To gauge the size of the filmmaker who won the Golden Bear for Lifetime Achievement on Thursday at the Berlinale accepted, one could refer to his titanic private wealth of an estimated around four billion US dollars – but we are not there after all manager magazine. You could also start with one of the countless moments that Steven Spielberg has added to film history. But maybe it’s best to start somewhere else, namely with “Blackberry” by Matt Johnson.
The Movie is running at the Berlinale as part of the competition for the bears, it tells of the nerdy inventors of the Blackberry phones you could send emails on, which was spectacular when there were no iPhones – the rise, the corrupting magic of money, the downfall, that’s what it’s all about. When the nerds haven’t lost their souls yet, they have movie nights in the office. And what are they watching, even speaking along with the dialogues? “Hunter of the lost treasure”. A Steven Spielberg film, what else.
Has any other filmmaker ever done that before – not only creating film culture, but also becoming the subject of film culture with their films, as the epitome of popular cinema? In any case, it was particularly busy on Tuesday in front of the Berlinale Palace. The Berlinale jingle running there in a continuous loop already sounded more glamorous than usual during the afternoon, as if charged with high-voltage current directly from the zeitgeist substations.
Spielberg’s sisters, wrapped in toilet paper, play mummies
Then he was there, signing autograph cards on the red carpet, cuddling plush ETs. Bono, singer of the band U2, gave the eulogy, he described Spielberg as “the soul in Hollywood’s machine”, as supernatural, extraterrestrial: “He is a man of the world, but not of this world”. The fact that he lives so much in his imagination has to do with Spielberg’s family history, with the failure of his parents’ marriage, the disappearance of his father, such experiences are the secret leitmotif of Spielberg’s work. With this – not entirely new – thesis, Bono also provided a platform for Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical film “The Fabelmans”, which was shown as a German premiere after the gala of honor.
Little Sam, as the character based on him is called in the film, goes there with his parents movie theaterto watch “The Greatest Shown on Earth,” Cecil B. DeMille’s 1952 film. Driving back in the car, he can barely speak, overwhelmed by the famous train crash scene in the film.
“Movies are dreams that you never forget,” his mother had said to him, and that is now proving to be true: Sam can’t get the scene out of his head, it frightens him. It is only when his parents give him a model railway and a camera with which he can recreate and film the crash that the grip of fear is released. Filmmaking now has him under control. His sisters, wrapped in toilet paper as mummies, become his first actresses.
A few years later, the real Spielberg will also catch the world’s attention with a crash, with the film “Duel”. A car driver is being followed by a truck, that’s the plot, why remains unclear, the film doesn’t explain feelings, it rather creates them. The truck is the manifest fear that races towards the viewer out of the darkness of consciousness and wants nothing but a bang. This is how Spielberg crashed his way into film history. Francois Truffaut, Fred Zinnemann, David Lean, they were all enthusiastic and suddenly Spielberg was one of them: a popular director.
His third film, four years later, was already so successful that it literally changed the ecosphere. Spielberg recently said of Jaws that he regrets that his film helped decimate shark populations. Now, when he’s swimming, he’s afraid “that the sharks are kind of mad at me.”
Whatever it is that has Spielberg in control, it has apparently never let go of him. He shot “The Fabelmans” because he seriously thought that humanity would die out as a result of the corona pandemic. Thankfully the world doesn’t work the way it is in his imagination, and that’s probably lucky for both of us – for the world, but also for his imagination and the films that come out of it.
The indomitable pull to a happy end otherwise it would only be a ploy for better commercialization if it weren’t for the obviously deeply felt need to drive away the demons that appear when he closes his eyes, to stop the speeding trains and trucks. They are feelings that everyone can relate to, and therein lies the democratic moment of escapism in Spielberg’s films. In his emotional acceptance speech, he appropriately emphasized the democratic element of filmmaking: “I’m overwhelmed because I haven’t accomplished anything on my own. All my films have been made in collaboration with great people. My whole life, my family – everything is collaboration .”
In the competition there are ideas to see that are also films
Spielberg was a welcome blessing for the Berlinale this year, but like a brightly shining light, it also cast shadows. His films never needed film festivals, they always found their way directly to the audience. But can the same be said about the titles that are at the forefront of this year’s Berlinale, the competition for the bears? The longer the festival lasts, the more doubts arise.
In the middle of the festival, there are always ideas to be viewed that are also films, although the transport from the head to the screen is sometimes difficult – something like one of the first shots in the film “Music” by Angela Schanelec: Da a birth took place in a Greek mountain, the mother apparently died, maybe she is still alive, but two ambulances are pushing up a mountain pass at almost walking speed, for minutes they cross one of the static shots of the film, photographed here from afar.
What the film is about is not easy to say. The Berlinale itself tries to do it this way: “The myth of Oedipus is the virtual core of this master study of elliptical storytelling, in which every detail, no matter how small, becomes a sign or not.” What makes the film so exhausting is the “or not” part of the sentence: you never know whether you’re still in profane confusion about what’s going on in the plot, or whether that’s supposed to be poetry.
Among the other contributions, the film “Le Grand Chariot” by Philipp Garrel stands out. The French filmmaker tells the story of a puppeteer company that threatens to break up after the death of the male head of the family. The daughters take over, they open the box with the old dolls and stories and ask themselves what can still be used for the present. It’s a farewell film: from patriarchy, but also from analog art production and the idea of a classic that will of course somehow assert itself. Movies like this, where everything unfolds like life itself, create transitions like that, and so the end isn’t the end.
For the jury, a Golden Bear for Philippe Garrel would be an obvious choice, and in any case a good one: it would be a choice for poetry and politics, classic and Departure, established cinema and the indie scene, i.e. for all the opposites that the Berlinale is trying to combine.
And Spielberg, what did he actually say about his honorary bear? “I have to admit, bears scare the shit out of me!” But maybe it’s not so bad to be scared. “The Fabelsmans” at least be certified happy end: Whoever filmed his life with Michelle Williams in the leading role as his mother and then presented the film as the highlight of the Berlinale was at least as lucky as the Berlinale was with him.