Steven directs his next 8mm films.
The Last Gunfight is a 9-minute silent film – inspired by John Ford’s western movies – for which Steven gets the Boy Scouts photography merit badge.
“My dad’s still-camera was broken, so I asked the scoutmaster if I could tell a story with my father’s movie camera. He said yes, and I got an idea to do a Western. I made it and got my merit badge. That was how it all started.”
For A Day in the Life of Thunder he ties a small camera vehicle to his Cocker Spaniel “Thunder” and lets the dog “direct” the film. Spielberg picks up this idea for the opening sequence of Poltergeist (1982).
Steven becomes a Boy Scout. In the assembly hall, he sees a painting by Norman Rockwell (Spirit of America). He is so impressed that he will acquire the original when he is a famous director.
The Rockwell painting Freedom from Fear (shown above) is used as a metaphor for lost childhood in Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun (1987). In the prologue of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) young Indy, played by River Phoenix, is a Boy Scout.
Steven’s first 8mm amateur film: In The Last Train Wreck (3 minutes, silent) he meticulously stages a train wreck sequence – inspired by Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) – by using his toy Lionel trains.
Since he does not own an editing machine, 10-year-old Steven shoots all his takes in chronological order (In-Camera Editing), a technique that he will continue to apply as a professional director.
Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil: This mature example of film noir deals with the (lack of) integrity by law enforcement and starts with a brilliantly choreographed three-minutes long take of a time bomb assassination.
Corrupted law enforcement is a central theme of Spielberg’s Minority Report (2002), which also makes use of typical film noir elements. Dennis Weaver plays a small part in Touch of Evil. Spielberg will cast him for the lead role in Duel (1971).
Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo: his masterpiece disappoints at the boxoffice but evolves into a cult movie. In 2012, the British Film Institute declares Vertigo the „Greatest Film of All Time“.
For the “vertigo” effect, Hitchcock introduces a camera technique called Reverse Tracking Shot (also: Dolly Zoom)
Spielberg will use the Dolly Zoom in several of his films, including Jaws (1975).
Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men, starring Henry Fonda, portrays the hard task of rendering a fair verdict “behind the scenes” of a court. 12 Angry Men is shot in the style of an intimate play and gets rave reviews but finds only a small audience.
Spielberg on Lumet: “One of the greatest directors in the long history of film. Compelling stories and unforgettable performances were his strong suit.“
David Lean’s The Bridge on the River Kwai demonstrates the futility of war.
Spielberg evolves into a big fan of David Lean’s films. His underrated Empire of the Sun (1987) is an ode to Lean’s cinematic style.
The space age begins: Sputnik, the first man-made satellite, is launched into space by the Soviets and sends radio signals from the orbit.
The US military responds with its own space program and forms ARPA – an authority for military research projects that will develop the ARPANET, the precursor of today’s Internet.
It’s the year in which Indiana Jones embarks on the search for the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
Leah Spielberg gives her husband an 8mm camera that is soon grabbed by his son. In his first “Home Movies”, young Steven documents familiy excursions and is already “directing” his parents and sisters.
Steven loathes going to school at the Ingleside Elementary – he prefers to direct films.
The Spielberg family moves again, this time from the East Coast to Arizona, where they settle in the suburb of Scottsdale in Phoenix.
One night, Arnold Spielberg gets his son out of bed and drives him to a clearing, to show him a meteor shower (shooting stars will become a “trademark” of Spielberg films).