Monday, March 12, 2018

Everything I Know About 'Poltergeist'

Every tweet with every piece of information I have tweet-compiled on Poltergeist.  #17 in total.  Apologies to any privacy boundaries I may be crossing, but I have officially transitioned into a DEFCON 1 level DGAFness about things.  It feels good!

A teacher, Ralph Langer, visited the set of Poltergeist, and gives an account of his visit.  One day, in which they filmed part of Diane Freeling's attack where she is dragged onto the ceiling.  Spielberg was not present that day.

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Hooper selling Lifeforce as a further realizing of his commercial style.
(He offers the idea that he and Spielberg share a lot of interests in terms of visual style.  It may have never been a matter of Hooper aping Spielberg's style (this is implicit in him saying Lifeforce has a "Tobe Hooper look," unequivocally, but it sells better when looked at askew as a "Steven Spielberg look."  They have always been drawn to the same things in cinema, particularly classical Hollywood, and Hooper made Poltergeist with the good faith that Spielberg would let him fully explore his developing aesthetic concerns, seeing as how their stylistic goals come from a similar place.)

Following Mick Garris's testimony about Poltergeist on his Post Mortem podcast, I used it as an opportunity to univocally claim my answer to a previous query about Hooper's involvement in the pre-production on Poltergeist.  An opportune out-of-context extraction presented itself in Garris making one seemingly unambiguous statement, in an interview of mostly polite hedging and justifications for eyewitnesses' dogged doubts.
(I had previously asked, was Hooper as impotent (so alleged) in the pre-production phase of Poltergeist as he was in the shooting of it?  GARRIS: "ALL THE PRE-PRODUCTION WAS DONE BY TOBE."  At another point he also makes the statement, "Hooper was deeply involved in the pre-production.")

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Following my dissatisfaction with Garris and his overly honest account of the set on his podcast (Garris's deference to being truthful is fine, but his biggest betrayal is him saying the words "directing" and "Spielberg" in the same sentence, and I quote, "Hooper directed that movie... Spielberg had a lot to do with directing that movie, too." Way to finally bring the debate to a close, Mick... I get making concessions to Spielberg's contributions and constant presence on set, but can you at least make one value judgment, perhaps a percentage or ratio of Spielberg:Hooper?), I jumped on more assertive tweets he and Caroline Williams made in the aftermath of that podcast, in which they were replying to followers.

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(Caroline Williams calling Spielberg a "backseat driver" may be my favorite thing.  It seems perfectly in line with my view of events: Hooper was in control, but he would let Spielberg have a biscuit or two - as long as it conformed with his view of the film.  Hooper was the true driver, tolerating what he must, but with the ability to approve or veto any and all suggestions.  Garris's tweet finally shows he may be able to make an evaluative judgment.  In his podcast, he says two additional things: "Yes, I would see him climb on the camera and say maybe we should push in on a two shot here and do this or that there, and Tobe would be watching, Tobe was always calling "Action" and "Cut," Tobe had been deeply involved in the pre-production and everything, but Steven is a guy who will come in and call the shots.  And so you're on your first studio film, hired by Steven Spielberg, who is enthusiastically involved in this movie.  Are you going to say, "Stop that, let me do this"?  Which he did, Tobe directed that movie.  Steven Spielberg had a lot to do with directing that movie, too." and
"I understand how people can perceive it otherwise, but Tobe was a terrific filmmaker.  And I don't think it was that Steven was controlling, I think it was Steven was enthusiastic as a filmmaker who has celluloid running through his veins, and nobody was there to protect Tobe... [but] Tobe was there throughout, Tobe's vision is very much realized there, and Tobe got credit because he deserved that credit, including Steven Spielberg said that." It sounds, to me, like a lot of attempts to explain the continued clashing accounts of the set.  I think above, in his tweet, he realizes he can finally make a clear judgment, free of the interpretability of defensive and reactive speech - without the pressure of the microphone and the dialoguing with both Williams and the context of the issue being brought up again.

 I think it's clear Garris's position.  "Both made the movie," if in differing capacities.  But in this comment, I chose to highlight something that I've always constantly questioned, something which I think should be obvious, and which I again chose to extract as a final statement of fact: Garris states, "Tobe was heavily involved in the storyboarding, too."

