J.G. Ballard once described Steven Spielberg’s films as “cathedrals of emotion.” For some critics that would be a definition of their weakness (the appeal to entiment more than intellect) but Ballard intended a compliment, celebrating the skill with which Spielberg could orchestrate dramatic fables that connected intimately with a mass audience without resorting to easy formulae. No one who swooned to the heart-warming fantasy of ‘E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial’ could have predicted that the same director would make one of Hollywood’s most heroically harrowing films, ‘Schindler’s List’. In showcasing his new film, ‘War Horse’, this short season highlights two of his recurrent themes, war and childhood; and reflects something of his intriguing duality. The entertainer of ‘Jaws’ and ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ is also the chronicler who unflinchingly reconstructs 20th century horrors such as the destruction of the ghetto in ‘Schindler’s List’ or the carnage of the D-Day landings in ‘Saving Private Ryan’. The man who has made some of the best-loved popular films of all time has also not shirked from showing the appalling behavioural extremes of which humanity in its darkest moments is capable. We have not yet got the full measure of Steven Spielberg. Introduction and notes on individual films by Neil Sinyard.
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