Nancy Spielberg: This is how it feels watching your life on screen - opinion

Steven Spielberg’s sister, Nancy, writes about the experience of viewing ‘The Fablemans’

 THE DIRECTOR, Steven Spielberg, with his sisters (from left) Anne Spielberg, Sue Spielberg, and Nancy Spielberg. (photo credit: MARIO ANZUONI/REUTERS)
THE DIRECTOR, Steven Spielberg, with his sisters (from left) Anne Spielberg, Sue Spielberg, and Nancy Spielberg.
(photo credit: MARIO ANZUONI/REUTERS)

‘Oh my God, did you see that? Did you see how she rested her hand on the side of her face? Do you remember when she would do that? That’s SO her!”

“And what about calling us ‘Dolly’... she always called us Dolly.”
“Look at the pain on Dad’s face... I remember that look... too many times... how hard that was to see him hurting...”
“The monkey! Remember when the monkey did that and we were all screaming and laughing and thinking life was perfect? Zany, yes, but perfect. We may not have been but our life was...”
And then it wasn’t.
Director Steven Spielberg poses at the premiere of the HBO documentary film 'Spielberg' in Los Angeles, California, US. (credit: REUTERS)Director Steven Spielberg poses at the premiere of the HBO documentary film 'Spielberg' in Los Angeles, California, US. (credit: REUTERS)

I and my siblings were watching our younger selves in my brother’s new film, The Fablemans, as we were told about the dissolution of our family unit: the divorce.

The film brought back emotional memories

Hot tears streamed down my now 66-year-old cheeks as if it was yesterday.

Someone said to me, “Are you scared to share this with the world? Are you embarrassed to be so exposed?"
The answer is no, it didn’t really cross my mind. I love them – all of them: my film family, my real family. I’m proud of them and anyway, we’re sort of honest, open and sharing people.
The dirty laundry aired in The Fablemans is hardly dirty. Anyway, those kinds of issues surprisingly exist in too many households to count.
 Our family cracks are familiar to so many others. We’re really not that unique, we’re just honest about it.
Working on the film as a consultant on set design, wardrobe, food design, piano pieces and even script lines was like reliving every stage of our lives growing up: what we ate, what we wore, the songs we sang around the table, the camping trips, the filmmaking, the Chanukah gifts and the feeling being an “other” when encountering some antisemites.
Recreating our mom’s wardrobe – now that was something that we three Spielberg sisters had over our brother Steve.

I MEAN, how many young boys remember everything their mom wore, what brands, what favorite styles, and oh yes, don’t forget the ladybug pins on her white Peter Pan collars?

We could almost smell her perfume, coming back to us – fresh and present, unlike the scents that are fading away from the clothing I keep in a sealed box since she left us five years ago, trying to seal her in, her presence.We don’t let go of her, my father or even Uncle Benny. We cherish everything.

“And what about calling us ‘Dolly’... she always called us Dolly.”

The Spielberg siblings

How strange it was to feel the fear, rage and helplessness of a child faced with divorce, yet have the wisdom of today to process it, be forgiving and understand that the heart needs to do what the heart needs to do.Sometimes I call Michelle Williams “Mom” and sometimes Paul Dano is “Dad.”

And lately, I am so immersed in this new, yet not new film family that the lines of reality blur.

For the Spielbergs, family matters

Nobody but we siblings know that the paintings on the walls in the films are the paintings that hung in our home as we grew up, painted by our mom, Leah.

No one but we siblings realizes that the wallpaper in the kitchen was the wallpaper in our kitchen back in 1957 in Phoenix or that the books on the bookshelves were our books and the piano pieces were her favorites.
As the baby of the family, I always took my place under the piano when she was rehearsing. I would lay on my back and watch her feet pump the pedals. I could feel the music vibrate through my body. I could feel her complete immersion into the world of Chopin, Beethoven and Bach. She left her role as a mom and entered into her role as an artist.
I’ve seen The Fablemans five times already. I’m seeing it again this week at a film festival. Each time I feel my parents come back to me.

Director Steven Spielberg (L) his mother Leah (C) and wife actress Kate Capshaw pose at the premiere of the film ''Saving Private Ryan'' [File 1998] (credit: REUTERS)Director Steven Spielberg (L) his mother Leah (C) and wife actress Kate Capshaw pose at the premiere of the film ''Saving Private Ryan'' [File 1998] (credit: REUTERS)
Once again, they’re living, breathing and loving me. What a blessing that is: to be able to bring them back.
And then the lights go back on, I’m staring at a blank screen and they’re gone again. It’s hard to balance this roller coaster of emotions, to feel so full and then to be emptied and bereft, again.
But, don’t we all wish for just one more time, one more hug, one more squeeze of the hand and one more kiss on the kup (head) and we would give almost anything for another opportunity to tell them how much we love them, cherish them and are grateful to them.
Kibud Av v’em (honor your mother and father) goes a long way in our family. And, I know that in many ways they are watching, hugging and guiding us from another spiritual plane. And they are so very proud of all of their children.
With The Fablemans, I can go back and visit them any time I want.

The Fablemans opens in Israeli theaters on Thursday. The writer is a filmmaker and the sister of Steven Spielberg.