All is darkness -- as dark as a minute to midnight on the first day of creation, as dark as a movie house just before the feature starts. Then the movement begins, a tracking shot down the birth canal of a hallway, toward the mystery. Suddenly, light! A bright room filled with old men in beards and black hats: sages, perhaps, from another world. At the far end of the room, on a raised platform, is a blazing red light. The senses are suffused; the mystery deepens. There is only one persuasive explanation for this scene. It must be from a Steven Spielberg movie.
Well, no. And yes. It is Spielberg's earliest memory, from a day in 1948 when he was taken in a stroller to a Cincinnati synagogue for a service with Hasidic elders. "The old men were handing me little crackers," Spielberg recalls. "My parents said later I must have been about six months old at the time." What a memory; and what profitable use he has found for his memories and fantasies. If this synagogue scene has never made it into one of the director-producer's movies, still the mood and metaphor it represents -- of fear escalating into wonder, of the ordinary made extraordinary, of the journey from darkness into light -- inform just about every frame Spielberg has committed to film.
He is, of course, the world's most successful picturemaker. E.T. The ExtraTerrestrial (1982) has earned more money than any other movie in history. Jaws (1975) is fifth on the all-time list, Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) seventh, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) eighth, Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) 15th, and Gremlins (1984), which he did not direct but developed and "presented," 17th. Only his pal George Lucas, with whom he collaborated on Raiders and Indiana Jones, approaches that patch of box-office ionosphere; and Lucas, at least since Star Wars eight years ago, has delegated the directing of his films to other hands. Spielberg is very & hands-on; as Director Martin Scorsese puts it, "Lucas became so powerful that he didn't have to direct. But directing is what Steven has to do." Spielberg admits, "Yeah, I'm a mogul now. And I love the work the way Patton loved the stink of battle. But when I grow up, I still want to be a director."
This summer, as director and mogul, he has more than enough work to keep him happy. Two new comic adventures bear the "Steven Spielberg Presents" imprimatur. The Goonies, directed by Richard Donner from a Spielberg story, earned a healthy $41.4 million in its first 24 days' release; Back to the Future, a spiffy time-machine comedy from Director-Writer Bob Zemeckis, opened last week to positive reviews and audience acclaim. But that is just for openers. Next week E.T. will beam back down to 1,500 theaters for a saturation rerelease. At Amblin Entertainment, Spielberg's studio-within-a- studio on the Universal Pictures lot, he is shepherding another pair of pictures, Young Sherlock Holmes and The Money Pit, toward Christmas premieres. September will see the debut of Spielberg's NBC anthology series Amazing Stories. He is directing four of the first season's 22 shows, and has written the stories for 15.