March 25, 2018

14 Trademarks of Steven Spielberg's Iconic Filmmaking

Steven Spielberg's cinematic style helped usher in the age of the blockbuster.

When you think about the films of Steven Spielberg, what comes to mind? Is it his tragically nostalgic presentation of childhood? Is it the whole daddy issue thing? What about the iconic "Spielberg Face" or "Spielberg Oner?" There are so many stylistic trademarks that make Spielberg's work stand out from the rest of his contemporaries, and in yet another fantastic episode of "You Know It's a ____ Movie When" series, ScreenPrism breaks down the signature style of one of the most celebrated filmmakers of all time, highlighting the many motifs, themes, and cinematic characteristics that make a Spielberg movie a Spielberg movie. Check it out below:

ScreenPrism discusses 14 trademarks of Spielberg's work, from the scores of John Williams to the use of lights to add mystery to the visual narrative. However, one of the most notable weapons in the director's armory is the way he represents the "fractured family." So many of his films, including Jaws, E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and The Color Purple, tell stories about families that have gone through some kind of trauma, be it divorce, abuse, or illness. 

The way that Spielberg deals with this is interesting because he tends to give more agency to the children who are suffering from trauma than the adults who are suffering from trauma. In E.T., Elliott is much more resourceful and proactive about the absence of his father than his mother is. In Hook, Peter is a completely useless stiff until the Lost Boys manage to pull The Pan out of him.

Even when children aren't much of a presence through the length of the film, they still find a way to appear long enough to give the struggling adults just enough hope, strength, or will to push through their darkest moments in the narrative. In Jaws, Brody is feeling completely defeated sitting at the kitchen table until his son begins to copy the faces he's making. In Schindler's List, it's only after Schindler sees the Girl in the Red Coat that he is able to empathize with those who were being murdered in the Cracow ghetto right in front of him, recognizing the events that were occurring before him as atrocities. That one girl's innocence touched Schindler so much that she became the symbol for the millions of Jews that were losing their lives to the Nazi regime.

But there are far more trademarks that can be found in Spielberg's work. Here are the ones highlighted in ScreenPrism's video:

  • The "Spielberg Face"
  • Sweeping score by John Williams
  • Tells you how to feel
  • Ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances
  • Emphasis on childhood
  • Fractured family
  • Daddy issues
  • The supernatural among the normal
  • Middle-class values
  • Struggle to survive
  • Reflection shot
  • Natural long takes
  • Light as mystery
  • Spectacle of cinema

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What is your favorite Spielberg trademark? Let us know down in the comments.     

Header Image: 'Ready Player One' (2018)

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