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NYFF: "Spielberg" the Documentary

by Jason Adams

Before there was Hitchcock, before there was Michael Haneke and Todd Solondz and the Davids Cronenberg and Lynch, before Almodovar and Assayas and Campion herself, there was Steven Spielberg. A Jewish kid from the suburbs of Arizona who threw a malfunctioning shark robot into the Pacific Ocean and changed the movie business, he was My Guy. I saw Jurassic Park twelve times in the theater in the Summer of 1993 - I read my first Pauline Kael review for him. Steven Spielberg changed the movie business and his movie business changed my life.

Spielberg the documentary, on the other hand, isn't changing any business any time soon...

A talking head hagiography that not only believes the hype but ladles it on so thick your eyes might scorch, it struck even this true believer as a bit much at times. (And why so mean to The Color Purple???) But every legend gets their in-depth doc these days, and Spielberg's clearly one of those (a legend, that is) so here's that. Spielberg the doc is brand management passing as movie-making - an elbow shine up of a man whose last couple of projects haven't quite taken off like he's used to.

Still every person you can imagine comes out to help shine him up - I imagine it's bad business not to, no matter how bad The BFG did. But Stevie - excuse me, Mr. Spielberg , sir - for all his King of Hollywood bonafides really does sparkle with genuine movie love, and when the doc gets him personally talking about what movies mean to him the doc sparkles too. (His love for Lawrence of Arabia is lovely.) There are some fun interludes scattered around but I kept wishing for something more focused like the De Palma doc last year - instead of a parade of famous folks kissing their bosses butt let's just listen to the boss-man! He's why we're here anyway.

Spielberg screens again tonight at the NYFF, and will debut on HBO this Saturday, October 7th at 8:00pm.

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Reader Comments (13)

Is this guy a master of filmmaking? YES
Can I stand him? NO

October 6, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJesus Alonso

Really? Are we talking about this before Woody Allen's Wonder Wheel trailer? No Winslet love? Come on, please!

October 6, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMario

There was Spielberg before Hitchcock?

October 6, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRoger


October 6, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRoger

Who in the doc attacks The Color Purple?

And why so mean to The Color Purple?

October 6, 2017 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

Roger — I was saying I personally knew who Spielberg was before I knew who Hitchcock was

October 6, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJason

Spielberg Before Hitchcock would be a hilarious name for a documentary. (Imagine the headlines!)

October 6, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

Good gawd, this sounds like such a bore.

October 7, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

Interested in seeing what he thinks of recent failures,he is normally quite candid and he's simply legendary.

ET still makes me well up 35 years after release.
Jaws opening scene is still the scariest opening to any movie ever for me.

October 7, 2017 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

"an elbow shine up of a man whose last couple of projects haven't quite taken off like he's used to."

Last couple of projects? Understand how The BFG qualifies for that sort of scrutiny but Bridge of Spies was a fairly commercially successful--especially considering the subject matter, running time, etc.--entry in Spielberg's filmography and was lauded far and wide by critics, receiving six Oscar nominations including Best Picture and won one for Best Supporting Actor.

October 7, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAlexander

They were certainly dismissive of The Color Purple which in white spaces these days is a safe response to the movie. Spielberg's golden era style approach to the movie was fine. He wasn't filming the book. He took the necessary components and made a heart felt melodrama. The legacy of the source material endures because Walker's novel and Spielberg's movie speaks to multiple demographics.

October 8, 2017 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

@3rtful - While I think overall the movie works, its problems are definitely due to Spielberg. He repeatedly imbues or ends dramatic scenes with cheap visual or verbal gags and adds jaunty, almost sitcom-y music to situations that are much darker than he's willing to acknowledge. The actors are almost uniformly good but considering how big and broad he pushes the material, any cartoonish mistakes (Winfrey's galumphing entrance down the dirt road, Caesar constantly licking his lips before almost drinking Celie's spit water, etc.) can be chalked up to the direction. Again, overall the movie works and is very moving, but when you break it down scene by scene you see a lot of problems.

October 9, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

If you have a problem with the score blame producer Quincy Jones. Sincerely curious what John Williams would have brought to the table?

October 9, 2017 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

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