The American Film Institute could have hardly chosen a more appealing pairing to inaugurate its Turner Classic Movies specials “Master Class — the Art of Collaboration” than Steven Spielberg and John Williams, whose 40-year relationship is one of the most fruitful and memorable in screen history. The ensuing hour manages to be both intimate and revealing, overcoming the seminar format to feel like a legitimate treat for discriminating movie fans — one that ought to enhance their appreciation of a composer’s contribution to films.
Conducted without a moderator in what appears to be a relatively small space, Spielberg and Williams don’t just walk down their personal memory lane. Instead, they begin by citing examples of other film music that left marks upon them, from “Vertigo” (Williams) to the fight scene between Kirk Douglas and Woody Strode in “Spartacus” (Spielberg).
Gradually, they segue into their shared filmography, with the director calling Williams a musical “chameleon,” one who nimbly “changes style to suit the picture.” He also highlights the importance of the score by saying he’ll eliminate scenes strictly because the music isn’t working.
Of course, Spielberg’s own diverse resume — from big action epics to sobering dramas like “Schindler’s List” — has offered Williams opportunities to dabble in a wide assortment of styles. There are also illuminating sequences featuring what’s arguably the composer’s most stirring Spielberg score, “Raiders of the Lost Ark;” and his most intrinsic to the film, “Jaws.”
Well-chosen clips overcome the claustrophobic nature of the exchange, along with the obvious rapport the two artists have developed through the years. The final portion consists of a question-and-answer exchange with AFI Fellows, but frankly, the central chat could have easily gone another 30 minutes with Spielberg and Williams simply swapping anecdotes.
While few collaborators possess quite the same history — in either commercial appeal or sheer volume — one can certainly see this series of specials becoming a fixture on the channel, as well as a platform for AFI that can afford to be more tailored to cinephiles than its bigger network showcases.
As usual, TCM will combine the original production with select movies from its library, including “Saving Private Ryan” and “Spartacus.” In this case, it’s almost like a delicate wine pairing — one featuring cinematic titans who, at times, have seemed to get better with age.