BRIDGE OF SPIES

  • Steven’s return to an emphasis on red and yellow set design in his latest undertaking jumped out at me right away. If you check out my remarks on his early films, you will note he tended to hit hard on the Technicolor pairing of ruby slippers and yellow brick road hues featured in Wizard of Oz. Here, the introduction to downtown Brooklyn lingers on red and yellow signage. Note the red and yellow paint on the artistic spy’s desk. As the movie progresses, you will see red and yellow wallpaper in the Donovans’ house as well as a faded version in the dumpy apartment in East Berlin. Courtrooms and embassies, both stateside and abroad, are resplendent with crimson and gold. Add to the list the neon motel sign where the pilots are recruited. Even the climactic phone booth provides a glowing backdrop for our hero with its eye-catching palate.
  • A playful WOO reference by insurance lawyer/negotiator Donovan crops up at the beginning when he uses the example of a tornado destroying someone’s house rather than the more typical scenario of fire or flood.When James Donovan first encounters Rudolf Abel, Spielberg silhouettes Tom Hanks against the blaring light of windows in the background. It happens again in court and in Vogel’s office. If you’ve explored my website, you know that the bright light which lured Dorothy into Munchkinland foreshadows danger lurking ahead for the protagonist.
  • When James Donovan first encounters Rudolf Abel, Spielberg silhouettes Tom Hanks against the blaring light of windows in the background. It happens again in court and in Vogel’s office. If you’ve explored my website, you know that the bright light which lured Dorothy into Munchkinland foreshadows danger lurking ahead for the protagonist.
  • The oft-used device of ascent and descent from normality to a whole other dimension of reality is touched on when Lt. Francis Gary Powers soars over then crashes down into Soviet territory. Steven makes the most of cyclonic motion with the spinning exploding chaos of the doomed aircraft. Note the camera sees it from above, much as we see Dorothy’s rooftop twirling downward.
  • Berlin, east and west, exhibits an air of hopelessness by use of subdued dreary colors, a Kansas air of greyness.
  • The Amblin’ bicycle makes its first cameo in East Berlin as Pryor attempts to execute an escape through the last portal of the famous wall. It pops up again—complete with Miss Gulch’s whimsical basket—as a means of delivering mail in the embassy.
  • In the embassy bike scene, listen for the bell ringing. AHA! This is the Glinda chime moment. Pay attention now; you are about to be treated to a crucial plot twister…Sure enough, immediately afterward, Donovan confides his bombshell to the hapless ambassador’s assistant: the deal must include ‘two for one’ or there will be no deal at all.
  • An interesting prop appears on Vogel’s desk; it is the same hourglass that we saw on Indiana Jones desk in Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls, a smaller version than the Wicked Witch’s sand sifter that terrified Dorothy.
  • Through a train window, James Donovan is assaulted by the horrific sight of refugees being gunned down as they try to scale the wall. He relives this memory at home in Brooklyn when from a subway window he sees a gang of boys leaping a chin link fence. Normal scenes surveyed through windows take on surreal undertones in Spielberg fare like Dorothy’s bedroom view of the world caught up in a tornado.
  • Check out how at the end James collapses diagonally across the bed. It is very reminiscent of Dorothy’s position after her bedroom window knocks her out. When he awakens, we are assured he will find himself safe at home again.
  • How and why does Steven Spielberg decide which projects he’s interest in taking on? Like Wizard of Oz, the story usually involves the theme of someone wanting or needing to return home again. Certainly that is the case for these three ‘spies’. ‘Is home really safe?’ —another question Steven likes to play around with comes up again in this film. The Donavan household undergoes a lot of safety angst not only from cold war propaganda, but due to the community’s disapproval of James’ quest. Ah, yes, the quest, the lending of a helping hand to get someone home where he/she belongs comes straight out of Wizard of Oz.
  • Finally we meet again the trickster. Only through James Donavan’s clever manipulations will the main characters be able to attain their noble goals. To complicate this obvious theme, we even have layers of tricksters like the CIA agents’ insistence that James appear to be acting alone, like the Soviet and East German official’s similar insistence upon no traceable government involvement.
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THE TERMINAL 2004

