Written by: Jason Wheeler, Film Frenzy Senior Writer & Editor.
In 1968, Steven Spielberg released Amblin’. Starring Richard Levin and Pamela McMyler, the film had no box office gross. The company Amblin Entertainment is named after the film.
While hitchhiking through the desert on his way to the Pacific coast, a young man carrying a closely guarded guitar case befriends a free-spirited young woman. The two travel together and enjoy each other’s company.
The first film Spielberg ever released, Amblin’ can best be described as an average film. The first noticeable element it has is the dialogue, or lack thereof. Neither of the two characters talk during the entire length of the film, though they do laugh for a few moments. What replaces the dialogue is ambient noise from the few cars the characters come across on the road, all the birds surrounding them, the wind, the sounds of a fire and popping noises they make in one scene. The only words the viewer ever hears are from two songs opening and closing the film. With the film as short as it is, running about 25 minutes, not having any dialogue through the film helps to accentuate the characters’ actions. Further, their silence makes it so the ambient noises come in clearly to paint a proper picture of how alone the two characters find themselves on their journey.
Still, there is a lot of music to be found in the film. There are some moments where this music feels not only out of place, but an interference as well.
The cinematography is done well throughout the film, doing its part to show the desertedness of the desert. One scene depicts the two characters in a tunnel sharing a joint. They’re mostly in silhouette in this scene until the man steps outside. The camera cuts to show him walking out and it keeps pulling back to a full wide shot, ultimately portraying him as this small speck on the desert landscape. The camera work during the scene where the two of them are having a spitting contest is worth noting as well. The time the camera is pointed at the two of them as they spit their olive pits is an average shot. However, when the results are shown and the film depicts where their pits land, it’s a good shot. The camera gets low to the ground, low enough that an insect can be scene crawling along, and the pits land where they may. Regardless of the shots simplicity, it helps to get the audience more invested in what the characters are doing.
Despite the well-done aspects above, the film’s plot is pretty basic for the most part. Not much happens other than the two characters meeting, attempting to hitch a number of rides, sharing some intimate moments and coming to their goal. The only differentiating feature is the young man’s guitar case which he never opens nor does he allow anybody else to do so. This gets the two of them kicked out of a ride at one point. After multiple failed attempts at hitchhiking, the two of them manage to get a ride on a Volkswagen bus. This results in the hippies driving and riding the vehicle wanting to take his guitar out so they can play some tunes, yet he won’t oblige. His refusal to do so causes their eviction and provides a catalyst for the audience and the woman to really wonder just what’s in the case with an answer once the two of them reach the coast.
Similarly, the characterization found in the film provides only the necessities. All the audience really knows about the two characters is they appear to be hippies, the man wanted to reach the coast to frolic in the waves and the woman didn’t care for what she found in the guitar case, with the contents supposedly indicating the man was not the hippie he portrayed himself to be. Apart from these facets, the film doesn’t go into anything else about them. Yet, it doesn’t suffer for it. In fact, the audience knowing only the basic essentials of the characters keeps the film as tight as it needs to be.
Awards & Recognitions
bold indicates reception of award/recognition
Atlanta Film Festival
Jury Award – Best Short Film
CINE Golden Eagle – Short Films
Gold Remi Award – Short Subject – Live Action