Spielberg (USA 2017)
HBO is running a documentary about the life of Steven Spielberg this month, appropriately called Spielberg. Much like Spielberg’s career, I lost interest in the documentary right around the time Saving Private Ryan enters the fold, and A.I. is really the only movie of his I’ve enjoyed since the 1980s, when his work was so very good.
I don’t necessarily dislike Spielberg, and I think it goes without saying but must be said that he’s the best popular director on the planet, apologies to James Cameron and Michael Bay. I was wowed by Saving Private Ryan when I saw it in the theater, largely thanks to its opening half hour. The film does not hold up for me on subsequent viewings, my primary issue being the pessimistic, fictional story in place of the thousands of true stories that could have accomplished the same themes.
Although the documentary contains a bit much on the boot-licking, it also goes as deep as one could expect regarding Spielberg as a filmmaker. Although the documentary unfortunately doesn’t focus on A.I. (I understand why it doesn’t, but Spielberg attempting to complete Kubrick’s vision deserved a look), it does give some interesting context regarding the four months at Krakow during the Schindler’s List shoot, and gives some interesting behind the scenes details I’d not heard before (Spielberg didn’t storyboard the film in pre-production, which I find almost impossible to believe).
The doc also focuses on Spielberg’s special gift for provoking hugely memorable performances out of children, especially in E.T. and Empire of the Sun.
Most documentaries about films and filmmakers are largely hagiographic, and this one is no different. What sets the docs Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse and Burden of Dreams is their absence of hagiography as they show the sausage being made and the near mutiny brilliant filmmakers brought to tortured productions. In Spielberg there is no criticism of the man, other than the occasional allusion to the faux-critiques of his work where real critics and critiques actually exist (I’ve gotten into two shouting matches and god-knows-how-many online fights regarding Saving Private Ryan as the most overrated war film ever made).
That said, his work deserves discussion and I think some day will merit a more fulfilling documentary than this daytime-talk-tier fluff.