Help asked in Entertainment & MusicMovies · 1 decade ago

What makes Spellbound (2002 film) interesting?

What makes Spellbound (2002 film) interesting? Beside kids in a Spelling Bee

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  • 1 decade ago
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    Jeffrey Blitz's Spellbound focuses its gaze on eight children as they make their way to the annual National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. The subjects Blitz chose for his fascinating documentary come in all shapes and sizes - combined, they represent a variety of points along the U.S.'s educational, financial, and social spectrums - and yet the film is primarily pleasurable because of the commonality found among the members of this motley group. These impressively intelligent pre-teens haven't all reached the National Spelling Bee via the same route, but what's gotten them there is an intense motivation and thirst for knowledge, educational excellence, and competition.

    Blitz's film spends its first half introducing us to the kids (and their families), and the second half focusing on their performances at the Nationals. The director takes us inside the wildly different homes of these eight spelling champion hopefuls, and what he reveals is a cross-section of American youth - from Ashley, a cheerful African-American girl who lives with her single mom in Washington's inner city, to Angela, whose immigrant Mexican parents don't speak any English, to Emily, who lives an affluent and privileged life in New Haven, Connecticut. Some, such as an East Indian boy named Neil, have loving but strict parents who push their children to study tirelessly for the contest. Others, such as Angela and Pennsylvania-born April, seem to have developed their remarkable work habits without any parental guidance. Many have siblings with prior success at the Nationals, while one, a strapping Missourian named Ted, had never even heard of the Bee until he won a regional spelling match a few months prior to the big event.

    Besides an aptitude for spelling, what makes these kids alike is a shockingly devoted, and sometimes seemingly unhealthy, drive to succeed - as April's effusive parents recount with some bewilderment, their daughter prefers to stay at home on Friday nights to study word origins instead of going to the mall with her friends. As the film segues from its introductions to Washington, D.C., the quietly lurking tension that has hovered over these casual early moments begins to bubble to the forefront (both for the kids and for us in the audience); once the Bee begins, the judge's bell that signals a mistake takes on mythically menacing proportions. Blitz wisely keeps his camera fixated on the faces of each speller, capturing the elation of triumph (usually characterized by wide, ecstatic eyes and an open-mouthed grin) and the disappointment of a costly mistake (one girl, after a wrong answer, resignedly mutters 'Crap!'). One wrong letter spells instant elimination, meaning that the pressure of each successive round is exquisite; watching the National Spelling Bee is certainly more exciting than anything the NHL has to offer.

    Spellbound benefits from keen foresight, as Blitz's subjects remain in the running into the Bee's late rounds. Unfortunately, outside of a few socio-economic tidbits and a bounty of one-liners - an Indian mother, discussing her family's efforts to help her son prepare, remarks, 'When you fight in a war, everyone has the same goal' - the rather perfunctory portraits of each participant merely skim the surface. The kids' enthusiasm makes them easy to root for, but as each is eliminated from the tournament, it's not uncommon for us to find their reactions in defeat surprising - not because their behavior is out of character, but because we only know them from a scant few interview snippets. Since some of the kids - including the ultra-hyper Harry and round-the-clock studying Neil - are superb candidates for their own documentaries, one wishes that Blitz had chosen to focus his film on a smaller sampling of competitors. Still, despite its somewhat skin-deep look at these talented youngsters, Spellbound's charm and allure is undeniable. It's one of the most d-e-l-i-g-h-t-f-u-l documentary to see.

  • Anonymous
    5 years ago

    Hi Greg. I haven't read all of the other comments yet and like them I'm not sure if mine will ever make a difference as I feel that this is all for show so that the moguls will simply want to be seen to be doing something about the slog that's being created over the last few decades (assuming this is the reason why you're posting this). But for what it's worth, it's definitely the problem in terms of the attitude towards the writing talent that obviously no longer exists. What do I mean? All the writing talent that Hollywood once had have all dissipated back to the theaters, journalism, television, literature, etc, etc. These are the places where writers were originally sourced in their craft before making it to Hollywood. But the way in which they have been treated these past few decades is it any wonder why they no longer exist and why CGI is a very poor method of covering up the fact that nothing is being produced any more? You know the "cause-and-effect" score, and it also applies here. What's being produced now are CGI-laden video games masquerading as films; it's really not convincing, terribly lame and obvious that there are no more great and original ideas. Product placement is also a problem. Every film I watch nowadays (especially typically poor efforts with Will Smith in it) have nothing but a barrage of insulting advertisements being bombarded onto the screen in the most shallow and shameless fashion. I get enough of that on TV. When I go to the cinema all I ask is for art made by a team effort of artists...NOT idiots interested in nothing more than lining their own pockets. Yes, people are willing to pay to see shallow gimmicky films, but I take it that ticket sales for all types of films recently still must be depleting more and more in recent decades? I find it funny that it is said that the theater is a writers' medium, the TV a producer's and cinema the director's. I doubt this would be the case if there were no talented writers at all. It starts with them and everything else falls into line. Let's get that back and put some dignity back into Hollywood! It was a force to be reckoned with......once.

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