- 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.
A.I. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE 2001 (wrote & directed)
Ahhhh….the mother-lode of WOO!
- Professor Marvel’s (AKA Wizard of Oz) hot air balloon has a cameo role as the rounder upper of expendable robots for the flesh fair’s show.
- Gigolo Joe with his tap dancing on road and curb—not to mention his clever patter—brings off a respectable homage to Scarecrow’s, Tinman’s, Lion’s best song and dance antics.
- Going to Rouge (red) City to ask Dr. Know=going to Emerald City to ask Wizard (rouge alternative to ruby as in slippers?) See The Terminal, Minority Report for other quests to find ‘wizards’.
- ‘All roads lead to Rouge City’=Follow the yellow brick road
- Dr. Know appears in explosion of light, however only his head and hands show up. The Great Oz too appears as a talking head. Both are tricky fellows who don’t play fair all the time. Dr. Know counts off the first bogus question unfairly and his answers to the others aren’t quite correct. Professor Marvel/OZ was a manipulator/showman pretending to know more than he did. See See Empire of the Sun, The Color Purple, Lincoln, Munich, Saving Private Ryan, A.I., Always, Goonies, Jaws, Catch Me if You Can. Schindler’s List for tricksters.
- Teddy is as loyal a companion to David as Toto is to Dorothy. Like the little dog, he is occasionally very helpful getting David rescued—like at flesh fair.
- The quest imposed by Dr. Know on David to find the Blue Fairy (to become real so Mommy will love him and let him come home)=Dorothy’s quest to witch’s castle to fulfill wizard’s bargain to get her home. For more quests, see Always, Amistad, Joe vs. the Volcano, Tintin, Poltergeist,
Twister, Sugarland Express, Lincoln, War of the Worlds, Minority Report, The Goonies, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Saving Private Ryan, Munich, Jaws, Inner Space, The Terminal, Schindler’s List, Super 8, Raiders of the Lost Arc, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Catch me if You Can, Always, Twilight Zone the Kick the Can episode,
- Home references abound. “If I become a real boy, can I come home?” “After I find the Blue Fairy, then I can go home.” “Teddy, we’re Home!” almost verbatim Dorothy’s, “Toto, we’re home!” “Mommy, we’re home.” See Jaws, War Horse, The Terminal, Sugarland Express, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Empire of the Sun, Catch Me if You Can, Saving Private Ryan, War of the Worlds, Super 8, 1941, Amistad, Minority Report, Hook, Poltergeist for other characters anxious to get home to safety.
- The Blue fairy’s gentle voice is so reminiscent of Glinda, good Witch of the North. With creepy, modulated kindness, both sorceresses pound in nail-hard facts. Your mommy’s dead. The witch is after you. The road is long. You had to find out for yourself.
- David sleeps at the end, home at last with Mommy dying. He goes to a place ‘where dreams begin’. Dorothy sleeps as tornado strikes, then after clicking heels of ruby slippers, wakes up at home, ‘her dream ended’. Where is home really? Here in physical world or there in dreams? See Joe vs. the Volcano.
- Tinkling wind chimes in a window signify magic is coming…David will find Mommy waking up. This pre-magic moment (or significant change coming moment) presaged by a tinkling sound appears in many Spielberg films. You will remember that we always knew Glinda was coming when we heard the chimes begin. See Always, E. T., The Color purple, Jaws, Close Encounters, Empire of the Sun, Super 8, Twister, Twilight Zone, Joe vs the Volcano.
- Check out the Gone with the Wind scenery look-alike when Gigolo Joe is silhouetted next to a tree as robots scavenge for parts in the dump. (see War of Worlds, War Horse). For a long time I attributed this scene and several others in various Spielberg pictures to GWTW. Recently though, I realized the small bridge where Scarlett shelters in creek with horse as the Union army crosses is awfully similar to one seen in Wizard of Oz when Dorothy runs away to Professor Marvel. Victor Fleming directed both films so it seems plausible that he found a double use for that particular bridge…and maybe the set with the tree and split rail fences as well? I realize King Vidor directed much of WOO, especially Kansas scenes, but does that preclude possibility that Victor and he occasionally shared sets? Is Steven purposely doing the same thing?