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  • Viktor Navorski meets and befriends three steadfast companions in this nether world Terminalbetween Krakozhia and New York City just like Dorothy did in Oz. Mulroy, Enrique, and Gupta represent the qualities of Scarecrow, Tinman, and Lion. Enrique searches for his heart (love of Dolores). Paranoid, fearful Gupta searches for the courage to return to his family in India and face imprisonment. Mulroy is the brainy one. He keeps Gupta’s silliness in line—much as Scarecrow reigns in Lion—and he imparts savvy hints to Viktor to help him survive in this often hostile environment. See Goonies.
  • Of course Frank Dixon plays the Wicked Witch of the West, trapping Viktor out of sheer meanness and his own desire for power/promotion.
  • Viktor’s goal is to find a ‘wizard’, in this case the virtuoso jazz musician whose signature will complete his father’s collection. See A.I., Minority Report
  • Gupta uses a mop to delay the Krakozhia flight, affording Viktor time and opportunity to get his wish and go out into NYC. You will recall the witch’s broomstick was the tool required by Wizard as compensation for the companions’ wishes to be granted.
  • As Viktor promenades down the center of airport toward his exodus, he is encouraged and cheered on by his companions and bystanders, again much like Dorothy in Munchkinland and Emerald City. See Joe vs.the Volcano, Twister, The Color Purple, Catch Me if You Can, Sugarland Express, Used Cars
  • In the climactic parade scene, on the upper level, the camera flashes upon a distinctly yellow floor like yellow brick road. However close-ups do away with the pigment.
  • At the end, Frank’s security guards—like the witch’s soldiers in the castle—are only to happy to defy previous orders and former protocol.  They let the captive go free.
  • Gupta triumphantly reassures Viktor from tarmac that everything is okay; he is returning homeSee WOO, A.I., E.T., Super 8, Jaws, War of the Worlds, Empire of the Sun, War Horse, Saving Private Ryan, Sugarland Express, Hook, Close Encounters, Catch Me if You Can for other characters’ touching faith in safety of home.
  • Viktor initially complicates matters when he refuses to confirm he is ‘afraid to go home’. Pure at heart and untouched by Frank’s evil influence, or those overthrowing his country’s government, he can never accept that home is anything but a safe place for him. Dorothy shares the same viewpoint despite events to the contrary like Miss Gulch and the tornado. See above notation for characters with equally naïve notions about the sanctuary of home. See Twister, Close Encounters, Empire of the Sun, Catch me if You Can, Minority Report, Amistad, The Color Purple, Munich, Poltergeist
  • The film’s finale has Viktor confidently answering the cabbie’s request for a destination, “I am going home.” If he doesn’t exactly close his eyes, he certainly narrows them. See WOO Dorothy’s ‘no place like home incantation’, Empire of the Sun, A.I.
  • Krakozhia: some say the country is named after Krakow…maybe…but is also pseudo-anagram for Kansas and Oz.

SCHINDLER’S LIST 1993

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  • Famous for the moment this black and white film moves to color. Wizard of Oz was also renowned for that trick. Note: I do think on his serious films, Steven uses a very light hand when sprinkling in his bit of WOO flavor. I get why he sometimes has to be sly or vague about it. No use risking spoilage of delicate material. So if you think I am reaching on some of my examples…maybe you’ve got a point…or maybe he purposely inserted it so deep that it would be perceived only subliminally.
  • I wonder if Spielberg didn’t originally intend to put the little girl in red shoes, but decided to fly under radar and use the red coat instead. He does finally use the red shoes in Saving Private Ryan. No accident that the hues Steven features in this film when B&W goes to partial color are yellow hair and red coat.  Those two primary colors defined WOO’s commercial eye appeal.  They were specifically chosen to make the most of a brand new process called Technicolor.  The yellow brick road contrasted better with red so Baum’s silver slippers became ruby ones instead.  See Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Jaws, 1941, Joe vs. the Volcano, Twister, Inner Space, Jurassic Park, Used Cars, Sugarland Express, Poltergeist for other highlights of red and yellow.
  • WOO’s creators wanted to create an ‘air of grayness’ for Kansas scenes, meant to imply a sort of hopeless environment, hence Dorothy’s wish to go over the rainbow.  Steven employs that air of grayness throughout this film to emphasize the plight of the persecuted. See E.T. the Extraterrestrial, War Horse, Twister, Joe Vs. the Volcano, Twilight Zone the Movie Kick the can Episode, Poltergeist. 
  • Note too the sepia tones that accompany Schindler’s color sequence.  WOO’s intro was filmed in sepia but televised in B&W, so fans know it both ways.
  • There are a profusion of key scenes framed by windows… but camera slips over each with the barest gliding touch. Steven decided not to make a big deal of them so neither shall I. See WOO, Empire of the Sun, Catch Me if You Can, Poltergeist, Lost World of Jurassic Park  for other surreal glimpses through windows.  Like Dorothy’s peek into the center of tornado, everyday sights take on a bizarre twist.
  • Oskar Schindler is the consummate trickster. Spielberg returns again and again to the mischievous enabler in so many of his films.  An honorable protagonist often needs some underhanded finagling to achieve his/her goal.  In WOO, Professor Marvel (AKA Wizard of Oz, Gatekeepers 1 and 2, Driver of horse of a different color) often uses his guile to the betterment of all.  In the case of Schindler, our rogue transcends to martyrdom. By his willingness to get dirty, Schindler achieves a noble goal at great personal cost, the sacrifice of his purity. His soul may never be at peace with his former deeds. See Empire of the Sun, The Color Purple, Lincoln for other benevolent tricksters. In both Munich and Saving Private Ryan the protagonists’ missions carry out the virtuous aims of invisible tricksters. On a lighter note, you also find tricksters in WOO, A.I., Always, Goonies, Jaws, Catch Me if You Can, Joe Vs. the Volcano.

