"SHOCK OR AWE, IT LOOKS THE SAME ON A BIG SCREEN"
At Den Of Geek, and with a spoiler alert, David Crow posts an essay with the headline, "The Fabelmans Reveals How Steven Spielberg Sees Us" - here's an excerpt:
It is not how this type of story is supposed to go. Sam Fabelman (Gabriel LaBelle), a lad who is also a thinly veiled portrait of Steven Spielberg’s youth, has been bullied, humiliated, and finally assaulted by his high school’s golden boy, Logan Hall (Sam Rechner). The six-foot-plus gorilla never openly made an Antisemitic jape at Sammy’s expense. But when Logan’s buddy Chad (Oakes Fegley) did, Logan stood there and laughed—and later tried to break Sammy’s nose when the smaller kid stood up for himself.Previously:
Yet here they were, a few months later and on prom night, sharing something akin to camaraderie. Logan even offers Sam a drag of a joint he just rolled. The 180-degree pivot from animosity surprises the kids, just as it does the audience who expected a revenge of the nerds style of comeuppance. There was even a perfect opportunity just one scene earlier when Sammy revealed his “Senior Skip Day” short film at the prom. Surely, this would be the scenario where Sam could get back at the physically bigger bullies by depicting them as buffoons. In a locker room they might be big men, but in the editing suite, the director’s God.
Yet that’s not the type of movie Sammy wanted to make. In retrospect that perhaps shouldn’t be a surprise either. Spielberg came of age during the same period as a lot of the filmmakers behind ‘70s and ‘80s high school revenge fantasies, but that was never the instinct of an eternal onscreen optimist like Spielberg. And it also does not become Sammy’s choice—at least not entirely. While the more openly hateful bigot does become the butt of the joke in the short film, Logan is elevated to the status of a demigod. He looks noble and beatific onscreen, worshiped even as he’s filmed dominating volleyball on the beach and winning a race that has all the stakes of Body and Soul.
Not only does it flatter Logan’s ego, but it captures the imagination of the kids in the dance hall. Future Spielberg contemporary Brian De Palma would make horror history when he adapted Stephen King’s Carrie so masterfully that to this day we crack jokes about pig’s blood at school proms. After all, it’s at such a dance that Carrie (Sissy Spacek) is humiliated by a bucket of livestock blood, causing her to reveal her ominous superpowers to her peers.
In its own way, the prom sequence in The Fabelmans plays the same. Before this sequence, Sammy is at best a curiosity for his WASP-y classmates, including his girlfriend (Chloe East), who is as enamored with the forbidden fruit of Sammy’s religion as she is the funny kid always holding a camera. But when the class sees one of his films, they at last see him. Filmmaking, at least according to Spielberg, who co-wrote The Fabelmans with Tony-winner Tony Kushner, is his superpower. And while the other kids are not horrified by that gift like Carrie White’s classmates, they’re nevertheless thunderstruck by it. Shock or awe, it looks the same on a big screen.
This includes Logan, who cannot reconcile the images he saw of himself coming out of the projector. The man he watched onscreen was perfect, divine, even innately good. Hell, he was a bigger all-American hero than the sometimes caddish Indiana Jones. That isn’t the real Logan though. The audience knows this; Sammy knows this; and even the jock knows it. Nonetheless, it’s such a seductive image that the girlfriend Logan cheated on takes him back after seeing that he-man up there in the flickering light.
“That’s not me!” he later laments in a fury to Sam. It’s a lie! He doesn’t understand why the put-upon Jewish kid would give him this monkey-pawed slice of hagiography, and to be honest Sam is also not entirely sure. “Maybe I did it to make the movie better?” Sam finally offers.
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Updated: Saturday, November 26, 2022 11:53 AM CST
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