The Fablemans

I shall tell you what I liked best about the Fablemans. It presents film-making as a nerdy, exacting, time-consuming process. Becoming a director is not a matter of going to the cinema when you are nine years old and magically montaging into a great director at the age of thirty five. Films may be a bit like dreams (I suppose) but they don't leap fully formed from brain to screen. And while getting your mates to dress up as cowboys and point toy guns at each other might be a lot of fun, the real work happens meticulously, in your bedroom, with razor blade and glue, or, if you have a well-off dad, with an expensive film editing tool. Young Sammy Fableman (Gabriel LaBelle -- who some of us think may be a cunningly disguised stand-in for the auteur -- films a camping holiday with his family, and his high school graduation class's day at the beach. The footage doesn't seem to be that much better than anyone else's home movie would be. It's his obsessive nerdy editing which turns them into actual movies which his Venture Scout troupe applaud and make his parents go all weepy with pride. Even when, in the final moments, he meets his film-making idol he isn't told to follow his bliss or seize the day or switch off his targeting computer: he's given a brief, goofy, but entirely helpful lesson in the craft of setting up a shot.

There is a Law which says that every movie about movies has to have someone explain the persistence of vision, and the wondrous miracle that looking at twenty four still pictures a second creates the illusion of movement. By the time the Greatest Show On Earth came out, cinema was already obsolescent and being replaced by TV. Maybe if I were a real proper buff I would understand that there is a special magic to twenty four frames a second which television (which I think works by whizzing a single dot across a screen at super high speed) can't achieve. I suppose modern digital movie houses work on entirely different lines. Persistence of vision does sound quite poetic. 

Sammy's mother (Michelle Williamsappears on TV as a concert pianist, as indeed did Spielberg's. The fact that they used paper plates and plastic cutlery so washing up wouldn't damage her musicians' hands is so whacky that it must be true. So is the fact that on arriving in California she bought a pet monkey. The family moved around a lot. His Dad (Paul Dano) helped to invent computers. Spielberg's real dad died only last year at the age of a hundred and three and apparently encouraged him to make the film.

It's hard actually to say what the film's about. It's just kind of scenes from Sam's life, from when he saw the Greatest Show On Earth and the Man Who Shot Liberty Vallance and got the movie bug to when he quit college and got a job working on TV. The end point feels kind of arbitrary: you feel the film could have ended half an hour earlier (say, with Sam's triumphant home movie showing at the high school prom) or gone on for another hour (say, until Sam makes an acclaimed movie about a shark). The vibe reminded me slightly of Woody Allen's Radio Days, I suppose because it's an affectionate nostalgic portrait of a slightly weird Jewish family in the Olden Days, although Allen's olden days are obviously thirty years earlier than Spielberg's. 

Some bits seem over-familiar: doubtless American high-schools are horrid, and doubtless Jewish kids really did get bullied in the 1950s; but I am pretty sure I have seen exactly those jocks bully exactly that nerd sixteen or seventeen times before. Although it's a movie about movies, so it may intentionally be a pastiche of high school movie scenes. There were moments when I was trying to remember which version of Spider-Man LaBelle reminded me of. Mateo Zoryan Francis-DeFord who plays the younger Sammy, is disconcertingly reminiscent of Eliot in that film about the little boy and the alien. 

I am surprised at how many films by Spielberg I've never seen; but also how many films I have seen that I'd forgotten were by Spielberg. Jaws / ET / Close Encounters, obviously, but I somehow feel it's a different Steven Spielberg who did Indiana Jones. And I had totally suppressed the fact that the cool reimagining of West Side Story was one of his. He really did make a cowboy film while he was still at school and he really did spot you could get a gunfire effect by physically pricking the celluloid. 

Film critics and the Academy are naturally going to be disposed to say that movies about the magic of movies are magic, but the Fablemans really is very nearly as good as everyone keeps saying. 


I'm Andrew.

I am trying very hard to be a semi-professional writer and have taken the leap of faith of down-sizing my day job.

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