The new HBO documentary “Spielberg” repeatedly makes the claim that Steven Spielberg is the most famous director of all time — and it’s not wrong. For more than 50 years, Spielberg has not only added to cultural zeitgeist throughout many eras, but created it. His films, love or hate them, have been hit after hit, and in many ways he carved a direction for a new generation of filmmakers.
The documentary weaves its way chronologically through Spielberg’s life. Beginning with his childhood, it details how he fell in love with film at a young age. From there, he embarked on the journey that became his career. Finding a mentor who believed in him and honing his craft through television, Spielberg caught the gaze of many Hollywood executives.
Though barely in his twenties, Spielberg was part of the group of young, creative directors that replaced the directors of yesteryear in the 1960s. The group members were friends and competitors at the same time, challenging one another to make the best films they possibly could. Spielberg’s circle was composed of legendary directors such as Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas. All of these directors and more — friends, family, critics and actors — speak highly of Spielberg in the film. John Williams, a frequent collaborator, compose the music for the documentary.
The documentary offers a behind-the-scenes view of films that shaped many childhoods and adult perceptions alike and presents a rare look into Spielberg’s brain and creative process. Many interviewees emphasize that Spielberg’s eye for his movies is intuitive and makes every film of his both personal and uniquely him.
“E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” “Jurassic Park,” “Hook,” “Indiana Jones,” “Saving Private Ryan.” Looking at a list of Spielberg’s movies, it is easy to be shocked to discover that, yes, he directed that one too. He is the most commercial director, because they were so mainstream, many of his early films were accused of using sap and happy endings as a crutch. However, he himself recognized that early reviews claiming his films were superficial were not wrong, and he believes he grew with his work. Certainly, it’s hard to argue that 1993 Academy Awards Best Picture “Schindler’s List” is immature and one-dimensional. Though by this logic his early works (“Jaws,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” etc.) perhaps were younger, they themselves were still ground-breaking in a number of ways.
Steven Spielberg, still producing and directing like mad, is a legendary filmmaker whose name will be remembered for his huge blockbusters, but also the spirit he injected into everything he did. Even this documentary bleeds with the same kind of heart that makes a Spielberg movie what it is, and who’s to say that just because something connects with a global, mainstream audience, it isn’t art?
“Spielberg” premieres Saturday, Oct. 7 on HBO.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Oct. 2 print edition. Email Jillian Harrington at [email protected]