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A BTS still of a clapboard in front of the staircase set shows, not just "T. Hooper" on the slate (which has no significance, I'm sure slates still read the director's name, even when its 2nd Unit shooting), but "R. Edlund" as cameraman.
(This could be solely for VFX, considering there's a "V" next to the scene number and Edlund is behind the camera, but it is happening rather early in the shooting schedule (June 30th), so I'd like to think JoBeth Williams's stunt double is being prepared to tumble down those stairs in any second. (A specter was supposed to be superimposed at the top of the staircase in this scene, but this idea didn't make it into the final cut.))

A BTS still that shows Hooper standing in a rain slicker watching over the shooting of a scene in the pool.  I erroneously identify the man on the right as Craig T. Nelson, but it is actually JoBeth Williams being filmed, who you can see submerged in the water at the bottom of the frame.

A BTS still of Spielberg on the very first day of shooting.
(I stand by my first thought: Annoying.)
(Back off, Spielberg, I know it was Hooper's idea to shoot from behind the tombstones... (I don't know, but I'm putting it out there anyway.))

 A random bit of hearsay from an online poster who seemed to not have any actual source.  I can believe this, though... I also repeat something I've always repeated about Rubinstein's account, that her most objective, impartial statement on her time on the Poltergeist set is actually the following: "It was a split decision," she stated, between Hooper and Spielberg, both apparently always present.
(Me: "true... not true... true.")

An account by a horror filmmaker about asking James Karen about the directorial credit of Poltergeist.  "[Karen] jumped down my throat" (presumably in defense of Hooper).

Excerpts from primary source material circa-1982, interviews with cast and crew from newspaper publications like the LA Times.  I took to this one from JoBeth Williams particularly, who states very clearly, "Our director, Tobe Hooper," while characterizing Spielberg as a sort of "big picture" man.  What is a director, also, but someone who takes the "babies" of others (the writers, the producers, the studio execs) and does what he or she can to emancipate that baby from its cloying, protective parent?

 My descriptor explains it all: "A turgid, possibly untrue on-set story."
(Detailed is the account of Steven blowing up at Hooper for not being able to finish a scene between Beatrice Straight and her assistants, in which they are tasked to deliver a bunch of scientific gobbledy-gook.  Allegedly Beatrice Straight went to bat for Hooper, claiming the dialogue was impossible.  Spielberg wrapped the set, went home to do rewrites, then brought them back the next day, after which Hooper finished the scene with no problem, with his actors.  Spielberg then apologized to the entire crew for his flare-up.)

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 Another primary source excerpt from the time of the film's release, Hooper to the L.A. Times.
(Hooper's claims of ownership: "I directed the film" (I was not a pushover to Spielberg.)
"I did fully half of the storyboards" (Spielberg may have been a child on the set of Poltergeist, but I gave the film its look from the very pre-production.)
"I'm quite proud of what I did" (It is the things people will not pay attention to that I am proud of, the small things I determined, and so if I need approval from anyone for the mark I left on the film, it can only be mostly from myself.)
"I can't understand why I'm being slighted" (I can understand, my mark is the imperceptible, Spielberg's mark is the scary tree and the roller coaster finale.  But I can say I don't understand to perhaps suggest to people that the small, the imperceptible, is just as important as the big stuff.)
"I love the changes that were made from my cut" (I and Spielberg had similar goals, another reason not to ignore my position as director.)
"I worked for a very good producer who is also a great showman" (Spielberg let me show you what I have got, by working with me and not against me.  I have always wanted to work in this idiom of filmmaking that Spielberg finally allowed me to.)
"I felt that was a plus, because Steven and I think in terms of the same visual style." (Ibid, above.  This picture is me.)

Another testimony from Hooper, answering the question at the 2010 London Frightfest Event.  Spielberg was a "presence" on set.  It makes the film no less his.

An interview with Hooper on YouTube that seemed monumental in that it mined the most Poltergeist stories from Hooper than I had ever personally heard.  He talks about Heather O' Rourke, as well as the director controversy in an achingly honest way.  "No one got this shit but me."  Oh, Mr. Hooper, you were going up against The Steven Spielberg.  Accept your lot, and the fact you are one of a kind, the one fate chose to carry this Great Subjugation to the Great and Untoward Spielberg.

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 Martin Casella's farewell to Hooper on his Facebook page.  Pretty self-explanatory.

An interview with Oliver Robins I found, in which he gives his account of Hooper being the only one who worked with him, in a full director's capacity.

