The admiration that Steven Spielberg and George Lucas have for Norman Rockwell, that legendary painter of long-gone, dead-and-buried Americana, is being officially acknowledged with a Smithsonian exhibition called “Telling Stories: Normal Rockman from the Collections of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg,” which will run for six months (7.2.10 through 1.2.11).
When I first read about this on Carrie Rickey‘s Philadelphia Inquirer blog I was reminded that the Rockman-esque influence is one of the biggest reasons why I despise Spielberg these days — i.e., because his films have been offering allusion after allusion and tribute after tribute to that sentimental notion of small-town America that Rockwell’s paintings are more or less synonymous with. I for one have always found this aspect of Spielberg’s films to be treacly and un-genuine.
We’re talking about a vision of America that may have had some ties to actual 1950s culture (i.e., when Spielberg and Lucas grew up) but which really came out of the 1920s and ’30s, and had actually begun to die in the wake of World War II, primarily from the corporate tract-home construction and suburbanization of Middle America and the various ’50s be-bop influences (Ginsberg-Kerouac-Burroughs, rock ‘n’ roll, Little Richard, Elvis Presley‘s hips) that began to change the way Americans saw themselves and behaved.
I worship anyone who can portray the character of rural old-time American life without undue sentiment (as David Lynch did in The Straight Story ) but this has always been beneath Spielberg’s interest or abilities.