Instead of Kansas, Steven Spielberg gives us New Jersey in his latest film, The Fabelmans. Instead of Dorothy, he gives us Sammy Fabelman. Instead of Uncle Henry and Auntie Em, he gives us Burt and Mitzi Fabelman. And there’s a Wizard in the movie too. That’s Uncle Bennie. Instead of a tornado, it’s a train wreck that will transport Sammy to Oz. And not just any train wreck. It’s the circus train wreck in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth. And it won’t be the Yellow Brick Road that will get young Sammy to Hollywood, but making home movies.
It’s 1952, and Burt and Mitzi Fabelman are trying to convince young Sammy that he’s going to love The Greatest Show on Earth. When he sees the train wreck on the big screen, he is hypnotized. Not by the movie or the train, but by the train wreck. He’s got to see that again.
When his father gives Sammy a toy train for Hanukkah, Sammy wrecks it the way they did in the movie. The train isn’t wrecked but his father tells him he needs to be more responsible.
Now we know that when a parent tells a kid in a movie to be more responsible, there’s going to be trouble. And sure enough Sammy sneaks around and does it again. Only this time, his villainy is aided by his mother. Mitzi Fabelman has turned into Glenda the Good Witch. Instead of a pair of red slippers, Mitzi gives the hero of this tale a camera. “If you film the train wreck, you can see it over and over again.”
And that is how Steven Spielberg begins his autobiographical film. Movie making is Sammy’s Yellow Brick Road to the Oz of the 20th Century and those childhood fantasies of wonder, Jaws, Close Encounters of the Tihird Kind, E.T., Jurassic Park, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
But things aren’t all peaches and cream in the Family Fabelman. It’s like Professor Harold Hill sang in The Music Man. “There’s trouble right here in River City.” But the one thing that keeps Sammy going is making movies. It’s something that will lead him straight to a legendary filmmaker’s office.
As you can tell, I thoroughly enjoyed The Fabelmans. Enough to see it twice. And want to see it again. It reminds me of why I love movies the way Cinema Paradise did. When we can stream whatever movie or tv series we want, there is something that is missing for me. And that’s the WOW experience. The kind of experience I got when I first saw No Time for Sergeants, Ben Hur, Psycho, It’s a Mad Mad Mad World, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings and The Color Purple, and so many others on the big screen in movie theaters.
The Fabelmans gave me that rare experience.