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The Story of ‘Spielberg’ on HBO
October 7, 2017  | By David Hinckley  | 1 comment

Because we know how good Steven Spielberg is at making movies about other people, it also becomes entertaining to watch his selfies.

That’s not exactly what director Susan Lacy delivers in Spielberg, a two-and-a-half-movie documentary that debuts Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on HBO.

But since interviews with Spielberg himself serve as the heart of the show, and because Lacy fills so much of the rest with illustrative excerpts from his films, it’s fair to say the subject is guiding this story.

That’s not to dismiss Lacy’s work. A veteran filmmaker herself, she’s rounded up an A-list supporting cast of interviewees that ranges from fellow directors like Martin Scorsese and George Lucas to performers that include Leonardo DiCaprio and Harrison Ford.

Not to mention many of Spielberg’s long-time production and creative collaborators, plus the sisters he used to torment with horror fantasy.

Lacy assembles the film in a methodical chronological order that builds Spielberg’s biography into a dramatic narrative, taking a shy, nerdy kid from the suburbs of Phoenix to unimagined heights in Hollywood.  

It’s easy to point out that he’s had a few flops along the way, or to argue the fine points of E.T. or Munich.

It’s impossible not to marvel at one man giving us Close Encounters, Schindler’s List, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park, Saving Private Ryan, The Color Purple, Jaws, Lincoln and Bridge of Spies.

For starters.

A handful of other directors over the last century have made multiple first-rate films. Spielberg has still left a singular stamp.

As he tells his story, going back to Phoenix, it often sounds strikingly ordinary. He grew up in the suburbs and started shooting movies to amuse himself.

He saw Lawrence of Arabia when he was 16 and decided “the bar was too high” to become a professional. He saw it again and decided to try. He was turned down by USC film school, but had better luck at a real studio, where he eventually landed a seven-year deal to direct TV shows. Which he did. Lots of them.

The 1975 classic Jaws was his breakthrough, and Lacy devotes a big chunk of time to what a fiasco it seemed to be until Spielberg always found ways to rescue it.

It became the first-ever “summer blockbuster,” which is a language Hollywood speaks, and Spielberg explains how that success set him free, guaranteeing him not only employment, but the right to control his work.

He’s taken that freedom to make films as light as Raiders and as dark as War of the Worlds, which he says here was about 9/11 and what happens when people who feel they are unassailable get assaulted.

He also says Pauline Kael was right in an oft-quoted early review where she said Spielberg’s work was brilliant and superficial. At the time, he says, she was right. He had to grow into more serious work.

Several of his friends say you can understand big chunks of Spielberg’s life by noting themes to which he returns in his films. Not his fascination with bursts of light, perhaps, but the reconciliation of families, or the almost surreal normalcy of the American suburb.

Spielberg admits all this, recounting how he felt isolated as a child and how his father’s absences and his parents’ eventual divorce troubled him.

Those calm confessions provide modest illumination, though most of them have been discussed before. We may be more likely to come away thinking there’s a reason Spielberg has rarely become tabloid fodder, because his story and his path outside of his exceptional movies never sounds that exceptional.

Still, Lacy notes how in his early 20s he was hanging out with a young lions directing crowd that included the likes of Lucas, DePalma, and Scorsese. To the extent their friendship, camaraderie, competition, and shop talk also helped drive his story, that’s a few long strides away from ordinary.

Whatever the backstory, Lacy’s complimentary portrait makes it clear that this slightly neurotic kid from the postwar suburbs had a gift that he never wasted.

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David did an excellent job of capturing the excitement and information contained within the documentary. It should be seen, it's important (as Steven is), and David really knows how to convey its excellence.
Oct 11, 2017   |  Reply
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