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by John Baxter.
Beginning this extraordinarily lengthy biography with, of all things, a quote from River, the author reveals how Steven Spielberg has incorporated a great number of his early childhood experiences into many of his movies. These include Gertie from the movie E.T. being his sister and Stand By Me star Richard Dreyfuss's character of Roy Neary in Close Encounters of the Third Kind being a less than affectionate parody of his father. Also to be found somewhere in every single Spielberg movie is a shooting star, the result of a particularly spectacular meteor shower that he witnessed as a small child.
Such anecdotes are entertaining but are the first examples of how easily the author becomes distracted. Whilst right in the middle of discussing Back to the Future for example, the author suddenly lurches off on an unexpected tangent, bemoaning the pace of social and sexual change in eighties America. For no apparent reason, one somewhat misplaced example is cited in particular:
In 1986, fifteen-year-old River Phoenix, on location in Oregon for Stand By Me, Rob Reiner's adaptation of Stephen King's story about childhood friendships, would abandon his virginity with a friend of his hippy family. Rather than sneak into a motel, as Spielberg and many of his generation had done, the couple approached River's parents John and Arlyn (who'd re-christened herself "Heart") and asked, "Can we have your good wishes?" A special tent was pitched for them, festively decorated. Heart called their one-night stand "a beautiful experience". Her complaisance echoes that of Marty's parents in Back to the Future, who smile indulgently about his intention to spend a weekend in the wilderness with his girlfriend; the guiltless sexual freedom every teenager dreamed of.
Phoenix, who would play young Indiana Jones in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, could stand as an emblem of the emerging Hollywood to which all film-makers needed to accustom themselves. He shared none of their values or enthusiasms. He'd never seen a James Dean film, let alone one by Orson Welles, and when Peter Bogdanovich offered him what turned out to be the actor's last completed film, The Thing Called Love, the director of Targets and What's Up, Doc? had to explain who he was: Phoenix had never heard of him.
Despite travelling up further dead-ends in much the same way, the author eventually arrives at Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade devoting a total of sixteen pages to the history of the production and making of this movie.
Harrison Ford, smarting from his failure in Peter Weir's adaptation of Paul Theroux's novel The Mosquito Coast, a serious role which he'd hoped would release him permanently from action films, was willing to do another in the series to restore his box-office standing.
From his house in Spain, Sean Connery complained violently about the long delay in getting a script. Lucas stalled. He particularly wanted the film to open with an elaborate flashback to Indy's childhood in Utah in 1912. Cannily, Lucas and Spielberg hired River Phoenix, Hollywood's hottest young actor who'd already won praise for his role opposite Harrison Ford in Mosquito Coast, to play young Indy. His casting, which would guarantee the teen audience who had begun to think of Ford as dangerously superannuated, was the production's best-kept secret. To allay Ford's fears that Phoenix might steal the movie, as he had almost done on The Mosquito Coast, the young actor was warned never to imitate Ford's mannerisms on screen, nor suggest he had any interest in taking over the Indy role. Such was the success of the character, however, that Lucasfilm launched a TV series about his adventures.
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