Finally, another article about Hooper's Q&A at London Frightfest, with a little more details.
(Hooper: "Poltergeist was "definitely my baby: I designed it, I directed it, it has my 'feel.'"
Not sure how much that was paraphrased, but it's really all I need to fully attribute the film, with all its Spielberg-isms, to hell or high water, to Hooper and Hooper alone.


Anonymous said...

I really want to believe that Hooper deserves directing credit but stories like this come around and really make me question his role.

JR said...

I think Hooper has a particular way of doing things that is not always abided by by very competent industry guys, of which Poltergeist was a set teeming with such. I think Spielberg played to these guys. No wonder Edlund will single out a Spielberg anecdote, which probably involved Hooper and Spielberg deliberating together what they want when Williams opens the door (in the shooting script, the vortex force pulling the door shut is not depicted). And what does Edlund know about the shooting of anything that is not the visual effects photography? What is this “first production day” he is talking about? And what of the other days? I think he’s full of shit, he takes an impression or two of his and is using the “industry talk” to assume the rest and that the case has been settled, when, with close study, the film obviously shows Hooper trademarks and at least two actors have avowed to Hooper being the main director.

I’m not arguing that the set was one without hiccups, or that Hooper did not present some issues in terms of professional demeanor and qualifications on this particular set. But he was on set throughout the shoot. He was never fired, and Edlund even seems to give away that Spielberg never intended to “steal” the film from him from the get-go. Spielberg was there probably being a fun, proactive dad, to the delight and satisfaction of much of the crew, obviously, but Hooper never left and never conceded his vision. Edlund is not in Hooper’s mind and he’s not in Spielberg’s mind. He has a single story about a single set-up. He is only a VFX guy. He probably saw Hooper on set as much as Spielberg but still can only slag off on Hooper because he had the nerve to require a learning curve. Edlund is not studying the aesthetic qualities of Spielberg and of Hooper. He is going off bias and whatever he was around to see. His statement here sounds like an assumption and he inadvertently says one of Spielberg’s best directed films is one he couldn’t pull off without another director. His anecdote about Spielberg pulling the door is essentially equal to the one about Spielberg pointing the stick at the three scientists,an enthusiastic big-idea guy, while Hooper is behind the camera, determining the angle, movements and slow zoom-in. The film feels like a Hooper film to me, and really all I need is his word and a few actors’ to be satisfied, and not the shit-talking of the man mostly in charge of the big puppets.

Guess I’ll always be an angry Poltergeist truther. 😫

Anonymous said...

And here is another deliberation that you may or may not have read. It spits in the face of the talk that I have read about Hooper respecting Spielberg and "being the best of friends" unless that was facetious, which it didn't seem so as Hooper seemed to be a non-bullshit type of guy.

JR said...

I did manage to come across that one! And I got some satisfaction from it. I think Hooper came onto a set hoping to have freedom and respect, but was instead greeted by producers and crew people as skeptical and set in industry practices as Hollywood offered. I think Spielberg didn’t do much to help Hooper’s image with the crew, and even if Hooper needed the help, the ire Edlund shows here is symptomatic of an inexcusable disinterest of Spielberg in protecting an individualistic artist on a set full of industry prejudice.

I think Hooper wanted to believe in a friendship with Spielberg, but I don’t doubt Holland’s probably slightly-exaggerated statement that Hooper “hated” Spielberg. I think the resentment was there, this fostering of this tendency to discredit Hooper’s role by Spielberg’s close associates (Edlund, Marshall, etc). I don’t think Spielberg did this maliciously, but he did nothing to discourage it. I think Hooper wanted to take the high road, to never dwell on it, but deep down, “hate” might not be far from his feelings. Considering this recent Edlund interview, I think Hooper’s completely entitled to it. This attitude against his practices and his film’s credit to him is so prejudicial, especially when numerous other accounts don’t hesitate to say Hooper was doing a vital job on the set.

JR said...

*this film’s credit to him (which is tangible, quantifiable, evinced in how different this feels from Raiders and E.T., yet Edlund refuses to see that)

JR said...

And also, we have enough accounts to realize the experience of the set is going to be different for different people. We can get 10 more accounts from 10 more VFX or even crew guys who say Spielberg told them everything, and it still won’t matter to me as much as what I see on the screen, Hooper’s word, and the actors’ word. If Spielberg was the interpreter and surrogate for Hooper implementing his subtle, subverting designs that crew people cannot see, that’s fine with me.