WATCH: Video Essay Deconstructs the Faces of Steven Spielberg in Film

In honor of the two Steven Spielberg releases this season -- War Horse and The Adventures of Tintin -- the folks over at Fandor are paying tribute to the master filmmaker via a new photo essay that celebrates Spielberg's director trademark: The face. Not just any face though -- an expression full of wonder that has washed over all of his protagonists dating back to his 1971 television movie Duel. Relive the many faces of Steven Spielberg ahead.

The video essay goes to great lengths to not only establish what exactly the "Spielberg Face" is but to address the criticism it has received for being a manipulative tool -- a way to show audience members what they too should be feeling at that moment in the movie. In 2001, the filmmaker addressed this criticism with A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, which features a robot protagonist with a permanent "Spielberg Face" -- an artificial expression programmed for the benefit of the robot's owner and to a similar degree, the benefit of the viewers.

What do you think of the Spielberg face and which actor do you think has mastered it best?



  • The Pope says:

    Not a bad essay, but it is utterly marred by a dreadfully self-conscious narrator. The text hopes to be profound but cannot match the power of the images and their emotional value and so what we hear is banality after banality, if not overtly-academic rhetoric.
    It's as simple as this. Spielberg goes in for the close-up and waits two beats longer than others. Those two beats instill in the viewer an increased wonder as to what is being seen by the character. The reverse shot gives us the answer. And then when he cuts back, the face becomes the emotional reservoir for the audience. It is pure Kuleshov Effect.
    But Spielberg goes a little further in some movies by having the character see through a sheet of glass and reflected on that glass is their wish. So, in that image he condenses two shots into one. But both serve as the audience's emotional reservoir.

  • blizzard bound says:

    I'm not sure I buy the basic thesis. (In truth, in the opening, I thought he was going for satire, but then I realized he was serious.)
    Certainly other directors have used the close-up for powerful effect? Isn't film essentially about The Face in a way no other medium can be?
    Not all the looks in the clips were looks of wonder.
    I don't know from Kuleshov Effect (please explain further, Mr. Pope), but I don't feel my own emotional state is revealed or reflected in or influenced by the face on the screen. Although now that I think about it, that feeling of manipulation is generally why I don't like Spielberg movies -- and this might be the technical way he achieves that? I just can think of other directors who appreciate the face and use it for a more exploratory effect. Suzanne Bier. Whoever the director was of Biutiful (forgive me). Lubitsch. I mean, so many! Aren't many directors fascinated by the face?

  • The Pope says:

    Blizzard Bound,
    The Kuleshov Effect was named after Lev Kuleshov, a Russian filmmaker whose theories formed the basis of Russian editing. He devised the practise in the early 1920s. For more, try this link.

    Once more the tone taken by the narrator is very professorial but what I like about it is that he uses the actual film clip. Other web sites only talk about it. Always better to watch.

  • The Pope says:

    Julie, to answer your question I think it has been children who have mastered it best... if only because for the most part, it has worked best for Spielberg when the look is one of wonder: Cary Guffey in CE3K, Henry Thomas in ET, Christian Bale in Empire, and Haley Joel Osment in AI.

  • blizzard bound says:

    Thanks, Pope! Interesting clip. The further explanation of Collision Montage also interesting. (Though I'm not sure I agree with his theory that in the case of The Godfather sequence the end result is that religion equals violence.)
    Anyway, I never knew all those classic camera moves and editing practices had names! And not only names, but Russian ones!
    (I knew the baby carriage down the steps influenced films forever after, but that's about it.)
    Thanks for pointing me in a direction.

  • lexi says:

    Not speilbergs best by any means. Oh by the way if you want to find a site to watch tv or movies online I found one by going here. They list out lots of different places to stream TV shows.

  • Ron Z. says:

    This reminds me of criticisms that Spielberg and his ilk of blockbuster makers have "destroyed" cinema. I'm reminded of Aldous Huxley's "feelies" from _Brave New World_; a technology in which electrical stimulus provided by electrodes built into the chair provide the desired amygdalic stimulation. I'm more than sure that Huxley was setting his sights on artlessness, or resorting to baser expedients in creating popular artifacts.
    This will always be the grail of, well, *all* art; to discover and rediscover artfullness... and eschew these facile techniques.

  • casting couch says:

    If the intention is to manipulate audiences into feeling a certain way, then I'd say Mission Accomplished.
    Late 1970s, 1980's Spielberg was cinema magic.
    (Good video.)

  • Johnnie says:

    Your criticism of the text of this video essay is, at best, unfair, and at worst, arrogant. One second you accuse the writer of being overtly-scholarly and the next second you cart out the Kuleshov Effect? So I'm not sure what qualifies you to make a claim that the author is too scholarly. Pot. Kettle. Black.
    There is nothing self-conscious about the piece, unless you consider a thorough reading of the subject being discussed is self-conscious. If you don't like him dissecting the issue in a scholarly manner, than listen to someone else or maybe see if Beavis and Butthead have any opinions on the matter. Maybe Kuleshov has an opinion on the Spielberg Face.
    If you'd like to argue with the points the writer is making, then please do. I'm not even claiming I agree with the author or know the author. I'm just saying your criticism is wholly unfair and actually betrays a sneering sense of intellectual one-upmanship that is the very definition of, in your words, "overtly academic rhetoric."