A few weeks ago, a co-worker dropped this great video essay in my lap called 'Moment of wonder: THE SPIELBERG FACE'
For the handful of people who regularly read this site, it harkens back to a post I wrote back in July of this year.
I'd never heard of 'Spielberg face' before, but it's pretty much on the money of what I'd noted myself. It's a powerful tool indeed, especially in indicating a sense of Wonderment, which is a major pillar of my thesis.
The video describes it as a common cliche and an overused cue for an audience to feel something out of a spectacle, but I would disagree with calling it cliche. Cliche implies it's lacking in efficacy because of it being overused. While it may be overused, it can still ring in a highly potent emotional impact upon its audience when used in the right circumstance.
The video essay also dissects what they call the 'Anti-Spielberg Face', where the tool is used to convey trauma or a challenge of innocence rather than just a reaction to wonderment. It's really no surprise that the reaction can be used that way and I think this is sort of where the essay strays-- possibly for humor.
What they call 'Spielberg Face' is not just a tool for wonderment, but for any major emotional weight swinging with a character. Realization, enlightenment, or a dawning of a moment. It's a bit too narrow minded to call the tool 'Spielberg Face' and sells Spielberg short for his use of the technique and labeling it 'his'. The essay even recognizes its presence before Spielberg was even on the scene, but quickly dismisses it.
The essay may argue that he is a master at conveying that sense of wonderment with the reaction of Spielberg Face, but there's so much more to that tool than cuing the audience to feel something. It conveys weight, scale and eloquently conveys a major emotional change in a character without being explicit.
Now, it is a cue for the audience to say 'hey, there's a big emotional change happening', but it can also have a highly involving aspect to it as well, where the audience is engaged and challenged to figure out what the character is feeling on their own, without explicit statement of that emotion, or without complex exposition as to how the character feels.
The efficacy of 'Spielberg Face' stems from an audience figuring the emotion out for themselves. Even if the emotion is pretty explicit, in figuring it out for themselves, it further invests them with the character, allowing them to feel even more like the events are happening to them.
It's no surprise Wonderment is such a commonly used aspect of the tool. It's enjoyable for an audience to watch and endure that emotion, and it's repeatable. It's the same reason people are so infatuated with Disney. It's nonthreatening entertainment.
But what shouldn't be forgotten is the 'Anti-Spielberg Face' side of this is that there is a whole other slew of emotions that can be conveyed. All of which can resonate with the audience in a similar fashion because they challenge the audience to figure it out rather than explicitly stating the emotion. It's involving. It's entertaining.
Now that I've spoken my peace about Spielberg Face, there's this whole great web series being put on by the same people over at Press Play called Magic and Light: The Films of Steven Spielberg that I've been keeping an eye on. It explores the evolution of his style, and common themes and ideas used repeatedly throughout his works such as his portrayal of authority figures, violence, communication, and father figures.
Episode 1 can be viewed here. At this current date, there's four episodes available, but it appears they're launching one or two a week now and there's no information available as to how many of these episodes they will release, but for any fan of the craft, it's a fantastic series to get into.