I’ll Be Right Here: Celebrating 35 Years of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial: #3: Gertie

There is an old adage in Hollywood, first coined by comedian W.C. Fields, that directors should never work with children or animals. Younger kids, like animals, can often have a difficult time following  cues, and can have a hard time memorizing their lines. They can also be very unpredictable, and thus by their very natures, they are uncontrollable.  At the same time, by going with actual children, as was the case of the Peanuts specials, the Harry Potter films, or the first Narnia movie, going with children can also lend a sense of authenticity that might be missing with more polished and seasoned actors.

Steven Spielberg was certainly aware of both the trials and joys of working with children. According to the set diary Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the little grey aliens that came to take away Richard Dreyfuss were so hyper and bouncing off the walls that Spielberg had to yell “Girls, stop disco dancing.” On the other hand, one only need look at the memorable and infectious performances Spielberg got from the likes of Dakota Fanning in War of the Worlds, Haley Joel Osment in A.I., Ariana Richards and Joseph Mozello in Jurassic Park, Christian Bale in Empire of the Sun, Charlie Korsmo and Amber Scott in Hook, and Jonathan Li Quan in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom to see that he excelled at getting the best from young actors.

However, where this skill really stood out was the performances of the three young actors

Gertie

in E.T. Each member of this little trio brought something special to the table, and this was all the more evident in the baby of the family, Elliot’s sister Gertie, played by Drew Berrymore. Oddly enough, the youngest member of the family in E.T. would be the first one selected for a part. As Sean Hutchinson noted in “20 Things You Might Not Know About E.T.” for  Mental Floss,

“Getting the right young actors to play the three main young siblings was a paramount problem for Spielberg. The first kid he cast was Drew Barrymore as Gertie, the youngest of the trio. During her audition, the six-year-old Barrymore allegedly told Spielberg that she wasn’t really an actress at all but rather the drummer of a loud and menacing punk rock band called the Purple People Eaters, who painted their faces with makeup for every show and who had played to an arena packed with thousands of people the night before. Spielberg recognized the value of her vivid imagination and she got the part.”

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Talk of Stories When the World Stops Turning

Many times in life we come across a day in which it feels like Newton’s First law of Motion has been rendered null and void and the world as we know it stops in it’s tracks. 16 years ago, we witnessed such an event on the 9-11 attacks. Today, we have watched as hurricanes Harvey and Irma devastate Texas and Florida while forest fires ravage the West Coast. Thanks to our 24 hour news cycle and social media we seem to read about another tragic event in some corner of the world.

It makes it hard to want to post something fun and frivolous to social media. None of us want to seem tone deaf and immune to what is going on around us.  I was wracked with guilt for having posted about having seen The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey  with some friends of mine in a midnight showing when hours later the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut unfolded.  And just this week I was putting finishing touch on an installment for my E.T. blog series, as news of Hurricane Irma filled the news, causing my fingers to tremble on the “Publish” button as I wondered if it would be in poor taste to continue posting my series when people are fleeing Florida to escape Irma’s wrath and recovering from Hurricane Harvey in Houston.

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No Regrets?

Paging through a High School Year Book inevitably among the many messages from the graduating class you’ll see two words “no regrets.” Whether we are 18, or 88, we all long to live a life filled with “ No regrets.” After all, who wants to go about feeling sad or sorry for themselves. While Charlie Brown and Peter Parker have become legendary because of their regrets , in real life, it doesn’t seem too appealing.

You know what other cliché you see tossed around when a new school year starts? Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken”. I’m sure you all know it by now as it’s been quoted in books and television, and graduation commencements speeches for almost a century, and it probably will continue to do so.On the off chance that you haven’t, heard it, I’ll share it with you. Even if you have, it’s still worth reading again, even if it has been reduced to a greeting card cliché. Continue reading

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I’ll Be Right Here: Celebrating 35 Years of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial: # 2 : Michael

There comes a time in every young person’s life were they feel the need to step up to the plate more when it comes to their family. This is usually the case in a family where a parent is gone and the child, usually the eldest feels the need to fill the gap for their parents. This can be because the father is in the military and as sent over sees, or they are away on a business trip, and sometimes this can be for a much harder and more difficult reason.

