Empire’s April 2018 magazine is all about Steven Spielberg and full of tributes to the director from the likes of J.J. Abrams, Martin Scorsese, Rian Johnson, and more. But perhaps the coolest part is from Edgar Wright, who somehow managed to get Spielberg on the phone for a 45-minute conversation entirely devoted to his 1971 television movie “Duel.” Wright has long been an outspoken fan of the film, even crediting it as one of the biggest inspirations on “Baby Driver,” so getting to interview Spielberg about it was the definition of a dream come true.
“I saw ‘Duel’ on TV as a kid and marvelled, even then, at it,” Wright says in the introduction to the interview. “It is a pure engine for suspense, a brilliant exercise in near-silent cinema. I still think, even in the wake of his later classics, its still one of the greatest displays of Spielberg’s talent and a masterclass for young film makers.”
“Duel is a film that demands your attention,” he continues. “If you look at it by today’s standards in terms of TV direction, let’s say in terms of network TV, it’s almost an art film. Which I think is incredible. When you watch it, you feel that this is a silent suspense movie.”
One of the first questions Wright asks Spielberg is where the confidence to make “Duel” came from considering Spielberg was only in his mid-twenties at the time of production. Spielberg says it was the screenplay that assured him there was a great movie to be made. The streamlined story and lack of dialogue allowed Spielberg to focus entirely on telling a story through blocking and action, which was ideal as a new director.
“I cut about fifty per cent of the dialogue out of the script,” Spielberg said. “[The script] told me that this was going to be my first silent movie. I was a huge fan of the silent era…I even tried to get the network to agree to let me cut out even more dialogue, but the network was adamant that we needed what remained as some kind of a road map for people who just watched TV and who didn’t want to put too much effort into the viewing experience. If I’d had final cut in those days, I would have cut the dialogue even further back.”
Spielberg goes on to refer to “Duel” as a “primal road rage story.” Other talking points discussed between the two filmmaker include how directing television became Spielberg’s film school and how “Duel” led directly into “Jaws.”
Wright is already on record praising Spielberg’s latest film, “Ready Player One.” The “Baby Driver” tweeted after the movie’s Hollywood premiere that it re-confirmed Spielberg as the “master of blocking action scenes.” The movie is now playing in theaters nationwide. Head over to Empire to read Wright’s interview with Spielberg in its entirety.