Spielberg documentary gives personal look at legendary director

Steven Spielberg speaking at the 2017 San Diego Comic-Con International in San Diego, California. (Gage Skidmore/WikimediaCreative Commons)

Steven Spielberg has won three Academy Awards, grossed over $9 billion at the box office, established himself as a film icon and on Wednesday, he received a promotion. The director was moved from board member to CEO of his own production company, Amblin Partners, after a disappointing first half of 2017.

With two directorial efforts currently in post-production, and another in pre-production, this change would seem like a large burden for a normal person, but as Susan Lacy’s upcoming documentary “Spielberg” explains, Steven Spielberg is not a normal person. Premiering Oct. 7 on HBO, the documentary takes a holistic look at the life and career of the legendary director.

With “Spielberg,” Lacy is tasked with the impossible job of boiling down one of the largest and most storied careers in Hollywood history into a feature-length film. She accomplishes this by giving the personal circumstances that lead to Spielberg’s choices on screen, to give the viewer a deeper insight into the man behind the camera. An early example of this comes when Lacy equates the director’s estrangement with his father during the 1970s with the dissolution of the family in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

Spielberg further elaborates on the struggles between father and son that run throughout his filmography saying, “I’ve avoided therapy because movies are my therapy.” This comparison between the personal and public proves to be an extremely engaging way to tackle the director’s massive body of work and bring the audience closer to the legendary figure.

However, not all the films discussed in “Spielberg” were intended to give you a deeper look into the subject’s personal life. Some of the most interesting segments of the documentary focus purely on Spielberg’s skill and technique as a filmmaker. The collection of people interviewed here is astounding, including directors like Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, and the common refrain from those interviewed was intuition over intellectual. Spielberg was never described as a high-art filmmaker, but he was a natural.

His pacing and control of the camera are undeniably incredible (if you want to check out more analysis of the director’s camera work, here is a video essay from one of YouTube’s best film channels). Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule comes to mind when Spielberg describes the origins of his passion for filmmaking.

At the age of just 16, the Arizona native cites “Lawrence of Arabia” as the film that motivated him to devote his life to filmmaking and this dedication from such an early stage gave him experience beyond his years when he finally made it to Hollywood.

Spielberg is a fascinating subject not only for his skill, but also for his positioning in film history. The director found himself in the center of the two largest developments in American film over the last 40 years: the New Hollywood of the 1970s and the emergence of digital filmmaking in the 1990s. In the late 1960s, due to an increase in film schools and changing production codes, French New Wave sensibilities began to take hold in America. This manifested itself in a collection of directors, or auteurs, with increased control of their movies and Spielberg was one of these so called “Movie Brats.”

His group of filmmaking friends consisted of Coppola, George Lucas, Brian De Palma, Scorsese and many more who went on to dominate American filmmaking and culture in the 1970s and beyond.

With 1993’s “Jurassic Park,” Spielberg added to the growing phenomenon known as CGI. Along with efforts from James Cameron and Spielberg’s friend Lucas, the use of computer imaging and digital photography exploded in the 21st century. “Spielberg” capitalizes on its subject’s integral role in film history by getting insight from a large number of key players in each development.


Teddy Craven is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at edward.craven_jr@uconn.edu.