illiterates, not scholars. Tongue-in-cheek humor doesn't work if the audience doesn't know it's tongue-in-cheek. Similarly, if Spielberg is trying to be subversive in order to make his point, the point won't be made if the audience doesn't know that Spielberg is being subversive. If most people only see War of the Worlds' "happy ending" as an unambiguous happy ending, then either Spielberg failed to make clear what he was trying to do, or he really meant it to be an unambiguous happy ending.


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