HBO’s “Spielberg,” directed and produced by Susan Lacy, is no ordinary documentary.
The film is as much a documentary about famed director Steven Spielberg’s life as it is about his filmmaking style — it is impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins.
The documentary’s narrative is even reminiscent of a Spielberg film: a young boy experiences familial trauma and divorce, only for his family to reconcile and become even stronger than it was before.
This film could be described as lazy, but not because it is dull or unimpressive. Simply put, it does not take much to turn a person like Spielberg into a complex and interesting character. Lacy merely had to paste a few fragments of his life together and interview Spielberg’s friends and colleagues. Under these conditions a documentary magically appeared, complete with Spielberg-level direction — in part because most of the film is made up of clips of Spielberg movies themselves.
Yet, “Spielberg” should not have been made any other way. Telling the story of a director like Spielberg is best done through his own work.
“Spielberg” is not just an homage to the filmmaker’s greatness. The documentary highlights both the triumphs and the failures of his films and the flaws in his technique. Spielberg notoriously went over budgets and past deadlines during the early stages of his career. In its conclusion, the documentary recognizes the people from Spielberg’s creative team who helped him overcome these mistakes and become the filmmaker he is today. Spielberg, like any other artist, is in no way superhuman.
This movie is surprisingly more emotional, and thus compelling, than the average documentary. Spielberg’s tenacity as he tried to break into the film industry is inspiring. The film includes images of the director from the 1970s and 1980s — the time of the Hollywood renaissance during which Spielberg explored who he would become as an artist — which create a profound sense of nostalgia.
Spielberg’s complex relationship with his father, highlighted through the father-son relationships found in his movies, is heartwarming as well. His life is definitely not boring, making the two-hour and 26-minute movie a completely engaging emotional rollercoaster.
Lacy is no stranger to documentaries. She previously served as the executive producer for the critically acclaimed PBS show “American Masters,” a series about artists and their influences throughout history. Her impressive 27 years as the producer of the program have allowed her to perfect her craft, and in 2013 she moved on to HBO for a multi-movie contract, the first of which is “Spielberg.”
Lacy is currently developing a documentary about Jane Fonda, and a film about Ralph Lauren is in the works as well. If “Spielberg” is any indication, HBO can look forward to more great documentaries in the future.
“Spielberg” has received lots of publicity due to the celebrity of its subject; it is difficult to make a documentary about one of Hollywood’s most beloved filmmakers without garnering the attention of critics and fans alike. With “Spielberg,” Lacy will be under far more intense scrutiny than she has been in the past, but the director should take heart in her stunningly constructed and deeply complex documentary.
Beyond the directorial artistry, “Spielberg” is simply a joy to watch. Viewers become invested in Spielberg not only for his successes as an artist, but also for his persona.
Spielberg says at the beginning of the documentary that it is most important to find the humanity of a movie beyond the narrative. It is equally important to find the humanity in the people behind the camera.
“Spielberg” is not merely a pedagogical picture in the extreme artistry that has defined Spielberg’s career and his legacy, but a portrait of an artist whose creations will last for generations to come.
Spielberg is available for viewing on HBO Go and HBO Now.