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Art That Speaks to Everybody: A Father and Daughter Chat About E.T.

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by Matt Zoller Seitz and Hannah Seitz
June 14, 2012 9:00 AM
4 Comments
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[Editor's note: The following is an iChat between Press Play founder Matt Zoller Seitz and his daughter Hannah, a film student, about Steven Spielberg's E.T., which was released 30 years ago this week. It is the most recent installment in a series of dialogues about popular culture; earlier pieces discussed Cinderella, Fantasia and Harry Potter vs. Star Wars.]

Matt Zoller Seitz: Do you remember the first time you saw E.T.? Wasn't it during the 2002 rerelease when you were not quite five?

Hannah Seitz: I don't remember seeing it for the first time at all. But I do remember that when I saw it for the second time a couple of years later, I had no memory of the scenes where the government interferes and E.T. is dying. Was that because I was so traumatized during those scenes the first time?

Matt: Maybe you blocked it out?

Hannah: Maybe. Do you remember me not wanting to watch it at that point? In my mind there was a blank spot between the point where E.T. and Elliott are in the bathroom and the mom comes in, and then the part when Elliot sees E.T. come back to life.

Matt: I don't remember your not wanting to watch that part of the movie when you saw it for the first time, but I do remember you bursting into tears during the scene where the older brother finds the pasty, sickly E.T. lying in that drainage ditch. You were fine up to that point.

I am always a bit surprised by the length and intensity of all the medical stuff near the end. Steven Spielberg really twists the knife. It's like the scene in Dumbo where Dumbo goes to visit his mother in the iron cage. Or the "death" of the Beast in Beauty and the Beast. Stanley Kubrick used to say that he didn't like Disney movies because he thought they were cruel to children, and I don't think he was necessarily wrong in that description. But fairy tales are often cruel, or unrelenting, and we do want to feel things very intensely when we experience art. Some excess seems forgivable when a work is really, really cooking, in the way that E.T. cooks all the way through. It's operatic or symphonic. It's so powerful that it gives me the kind of feeling that I think you're supposed to feel in church, but that I never felt there.

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4 Comments

  • Jason | June 17, 2012 9:29 AMReply

    It's a real treat to read a conversation like this between the two of you. Hannah's insights are wonderful - after all, anyone who has seen a great movie saw it for the first time at some point, & it can be just as fresh & poignant as the day it was released. One little tip though: Please strike all use of "..., like," from your writing forever more. It has no place in speech & even less in writing, & it detracts from your otherwise quite intelligent voice.

  • Olivia Collette | June 14, 2012 2:32 PMReply

    I love the Seitz conversations. More please! Hannah, you are an incredibly insightful film critic. I look forward to reading your work.

  • Michael Mirasol | June 14, 2012 11:24 AMReply

    Thank you for making this Matt. E.T. is the film that resonates with me the strongest (I just teared up watching Clip #1). I saw it when I was about 8 on Betamax, and after its ending, I was utterly inconsolable. Weeping for probably 30 minutes protesting at my mom, "Why!? Why did E.T. have to go!!??"

    I have always looked forward to the day that I could show my 5-year old daughter Cate this film at some point. During my time here in Melbourne away from my family, my wife Claire showed it to her. I wish I could have been there to see and experience it with Cate. I was so happy and relieved when Claire told me that she cried and exclaimed at all the right moments. She goes back to it often as it's one of her favorite films. The circle is complete.

  • Deborah Lipp | June 14, 2012 10:56 AMReply

    Roberta and I took our little brother to see E.T. in 1982 (he was 12, we were not). When the flower died, we both cried copious tears. Then we saw each other out of the corner of our eyes crying, and kind of looked at each other and realized we were both SOBBING HYSTERICALLY over a dead flower. At which point we simultaneously burst out laughing at the absurdity and could not stop.

    We were lucky to get out of that theater alive. The other patrons just didn't see the humor.

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