Whenever I photograph a scenic view around me with my DSLR Camera, my dad always says this to me that "You know what adds beauty to the photo? It's not about the lighting or the frame symmetry but it's the unnoticed details in the background that adds beauty to the photo. Your eye picks a particular scene but you don't notice some details in that scene. Those intricate details not only add beauty to the frame but also a lot of emotions other than Beauty." Watching Steven Spielberg's new Venture "The Fabelmans" reminded me of those words.
Written by Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner, “The Fabelmans” chronicles the life of Sammy Fabelman (Gabriel Labelle) and the Fabelman family, his passion for films and how his passion affects various phases of his life and the Fabelmans. The film is technically a semi-autobiography of the Director Steven Spielberg himself. Steven Spielberg has played a major role from my childhood. I still remember during my eighth standard for my English project report on “inspiring personalities”, I wrote about Spielberg’s life story and how he inspired me. Spielberg introspects his own life through the lens of Sammy Fabelman. It’s not just a love letter to cinema but it’s like a letter of gratitude and apology to his parents.
From the very first frame, Spielberg made me connect to Sam Fabelman. His Father, Burt Fabelman (Paul Dano) giving a scientific explanation how movies and movie projectors are peak optical trickery and his mom Mitzi Fabelman (Michelle Williams) explaining how their like dreams just got me back to my first film viewing experience where my dad and mom explained the magic of movies to me. It’s that magic of moving images that makes Sammy make his own film with an 8mm camera which makes him passionate to the art of filmmaking in later days. He films every major and minor event of his life in film and he even makes his own zero budget short film with his friends. What’s so notable is that, his dad and mom contribute to his passion. Throughout the film, Spielberg made me go down the memory lane with his frames. Spielberg uses the cinematic language to the fullest to narrate his lifestory.
Though his parents contribute to his passion, they still have this major doubt on whether he would turn like their maniac Uncle Boris(Judd Hirsch). Through his character, he instils a tug of war between art and family. This tug of war is just meandering throughout the film. There’s this one notable scene where Sammy screens the reel which features his mom having an affair with his husband’s friend Bennie (Seth Rogen). The reel is not shown to us but the camera focusses on her eyes, the reflection of the video and the light beam. When he was attacked by the anti-Semitics in his new school, Sammy still captures them in a good light for their school’s ditch day film. Moments of stillness like these are so cathartic and brilliantly captures how even the most intricate details in a film can affect many lives.
Just like Sammy we go through the process of coming-of-age as a viewer. At first, we see Sammy revering both his parents but soon he realizes his mom’s affair with Bennie, he villainizes her. At some point, we see him villainizing both his parents. But then when he tries to understand both of their viewpoints just like him, we know that how riddled his parents’ minds are with doubt. As I’ve said earlier, Spielberg apologizes to his parents for not understanding them well through the form of visual narrative. It’s meta-moments like this which places it a step-above amongst the pool of dramas on “films on films”.
Despite all the odds, his drive for the passion of filmmaking lands the dream work on silver screen meeting the man behind the first film he watched, John Ford (David Lynch). It’s this circular arc that gave a full satisfaction to me as a viewer. Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski moves the camera like a teenage boy learning and understanding his place in the world. In the climax, where John Ford narrates to him about the horizon, the camera which focusses on the centre of the frame is pointed above the horizon just felt like young Sammy learning the art of filmmaking. The camera in itself is a main character in this fable.
“The Fabelmans” is truly a meta-fable by Master Spielberg on this optical trickery called filmmaking that will eternally makes humanity united, drives our passions and reminds us not to lose the childlike wonder!