WAR HORSE: 2011

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  • When Joey is rescued from the barbed wire and brought back to camp, snow begins to fall…and that begins the healing for both horse and Albert from Devon. In WOO, snow falling on poppies is the antidote to their poison. Glinda banishes  the sleeping death and secures the companions’ momentary release from witch’s evil influence. Snow revives Dorothy and the lion, cures them and sets them back on the path of life, eventually to find their way home.
  • Going home (to Mom) once again shines as the beacon for the main characters (boy and horse) in this movie. See Empire of the Sun, A.I., Sugarland Express, Hook, Saving Private Ryan, War of the Worlds, Close Encounters, Catch me if You Can, The Color Purple, Poltergeist, Jurassic Park (to Grampa) and WOO (to Auntie Em).
  • When Colin walks through No Man’s Land, he is reciting a prayer for courage, like a mantra…the Lord is my shepherd. This is reminiscent of the WOO mantra ‘lions and tigers and bears oh my’. See Minority Report for another mantra.
  • No Man’s Land recalls the landscape where the witch’s castle was located, dark, bleak, and barren. We reach for courage in a terrifying, evil world. Also I am reminded of the Kansas landscape, black, grey and white, tumbleweeds deserted roads before the tornado strikes. This ‘air of grayness’ was an effective device in WOO to portray hopelessness. See E.T. the Extraterrestrial, Schindler’s List, Twister, Joe Vs. the Volcano, Twilight Zone the Movie Kick the can Episode, Poltergeist
  • Bells ring at the announcement of end of War as they do in Lincoln at passing of 13th.   It’s a WOO thread: “Ding-dong, the witch is dead.”  Evil has been extinguished. Triumph of the perseverant!
  • The sweet, chubby German who reluctantly must do his job—warhorses under his direction will die pulling artillery—looks suspiciously like the tenderhearted Gatekeeper of Emerald City, AKA gatekeeper for Oz’s Hall. Same center part in middle of slicked down hair, mustache, and body type. Same sentimental character that disobeys orders to help hero.  If he had a slightly bigger part, I’d call him a trickster.images-6
  • This German hollers out ‘Run! Run!’ to Joey, the horse, encouraging him to escape. Dorothy hollers to Toto at witch’s castle, “Run Toto, run!” See Minority Report, Sugarland Express, Twister.
  • At the end, when Joey and Albert get home, look at the sunset scenery for a very GWTW homage to Victor Fleming who also directed WOO.  See A.I., War of the Worlds.

RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK 1981

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  • The Nazis brandishing eagle topped staffs and banners are like the witch’s guards with their lances parading in front of her castle gate.
  • The pet monkey all dressed up reminds you of witch’s flying monkey troops in costume. This little beast proves equally untrustworthy; he betrays Marion’s hiding place and leads to her capture.  For more flying monkeys, see Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Minority Report, The Lost World of Jurassic Park, The Adventures of TinTin  
  • Marion is trapped inside a basket like Toto.
  • The weird spirits inside the Ark of the Covenant appear in smoke and are sort of human, sort of scary, like Oz’s head in great hall. See Lincoln
  • The cover of the Ark—when it finally falls back on top to trap the spirits inside— twirls down exactly like Dorothy’s spinning house did when it fell from sky.  Check out camera angles from above.Raiders Ark
  • Nazis get melted after looking at the power inside ark— evil departs world— witch melts in WOO. See Lost World of Jurassic Park
  • In this film as in Super 8, Indy infiltrates enemy territory by appropriating an enemy uniform, the WOO trick to get Lion, Tinman and Scarecrow through witch’s gates. Note how a hat flies up during struggle; clothes did this in WOO too. See Catch Me if You Can, Super 8Raiders Ark2
  • Indy ducks out of soldier’s marching line. Super 8 dad does same… as do WOO companions after getting over drawbridge.
  • Indy reminds me of Scarecrow in the scene where he crawls under moving truck and is dragged. His body is as delightfully indestructible as the pratfalling straw man’s. Spielberg jokes about this afterward in the ‘what part of you doesn’t hurt?’ scene. Remember Dorothy asking Scarecrow about his injuries after she gets him down off the post? And how Scarecrow bounces back after being ripped apart by monkeys? Apparently Indy’s aches and pains aren’t as bad as he makes out, since he and Marion end up doing more than sleeping together. Young Indy is presumably conceived?

LINCOLN: 2012

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  • When the 13th amendment passes, the shot of Lincoln in dim office—with backlight raying in from curtained window—brings to mind the interior of Dorothy’s house just after it’s fallen from the tornado into Munchkin land. Despite many TV broadcasts in black and white, the Kansas scenes in WOO were actually filmed in muted sepias… a silent, dusty, ‘air of grayness’. For sepia, see Schindler’s List. For air of grayness, see War Horse, E.T., Joe vs the Volcano, Twister, Twilight Zone the Movie, Kick the Can episode.

    "LINCOLN" L 003317 Daniel Day-Lewis stars as President Abraham Lincoln in this scene from director Steven Spielberg's drama "Lincoln" from DreamWorks Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox. Ph: David James, SMPSP ©DreamWorks II Distribution Co., LLC.  All Rights Reserved.
    “LINCOLN”
    Daniel Day-Lewis stars as President Abraham Lincoln in this scene from director Steven Spielberg’s drama “Lincoln” from DreamWorks Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox.
    Ph: David James, SMPSP
    ©DreamWorks II Distribution Co., LLC.  All Rights Reserved.
  • Spielberg repeats this WOO scene of quiet before chaos in many films; as a tension-builder it’s always effective. See E.T., the Extraterrestrial, Jaws, Saving Private Ryan, Minority Report, War of the Worlds, Twilight Zone the Movie, Kick the Can Episode.
  • Then the bells ring all over Washington; “Ding dong the witch is dead!” In this case of course the oppression that has been conquered is not that of the Wicked Witch of the East, but of slavery.  See War Horse. 
  • The character ‘Bilbo’ is a mischievous, somewhat shady but good-hearted fellow, serving a righteous cause. He mimics with his curled mustache, apple cheeks, costume (hat, tie etc.) good old Professor Marvel (AKA: the Wizard of Oz & his alter-egos in Emerald City). He is a smooth operator, a charlatan who nevertheless sees that justice, or at least the greater good is carried out— even if he accomplishes that by somewhat questionable means. Whatever you think of his methods, the heroes might not have achieved their goals without the aid of his chicanery. See Empire of the Sun, The Color Purple, Munich, Saving Private Ryan, A.I., Always, Goonies, Jaws, Catch Me if You Can, Schindler’s List for more lovable tricksters.
  • During the play, Todd watches—in a different theater than his doomed father attends— a pink cloud like the one Oz uses in the Great Hall explode like smoke bomb. Directly afterward a man comes ‘from behind the curtain’ to blow away all magical pretense and to announce a most horrible truth “The president has been shot.” There is no such thing as magic. Only humbug. Only the hideous realization of reality.
  • When Lincoln dies, we see his head ‘speechifying’ within a halo of candle flame as Oz’s head does in the Great Hall.  See A.I., Artificial Intelligence.