SCHINDLER’S LIST 1993
- 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.
- Alex’s mother appears in the midst of the harbor’s competitive chaos. Everybody in town is debarking. They hope to win a fabulous bounty for catching the man-eating monster. Mrs. Kintner is dressed all in black. Like the Wicked Witch of West, she cleaves through the center of crowd. You recall how the Munchkins hailed Dorothy in raucous celebration until witch sucked their joy away? The bereaved mother has same effect here. With vitriolic demeanor, she confronts Martin in an angry threatening speech, beating him down as the witch did Dorothy.
- There are several clinking, tinkling interludes in this movie that warn you the shark is coming, like the WOO signal that let you know Glinda was on her way. Unlike the soundtrack music that tricks you sometimes…this prescient clinking is never wrong. The buoy rings as the girl goes for her dip, a warning the shark is going to get her. Before Alex and Tippett get chomped listen to the background music for orchestral chimes. Those two won’t escape. There are no chimes in the famous roast beef scene because the fisherman escapes, but you will hear them at the pond when the helpful man falls out of his boat and becomes shark bait. Listen for a flat drumming knell when Hooper dives around Ben Gardner’s disabled boat before he finds the gory corpse. Even when Orca’s crew is chasing and being chased, despite music implying danger, suspenseful clicking of fishing pole, beeping of monitor, you only hear the chimes to verify doom. No chimes when shark initially toys with broken boat but when they tie on three barrels, Jaws gets mad. He goes after them and then the chimes sound. Someone is going to pay. When he eats Hooper’s cage the chimes are silent; Hooper will survive. When the ship is sinking and the bell tolls, Quint will soon be a dead man. The bell rings again right before Martin shoots the gas canister that blows the shark to smithereens at which point you will hear a profusion of happy chimes while pieces sink! See Always, A.I., E. T.,The Color Purple, Close Encounters, Empire of the Sun, Super 8, Twister, Twilight Zone, Joe vs. the Volcano, Poltergeist.
- I have seen this film dozens of times, two or three at the movie theater when it first came out. It is one of a handful that never fails to suck me in as I try to click by. I thought I had noticed everything WOO until recently I became aware of the heavy use of red and yellow color scheme: Amity’s billboard, beach decor, costumes the extras are wearing, Ben Gardner’s boat scene, the man’s red and yellow dinghy on the pond, Alex’s yellow raft covered in blood, yellow barrels, red lifejackets, the Orca herself. And here’s an interesting detail: the Orca’s paint job changes frequently. Watch how she starts out with yellow letters on a red transom. Then she goes to an all red stern with black hull…perhaps as a better backdrop for yellow barrels? At one point before the boat burns, the stern even seems to turn yellow! WOO, one of the first color films ever made employed its eye-popping hues to best advantage, most notably ruby slippers against the yellow brick road. See A.I., E. T.,The Color Purple, Always, Close Encounters, Empire of the Sun, Super 8, Twister, Twilight Zone, Joe vs. the Volcano, Poltergeist.
- On the 4th of July an army of bicyclists debark from the ferry. See E.T., Munich, Adventures of Tintin, Amistad, 1941, Always, Super 8, War of the Worlds, Empire of the Sun,The Goonies, Sugarland Express, Inner Space, Used Cars. If there’s a way to squeeze a bike in, Steven will find it… even in a film that is set primarily on water!
- Quint, of course, is the lovable trickster. His methods are questionable, especially when he destroys the radio that might have saved them all. But Martin’s quest to kill the monster would not have been fulfilled without Quint’s maniacal manipulation. See Empire of the Sun, The Color Purple, Lincoln, Munich, Saving Private Ryan, A.I., Always, Goonies, Jaws, Catch Me if You Can.
- The happy ending shows our survivors coming in sight of home as they swim. See references to safety of home, Empire of the Sun, Close Encounters, Catch Me if You Can, Amistad, The Terminal, Munich, Saving Private Ryan, Poltergeist etc.
- 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.
- 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.
THE COLOR PURPLE 1985
- 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 camaraderie 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.