Tuesday, July 18, 2017

On Hooper-As-False-Front Theory ('Poltergeist')

Now that the particulars of John Leonetti's interview have caught like wildfire at various internet publications, it might be time to address the issue.  I do not wish to try to prove my stance with any bits of evidence, I just wish to chime in on what may be a general disregard of the talents and abilities Hooper shows, and a possibly unnuanced opinion of "the director," or Spielberg and Hooper's working relationship.  The details of the two filmmakers' "contract" I cannot go into or presume to speculate (it would be even more of hearsay than the account of Hooper-as-front we have), but, with a blind eye turned to the rumor mill, I have what I have to go on, which is the film, the gray zones of a work of intense collaboration, and Hooper's word thus far.  I maintain the film feels like a Hooper film, and the nebulous zone of a "Hooper set taken over by Spielberg" or a "Spielberg film imposed upon by a powerful, distinctly voiced metteur en scene," especially when both are on set every day (or not), can lead to more natural "movements," or flow (of power), on set, than that suggested by Leonetti.  And if it were this "Gentleman's Agreement," would this not suggest a less hard and fast setting of boundaries, with Hooper holding considerable bargaining chips as a capable studio director at that point?  As I said in a previous post, Spielberg proves such a strong "practitioner of tropes" that it's hard to imagine anyone else executing them.  It's also a major dismissal of another creative voice present, being capable of inspiration reaching, or even falling short but aspiring to, a "Spielbergian sensibility."  Whether it is a matter of Spielberg coming on set to edit Hooper, or Hooper coming on set to edit Spielberg, the fickleness of the Gentleman's Agreement is beyond the line of sight.


Anonymous said...

Leonetti says that the one picture describes what the set was like. In the picture Tobe Hooper is making a face of exciting terror that the child actor is replicating while Spielberg points at a focus line or is cuing the tree to come through the window. What virtually everyone can see is that Tobe is directing the kid but that has never been mentioned. Instead Tobe "looks excited". Two cameras are set up. They are presumably A and B units. It is known Spielberg shot 2nd unit. I just find it ludicrous that nobody picks up that Oliver Robbins was being guided (directed) by Hooper in a photo that is supposed to out Spielberg as the sole director.

JR said...

Leonetti's account is full of specious unequivocalities and obsequious double-speak. I'm not saying he is untrustworthy, but that his account is as subjective and little thought out as anyone's who hasn't considered Hooper's vital role on a production with such a strong alternate creative presence. The crux he uses in his argument that you single out - the production photograph - is as childish and superficial as the way he tries to paint Hooper ("Looks excited," god, give me a break with such infantilizing language!), Leonetti's presence on set as AC doing little to convince me he has any nuanced thought process in regards to what he saw on set. Your line of reasoning is very sound, a still picture not speaking a thousand words, Spielberg a constant presence on set but Hooper, thank you, directing. Not being a wallflower, which is the assumption of people who have not heard any other accounts. Its a brilliant point and observation. I myself never thought about the presence of a B unit alongside an A camera, and we again arrive at the importance of both filmmakers on set, with Hooper directing to his fullest and resulting in a film that feels like Hooper, emptive and affective summer-movie-style coverage be damned. The fact that news sites have pounced on this account like an opportunity to hoist the success story Spielberg and drag through the mud the failed-career Hooper, even as Leonetti condescendingly cites Hooper's "creative input," is an offense to intelligence. I concur, sir, I concur! And aesthetic curiosity is the real loser here.

JR said...

(*emotive and affective)

Leonetti: "He'd leave him alone on set sometimes, just because." And what does that result in? A director!

"I just find it ludicrous that nobody picks up that Oliver Robbins was being guided (directed) by Hooper in a photo that is supposed to put Spielberg as the sole director."

It is ludicrous. They are going off some idea of the "driving creative force," which is worth mulling over but again a bias against a filmmaker. I believe what was "Spielberg's to direct" ended up not being a Spielberg film at all, because Hooper was there to make it a Hooper picture.

JR said...

Also, in Leonetti's effort to push his perception of Spielberg as the creative force behind the scenes, he has not thought through the possible collaborative aspects of the production. He mentions the posting of storyboards, but neglects to consider Hooper's participation in the storyboarding. He mentions going to Spielberg's home to view dailies, but doesn't care to suggest (or suggest the otherwise) whether Hooper was also there during those integral viewing meetings. In other words, he wishes to push an overblown narrative but not to seriously impugn upon the verity of the authorship or crediting of the film (thus all the "Hooper was a nice guy" trivialities). This is not an expose on credit deserved, this is shooting the shit with an uninformed and damaging opinion of someone's work on set. Leonetti's benignity somewhat softens the sting of an act of harmful, numerous times challenged, but seductive apocrypha.

Damien said...

What I think people need to keep in mind when it comes to the debate about who directed Poltergeist is that the impetus for the movie came from Tobe Hooper. From what I understand, Speilberg approached Hooper to direct Night Skies, but Hooper declined, saying that he wanted to direct a supernatural movie because he had just moved into Robert Wise's office (the director of the Haunting) and found a book on the supernatural there. Spielberg liked the idea and, from there, the two directors started developing the movie. I even once read an interview with Hooper where he claimed that he had asked Spielberg if he could share a co writing credit, but Spielberg said no. I doubt Hooper would have asked for that if he did not feel he had made a significant contribution to the development of the story. From what I understand, Tobe Hooper was heavily involved in the film's pre-production. Craig Reardon - who worked on the film's special FXs - has stated that Hooper "was the sole reason I got the job in the first place." (Dark Side Issue 162)
I do, however, feel that Spielberg hijacked the movie from Hooper at some point during production, probably to the movie's detriment (for me). But the film should still be recognized as a collaboration between the two filmmakers. Hooper's contribution should not be marginalized, leaving Spielberg to take all the credit because he was the one with the power, the influence and the copy of Twilight Zone's 'Little Girl Lost'.

JR said...

A more clear-headed and independently-thinking argument than I could come up with, Damien, against scrubbing Hooper out of the story of Poltergeist, and I thank you.

Hooper's had a ghost movie in him since Eggshells. The genre, and the matter and implications of ghosts in general, is a subject much closer to his heart than it is to Spielberg's (so I'm glad he got to revisit it with Djinn). He believes in ghosts (so I've heard) and their marked place in the tradition of cinema (the fantasy ghosts Spielberg derives from for Always far afield from those of The Haunting). You're right, we should be thanking Hooper that Poltergeist exists at all. The claim that the film "was Spielberg's," and that "he developed it," seems suddenly small in light of the fact of the filmmaker who truly wanted to make it.