Spielberg (2017)

  • Time: 147 min
  • Genre: Documentary | Biography
  • Director: Susan Lacy
  • Cast: Steven Spielberg, J.J. Abrams, Christian Bale, Martin Scorsese, Richard Dreyfuss, James Brolin, Francis Ford Coppola, Brian De Palma, Tom Hanks, Drew Barrymore, Leonardo DiCaprio, Harrison Ford, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Cate Blanchett, Holly Hunter, Dustin Hoffman, Daniel Day-Lewis, Tom Cruise,
    Eric Bana, Daniel Craig

Storyline:

A documentary on the life and career of one of the most influential film directors of all time, Steven Spielberg.

2 comments

  • (RATING: ☆☆☆☆ out of 5)

    GRADE: B

    THIS FILM IS RECOMMENDED.

    IN BRIEF: An insightful and well crafted documentary that gives us the facts in a sanitized version of this great director.

    SYNOPSIS: The life (abridged) of Steven Spielberg and his film legacy.

    RUNNING TIME: 2 hrs., 25 mins.

    JIM’S REVIEW: David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia inspired him to become a director. As a teenager, filmmaking kept “those scary whispers” from starting up, providing him a security that life itself could not deliver. His use of close-ups, stationary angles, fluid camera movement, personal storytelling, and quick cuts established his unique style.  His sanitized view of suburbia and the Americana, his sentimental view of nostalgia, and his love of childhood and family can be found in most of his films. This is Steven Spielberg. And Susan Lacy’s well made documentary examines this legendary filmmaker with much skill (but just too much adoration).

    The documentary gives us all the facts about this great director using archival footage, interviews with friends and associates, and snippets of his many movies. Turned down from USC film school, he snuck off the tour bus on Universal Studios and observed directors like Hitchcock at work. He later worked at that studio as a first time director gaining knowledge and experience by creating television episodes and movies before his big blockbuster summer hit, Jaws, changed the film industry forever.

    His own personal experiences and his avid love of cinema encouraged him to explore many genres: sci-fi (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., A.I. Minority Report), war movies (Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List, Empire of the Sun, War Horse) horror (Jurassic Park, Jaws), adventure (Duel, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Adventures of Tintin), historical biographies (Lincoln, the underrated Bridge of Spies), and even comedies (1941, Always, The Terminal).

    Spielberg delves into his beginnings very effectively. Upset with some critics’ assertion that he was primarily a successful commercial and mainstream filmmaker, Mr. Spielberg took up the challenge and created films on more serious subjects such as racism (Amistad, The Color Purple), terrorism and 9/11 (Munich, War of the Worlds), and genocide (the aforementioned Schindler’s List). This documentary spend a great deal of time on one of his greatest achievements about the Holocaust ever made, with numerous segments from that Academy Award winning film. 

    Ms. Lacy’s  film, though well researched, purposely skips over some of his lesser works (Hook, 1941, Always, The BFG) and allows Mr. Spielberg himself to sidestep his early personal life with the former Mrs. S. (Amy Irving). Yet it still manages to flaunt his happy marriage with his current spouse (Kate Capshaw) and his now happy family life.

    Directors Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, Francis Coppola, J.J. Abrams, and Brian DePalma were his friends and creative rivals and their comments in interviews add great insight to the technical aspects of this man. In fact, the point is made numerous times that his  films dealing with technology advancements were living examples of state-of-the-art filmmaking themselves. (CGI use in Jurassic Park, Minority Report, A I., War of the Worlds, Close Encounters, etc. elevated the bar in cinematic terms) 

    The documentary is always entertaining with special moments to savor:  Spielberg’s own reminiscences of filming of his two masterworks, Saving Private Ryan, and Schindler’s List, cinematographer Janusz Kaminski discussing his camera work with fascinating details in conjunction with the director’s vision on the latter epic, scenes of him directing a young Drew Barrymore and Henry Thomas on the E.T. set that are very insightful and give us a glimpse of his extraordinary technique as a director. The director himself gives due credit to his artisan family who are his crew for many movies, including composer John Williams. However, his personal life and hardships are glossed over such as his first marriage and divorce and his film duds are rarely acknowledged (Hook, The BFG, his comedies).

    The film becomes a love-fest rather than a serious chronicle of an artist. It continuously lauds him. Janet Maslin, Todd McCarthy, J. Hoberman, and A. O. Scott analyze his films with much admiration. Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day Lewis, Jeff Goldblum, Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Oprah Winfrey, and Ben Kingsley speak eloquently of working with him.  Yet, except for his estrangement with his father, there are no warts at all in this depiction of Mr. Spielberg and that becomes a bit of the problem for such a flattering documentary to be considered a true portrait of the man. 

