Spielberg Documentary

Steven Spielberg is one of our greatest living filmmakers. While some may want to write the Jaws filmmaker off as nothing more than a purveyor of popular blockbusters, very few directors understand the language of cinema as well as Spielberg. While many filmmakers can’t block a shot to save their lie, Spielberg can convey an entire story wordlessly with his imagery. He’s one of the medium’s true masters.

Susan Lacy‘s new HBO documentary Spielberg takes a look at the successful filmmakers vast career, and we picked out 10 revealing facts from the Spielberg documentary that you should know. And then you should watch the doc for yourself, of course.

Susan Lacy’s Spielberg is a loving tribute to Steven Spielberg, one of the most popular filmmakers of all time. Lacy’s doc tracks nearly all of the Raiders of the Lost Ark filmmaker’s career, with Spielberg himself sitting down to talk about many of his films. If you’ve ever been blown away by the magic of Spielberg’s films, like E.T. or Jaws, you’ll no doubt get a thrill watching the doc, which is full of interesting trivia about the making of many of these flicks. From Spielberg’s youth making home movies that put your average kid’s home movies to shame, all the way through his more recent films like Bridge of Spies and The BFGSpielberg is a journey through the career of a supremely gifted director.

That said, Spielberg isn’t perfect. The documentary is primarily focused on Spielberg’s success, and doesn’t go into his failures very often, if at all. For instance, Spielberg’s notorious flop Hook, about an adult Peter Pan (played by Robin Williams) returning to Neverland, isn’t even mentioned at all (although it is glimpsed during a few montages). Neither is Always, one of Spielberg’s few forgettable films. Since Lacy had access to Spielberg, a filmmaker who is notorious for not granting interviews about his work, perhaps the documentarian didn’t want to push too hard into the director’s missteps.

Nonetheless, Spielberg is a highly entertaining, and very insightful look into what makes Spielberg’s work so special. If you’ve ever doubted Spielberg’s directorial abilities, watching this documentary will change that.

lawrence of arabia

Lawrence of Arabia Made Spielberg Realize the Power of Movies

At the start of the documentary, Spielberg talks about seeing David Lean’s grand, sweeping historical epic Lawrence of Arabia when he was in high school, and goes on to describe the event the way some people might discuss a religious experience. The film so impressed and stunned him that he had to go back and see it again and again. “I wasn’t able to digest it in one sitting. I actually walked out of the theatre stunned and speechless,” the filmmaker has said in the past. “It pulverized me…it was a miracle that picture.” Seeing Lawrence made Spielberg realize the power of films, and from there he was hooked. So hooked that he went back and saw Lawrence multiple times. It has remained one of his all-time favorite films ever since. 

Torn Curtain

Spielberg Snuck Onto an Alfred Hitchcock Set to Watch Him Work

When Spielberg was about 20, he apparently snuck onto the set of Alfred Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain to watch the acclaimed filmmaker work. Universal Studios librarian Chuck Silvers had presented Spielberg with a three-day pass to the Universal Studios backlot after being impressed with some of the young Spielberg’s homemade movies. But even after the pass expired, Spielberg kept showing up, trying to make connections and learn as much about filmmaking as possible. That learning process included sneaking onto Hitchcock’s set to watch Hitch film the spy thriller Torn Curtain, starring Paul Newman and Julie Andrews. He was apparently only on the set for about 10 minutes, though, before someone came and threw him off.


George Lucas Thought Spielberg Was “Too Hollywood” Until He Saw Duel

Steven Spielberg’s friend George Lucas thought Spielberg was “too polished” and “too Hollywood” after seeing Spielberg’s student film Amblin’. Lucas was part of the  “Movie Brats” – the young, film-school taught directors who slowly took over Hollywood from the studio system and reshaped it in their image. Filmmakers like Francis Ford Coppola, Brian De Palma and Martin Scorsese. While these filmmakers wanted to create rough, raw, unpolished films, Spielberg’s work was clearly more controlled; more clean-cut. This caused Lucas to almost write the young filmmaker off. Then Lucas saw Duel, Spielberg’s 1971 made-for-TV movie about a man in a car being chased by one pissed-off trucker. Lucas says he was at a party at Francis Ford Coppola’s house, but snuck upstairs to watch Duel on TV, and was totally blown away by the film, thus changing his opinion on Spielberg’s talents forever.

pauline kael

Spielberg Agreed With Pauline Kael’s Criticisms of His First Feature Film

Legendary film critic Pauline Kael praised Spielberg’s directorial debut, The Sugarland Express, a road movie starring Goldie Hawn, but she also had some criticisms for Spielberg himself. In her New Yorker review, she Kael wrote: “If there is such a thing as a movie sense — and I think there is, Spielberg really has it. But he may be so full of it that he doesn’t have much else. There’s no sign of the emergence of a new film artist…in The Sugarland Express.” While many filmmakers don’t take kindly to some film criticism (witness the recent emergence of the confusing “We made this movie for the fans, not the critics!” defense), Spielberg actually agrees. “She was right!” he enthusiastically says in the documentary. “I hadn’t grown up yet.”

spielberg scorsese

Martin Scorsese Took Spielberg For a Drive When Jaws Was Released

In one of the doc’s most delightful moments, Spielberg and Martin Scorsese both recount how when Jaws first swam into theaters, Scorsese suggested they take a little drive. The rumor around Hollywood was that Jaws might sink rather than swim. “The word around town was that Jaws was a folly, and that it was going to be a disaster,” Scorsese says. But Spielberg and Scorsese hopped in a car and drove from theater to theater in Los Angeles and saw massive, blockbusting lines that stretched for miles, all waiting to see Jaws. It was proof that Jaws was going to be a monster-sized hit, and that Spielberg was about to become a huge director.

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