JURASSIC PARK 1993

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  • I remember being stymied by this one…even back in the day. WOO references are surprisingly sparse. Considering the film’s light subject matter and the fact that it’s clearly aimed to appeal to children—right down to corny quips and jokes— why does Spielberg hold back as if it were a more serious work? Due to tense action throughout and spectacular creatures/special effects, I wonder if WOO cuteness wasn’t sacrificed in editing to retain the film’s overall integrity?
  • The helicopter’s descent into the island park goes straight down from above, the same vertical path Dorothy and the Wizard had to brave to get into Oz.  An aerial transportation between levels of consciousness or reality is an oft-used medium in Spielberg films, most memorably Joe and Patricia’s leap of faith. Joe vs. the VolcanoTwister, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Jurassic Park, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, War of the Worlds, Super 8, Always.
  • hqdefaultThe park’s gates at beginning of the ride, complete with torches, bring to mind the gates to Witch’s castle. Beware ye who enter here…you may get trapped. See Amistad, Lost World of Jurassic Park
  • One of the first magical sights you see happens to be the giant eggs hatching. Similar size and shape eggs hatch into Munchkins as Dorothy explores her new world.
  • When the two archeologists realize the gentleman they have been so rude to is actually a benefactor ready to sponsor their project, watch Laura Dern make a belated bob of a curtsey…at least sort of… considering she’s wearing jeans. Dorothy executes similar belated courtesy to Professor Marvel as she tries to butter him up to take them along to see crowned heads of Europe etc.
  • Grandkids have red and blonde hair. See Sugarland Express.  Is this a muted tribute to Steven’s penchant for WOO’s favorite colors, red and yellow?  See Schindler’s List, Jaws, 1941, Joe vs. the Volcano, Twister, Inner Space.

THE COLOR PURPLE 1985

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  • Repeated over and over are the wind chimes tinkling, preceding every important moment of change in Celie’s life. We hear clinking or tinkling signaling magic, danger, change in so many of Spielberg’s films. The device is inspired by WOO’s Glinda. Unlike the witch who shocked and frightened children  each time she appeared, Glinda politely let you know to expect her arrival with a recurring fanfare of chimes.  See Always, A.I., E. T., Jaws, Close Encounters, Empire of the Sun, Super 8, Twister, Twilight Zone, Joe vs. the Volcano, Poltergeist
  • Shug dances from the speak-easy to her father’s church with a parade of born-again sinners coming down road behind her.  The scene brings to mind many instances where WOO crowds follow Dorothy and her entourage. We see such accompaniment repeated in The Terminal, Joe vs.the Volcano, Twister,  Catch Me if You Can, Sugarland Express, Used Cars.
  • Shug is the trickster, a bad woman, a sinner, who nonetheless shows the meek Celie how to fight for what she wants. Her courage and indomitable spirit transcend her mischievous behavior and inspire and push our protagonist to achieve her goals. See Wizard of Oz, See Empire of the Sun, Lincoln, Munich, Saving Private Ryan, A.I., Always, Goonies, Jaws, Catch Me if You Can. Schindler’s List, Used Cars, Joe vs. the Volcano for other examples of tricksters.
  • The girls running and leaping through the field of flowers evokes the same pure joy and hero_EB20040328REVIEWS08403280301ARcamaraderie Dorothy and pals experience upon reaching the poppies outside of Emerald City. The act of  a protagonist crossing a field often precedes a major plot point in Steven’s films. See Twister, Saving Private Ryan, Lost World of Jurassic Park, Always.
  • Celie inherits her family’s former house when her raunchy stepfather dies. This windfall marks a turning point in her life. She finds security, autonomy, peace, and eventually joy after she returns ‘home’.  The WOO promise!  See Twister, Close Encounters, Empire of the Sun, Catch me if You Can, Minority Report, Amistad, Munich, Poltergeist, The Terminal for other examples of home as the sanctuary.
  • Mother is finally reunited with her children, a slight variance to the definition of ‘home’.  See Empire of the Sun, A.I., Sugarland Express, Hook, Saving Private Ryan, War of the Worlds, Close Encounters, Catch me if You Can, Poltergeist, Jurassic Park (to Grampa) and WOO (to Auntie Em) for reunions of children with loved ones.