    One wishes would have could have shown a more balanced vision of this immensely talented man with at least a margin of human error, but that does not exist in The World of Spielberg. Just as some of his films rely too heavily on uplifting and positive viewpoints, so does this documentary and that prevents this film from becoming a great work of art about a great director. Perhaps the subject himself could not give up complete control to Ms. Lacy to make an completely honest depiction of an artist.

    Still, while the documentary shows this visionary director in the best of light, with little shading, it also shows us some of the best films of the last 40 years that emerged from a master craftsman who celebrates “pure moviemaking”. Spielberg is a fine testament about one man whose love for the movies made the world a better place.

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  • On making Drew Barrymore cry.

    Rating: 8/10.

    “Spielberg” is an HBO-produced documentary by documentarian Susan Lacy. You’ll never guess who the subject is?!

    Steven Spielberg is a product of one of the most surprising revolutions in Hollywood in the late 70’s: one of a set of wunderkind directors alongside such luminaries as George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, John Milius, Brian De Palma and Martin Scorcese. These men (only men, it should be noted!) were ready to cock a snook at Hollywood’s traditional studio system to break rules (case in point, Star Wars’ lack of opening credits) and move cinema into the format that would last to this day.

    As this excellent documentary makes clear, Spielberg was one of the least rebellious of the movie-brats. Even though (astoundingly) he blagged himself a production office at Universal (after hiding during the Tram Tour toilet stop!), his path to the top was through hard graft on multiple Universal TV shows, after recognition of his talents by Universal exec Sidney Sheinberg who speaks in the film.

    Before we get to that stage of his life, we cover his childhood back-story as a reluctant Jew living in a non-Jewish neighbourhood, driven to fill his time with tormenting his sisters and movie-making with a Super 8 camera. Scenes of home videos, photos and his early attempts at special effects are all fascinating. The impact of his Bohemian mother Leah and workaholic father Arnold, and particularly the very surprising relationship breakdown that happened between them, go a long way to explain the constant return to ‘father issues’ in many of his films such as “E.T.”, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, “Hook” and “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”.

    The majority of the film though settles down into a roughly chronological review of the highlights of his movie career, with particular emphasis justly being placed on some of the key watershed moments in that career. Most of his films get at least a mention, but “Jaws”, “E.T.”, “Schindler’s List”, “The Color Purple”, “Jurassic Park”, “Munich” and “Empire of the Sun” get more focus. It is such a wonderful trip down my cinematic memory lane. I also forget just what cinematic majesty and craftsmanship is present in these films: I just hope that at some point this will get a Blu-Ray or DVD release so it can be properly appreciated (rather than viewing it on a tiny airplane screen which is how I watched this): the combination of film clips in here is breathtaking.

    As might be expected for a documentary about the great director, there is plenty of ‘behind the camera’ footage on show, some of which is fascinating. Spielberg could always get the very best performances out of the youngsters on set, from Cary Guffey (“Toys!!”) in “Close Encounters” to a heartbreaking scene where he reduces the young Drew Barrymore to howls of emotion in “E.T.”. A master at work.

    All of the movie scenes are accompanied by new interview footage from Spielberg himself, as well as warm platitudes from many of the luminaries he has worked with in the past. Directors involved include many of the the directors referenced above, as well as those modern directors influenced by him such as J.J. Abrams; his go-to cinematographers Vilmos Zsigmond and Janusz Kaminski; his ‘go-to’ composer John Williams; and stars including his go-to ‘everyman’ Richard Dreyfuss, Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford, Bob Balaban, Tom Hanks, Opray Winfrey, Leonardo DiCaprio, Christian Bale, Dustin Hoffman and James Brolin. Some of these comments are useful and insightful; some are just fairly meaningless sound bites that add nothing to the film. What all the comments are though is almost all uniformly positive.

    And that’s my only criticism of the film. Like me, Susan Lacy is clearly a big fan. It is probably quite hard to find anyone who isn’t…. but perhaps Ms Lacy should have tried a bit harder! There is only limited focus on his big comedy flop of 1979, “1941”, and no mention at all of his lowest WW grossing film “Always”. And there are only a few contributors – notably film critic Janet Maslin – who are willing to stick their head above the parapet and prod into Spielberg’s weaknesses; ostensibly his tendency to veer to the sentimental and away from harder issues: the omitted “Color Purple” ‘mirror scene’ being a case in point.

    This is a recommended watch for Spielberg fans. On the eve of the launch of his latest – “Ready Player One”, a film that I am personally dubious about from the trailer – it’s a great insight into the life and works of the great man. It could though have cut a slightly harder and more critical edge.

    (For the graphical review, please visit bob-the-movie-man.com or One Mann’s Movies on Facebook. Thanks.)

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