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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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.

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.