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Spielberg (2017)

October. 05,2017
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A retrospective on the career of director Steven Spielberg.


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Spielberg (2017) *** 1/2 (out of 4)This documentary clocks in at just under two and a half hours and has Steven Spielberg talking about his time in Hollywood as well as some personal stories about his family and how this shaped the movies that he would make. Not only do we get interviews with Spielberg himself but we also hear from his parents, his sisters as well as co-workers and friends including Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, Richard Dreyfuss, John Williams, Janet Maslin, Sid Sheinberg and various others.For the most part I thought this was a very good documentary that was put together very well. The film does a very good job at going over Spielberg's career as well as the personal stories that helped shape them. This includes stories about his parents divorce, the fifteen-years he and his father struggled to have a relationship as well as him becoming a father. All of these stories are told in such a good way that it helps when we then get to the movies because it brings some good insight.The film discussion is certainly the highlight of the series as the director gets to reflect on his career, the films he's proud of and a few moments where he wasn't as happy. Of course, a lot of the lesser films are pretty much overlooked 1941 gets a quick twenty-second comment whereas HOOK, THE LOST WORLD and ALWAYS aren't even mentioned. We do get some terrific stories about JAWS, DUEL and what it was like for a twenty-year-old to try and direct someone like Joan Crawford.Fans of the director are certainly going to enjoy this documentary and especially since he shares some good stories about their production as well as things that were going on behind-the-scenes.


(RATING: ☆☆☆☆ out of 5) GRADE: B THIS FILM IS RECOMMENDED.IN BRIEF: An well crafted but bias love-fest about this great director.SYNOPSIS: A document that celebrates the films of Mr. Spielberg. 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 (and 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.Using 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), 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 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 gives 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. 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 portrait 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 movie-making". Spielberg is a fine testament about one man whose love for the movies made the world a better place.


If you Love Steven's work you will love this documentary. I am a fan and really appreciate the opportunity of getting to know the man and his motivation for doing the brilliant films he has made so far. I didn't love all his movies, actually through this documentary I realize I haven't seen some of his earlier films. But if I have to mention by heart movies that have deeply touched me, either for a really fun time, horror or drama, Spielberg will be at the top of my list. Here you get to see the man behind the legend. and I personally got to like him as a person even more.


While I understand why the filmmaker might feel the need to address criticism leveled at Spielberg and his work (too populist, overly sentimental, etc), she takes a far too direct approach by voicing through interviews precisely why the viewer should dismiss those and see Spielberg through the same lens she does. The recent documentary DePalma, made about one of Spielberg's fellow "movie brats," did a brilliant job of asking that filmmaker, Brian DePalma, to open up about the work, major themes and controversies, and left the viewer to draw conclusions for themselves. Watching this last night, I found myself wishing the documentary itself hadn't decided itself to become so sentimental, only explaining the merits of Spielberg's oeuvre.Don't get me wrong, Spielberg certainly is one of the most (if not THE most) influential players in the film industry and the film does a great job of showing how he became so successful, but the most interesting segments involve discussion of the craft behind iconic films. For Jaws, the discussion of how a low budget helped to build suspense is as rewarding as the anecdotes about Spielberg's process with actors on the set of Schindler's List. With a running time of 2.5 hours, not every film gets equal treatment, but revealing details of his process abound for the cinema buff. All in all, worth a look, but don't be afraid to make up your own mind.