In the  The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe  Peter and Susan take on parental roles to their younger siblings Edmund and Lucy when they are sent off to the country for safety during World War II. Something similar happened with Henry and Jessie Alden in the Boxcar Children books after their parents died and they took care of their younger siblings in their little boxcar until they were reunited with their Grandfather. Lexie Murphy in Jurassic Park and Zach Mitchell in its sequel Jurassic World take protective roles of their younger siblings Tim and Gray respectively as they try to survive on an island filled with

Michael

genetically engineered dinosaurs. In these moments the children are left with a burden they aren’t ready for, but end up rising to the occasion. It is through these moments that they are able to grow and mature and become young adults.

However, with the exception of Wendy Darling in Peter Pan who is clearly ready for an adult role and to leave the nursery, the other children are reluctantly put into this place by extreme circumstances. This is the case for Michael, Elliot’s older brother in E.T., who had moved into this role of “honorary parent”  after their father skipped town with a coworker. As Ilsa J. Bick notes in “The Look Back in E.T.” from the book The Films of Steven Spielberg,

“Just as an Oedipal authority is absent, so too is a suitable male identification figure for Elliot. As the eldest, Michael is most clearly aligned with mother in his role as parentified adolescent. To Michael fall the duties to chide Elliot for his lack of empathy ( a quality lacking in mother herself), protect his …mother, and attempt to assume the paternal role. Along with mother, he is the one for whom Elliot calls when Elliot first meets E.T. Michael is too much Elliot’s contemporary, however, to become truly an adult or wield much authority; he can only drive backward…Yet Elliot’s ( and through him the film’s) conflicts over power are as mediated through Michael as the only other available male family member as they are through the other characters in the film…”

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Doing some good in the world. An Interview with Paul Andrighetti about Tutapona.

Thanks to our vast interconnected web of cyber space we seem to know what’s going on in any part of the world at any given time. Often times situations, like the refugee crisis, and the rise and threat of radical extremism feel so daunting that it doesn’t look like there can be a possible solution and the world seems much darker and grimmer then we imagine.

However, at the same time, we can also see those stories of people trying to do some good in the world. I’d like to share one such story with you. Last spring on Facebook I saw that my friend Paul Andrighetti, and his wife , Julia, had gone to Iraq. Naturally when I saw they had returned not too long after, I was curious.It turned out they had gone with an organization called Tutapona and learned that there work is only beginning. Below is an interview I conducted with him.

 

 

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I’ll Be Right Here: Celebrating 35 Years of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial #1: Elliot

The 1980s were a great time for “kids” movies. The decade saw the first signs that Disney would return to greatness emerged with the Great Mouse Detective and The Little Mermaid. Animator Don Bluth brought tears to the eyes of kids and grown-ups with his deep and poignant animated features An American Tale, The Land Before Time, and All Dogs Go To Heaven. There were also major blockbuster film franchises beloved by kids and grown-ups like Star Wars, Indiana  Jones, Superman, Batman, Ghostbusters, and Back to the Future that would help define a movie going generation.

It was also during this time we saw great films that could be described as “children’s family adventures”. Normally these movies would be confined to cheap made for TV movies featured on the Wonderful World of Disney, fun films for all ages, but nothing overly deep. However, movies like The Goonies, Gremlins, The Never-Ending Story, and Home Alone would take the narrative of kids going on these simple high stakes adventures and thanks to filmmaking legends like Richard Donner, Joe Dante, Wolfgang Petersen, and John Hughes that only elevated the quality of the work.

Elliot

Chief among these films, however would be the story of a boy named Elliot and his lost alien friend in Steven Spielberg’s now classic film, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.  Their story is usually described as a “family fantasy adventure”. Despite that Spielberg found ways to ground it in just enough “reality” to make it believable, but still capture a sense of wonder. One of the ways he did this was in his depiction of  the film’s hero: Elliot.

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Coming Soon to This Blog…

From  Jonathon D. Svendsen, the mind that examined such popular aliens, demigods, monsters, and creatures including Thor, The Hulk, Wolverine, Wonder Woman, Superman, Gandalf, Gollum, Yoda, Ahsoka Tano, Darth Maul, and Spock, comes an in depth celebration of one of cinema’s most beloved visitors from another world.

E.T. : The Extra-Terrestrial.

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