Someone to Watch Over Me: Spielberg and Surveillance

Exploring the director’s fascination with spying.

The cinema of Steven Spielberg is one that’s built around fascination and a need to understand. As a director he is an explorer, but not one interested in unearthing grand artifacts, rather one in search of intimate treasures, an explorer of explorers, so to speak, someone to whom the process of discovery is much more interesting than the discoveries themselves.

As such, his films are rife with surveillance, characters spying on or otherwise surreptitiously watching other characters, tracking their behavior, their actions, their being, for the purposes of gathering information, good and bad. Think of the Nazis on the trail of Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark peering over newspapers, or the future crime detectives in Minority Report scanning time for illegalities, or the government scientists after E.T. creeping about suburbia.

Spielberg is constantly exploring surveillance and the various mindsets behind it, and in the following, equally-fascinating video essay from Daniel Clarkson Fisher, the director’s history with the subject is very thoroughly and eruditely examined. Pretty much every Spielberg film is in the mix here (I’ve provided Fisher’s list of sources below the embed and you can visit his Vimeo page for links) and seeing them all together like this reveals surveillance, or at least the discovery of hidden information, as one of the director’s most prevalent and often-explored themes.

The timing of this one, what with CIA leaks and microwaves that can record our every thought on the market, is especially poignant. So give it a watch, but make sure it isn’t watching you, too.

Films by Steven Spielberg (in order of appearance):
– E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL (1982)
– MINORITY REPORT (2002)
– 1941 (1979)
– BRIDGE OF SPIES (2015)
– CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977)
– CATCH ME IF YOU CAN (2002)
– THE SUGARLAND EXPRESS (1974)
– INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (2008)
– RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981)
– LINCOLN (2012)
– SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (1998)
– MUNICH (2005)
– THE TERMINAL (2004)
– WAR HORSE (2011)
– JURASSIC PARK (1993)
– JAWS (1975)
– WAR OF THE WORLDS (2005)
– THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN (2011)
– SCHINDLER’S LIST (1993)
– INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE (1989)

Other Footage:
– PRISM: SNOWDEN INTERVIEW (2013) by Laura Poitras
– “How the Government Tracks You: NSA Surveillance” (2013) by Fight for the Future
– “Forget NSA Surveillance – Police Are Keeping Tabs On You Too” (2015) by AJ+
– AUSTIN POWERS IN GOLDMEMBER (2002) by Jay Roach
– SPIELBERG ON SPIELBERG (2007) by Richard Schickel
– “The Making of THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL” (2012) by Laurent Bouzereau
– “‘It’s a Bloody Good Story’: Steven Spielberg on BRIDGE OF SPIES” (2015) by BBC Newsnight
– STRANGER THINGS (2016) by The Duffer Brothers

Music Added:
– “Jaws” by John Williams from the soundtrack of JAWS
– “The Raiders March” by John Williams from the soundtrack of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK
– “Invading Elliott’s House” by John Williams from the soundtrack of E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL
– “Sean’s Theme” by John Williams from the soundtrack of MINORITY REPORT
– “Bridge of Spies (End Title)” by Thomas Newman from the soundtrack of BRIDGE OF SPIES
– “Catch Me If You Can” by John Williams from the soundtrack of CATCH ME IF YOU CAN

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