It feels odd to even suggest that Steven Spielberg is under-appreciated. As the world’s most famous director, and after overseeing the likes of “Jaws”, “Raiders Of The Lost Ark”, “Jurassic Park”, “Saving Private Ryan”, and “Lincoln” his name is already forever etched into the cinematic landscape.
But a new HBO documentary on the filmmaker, simply entitled “Spielberg”, takes a deeper, more probing look at the cinematic icon. I recently spoke to its director Susan Lacy about her work, and she not only discussed his reputation, but called him an ‘idiot savant’ and waxed lyrical about his lifelong friendship with Martin Scorsese and George Lucas.
What struck you most about Steven Spielberg when making this documentary?
“I was really struck by, you know, everyone thinks of Steven as a popular filmmaker, which he is, and a populist, which is a very big part of him. But there’s a very deep artist in there, and people don’t always see it that way. He has taken real risks as a filmmaker, especially with the responsibility that goes along with being the most successful director in history. So to make a film like ‘Munich’, I think that took real courage. Also, he has an incredible visual sense, and he is a great storyteller. What I’m trying to say is, the biggest revelation to me was just how instinctual it all is to him. What an idiot savant he was from a child, almost born with this knowledge, and to see it and have it described to you over and over again is pretty amazing. He knows as much about film as anybody, especially when it comes to the craft. There isn’t a job that he couldn’t do himself. He worships film and filmmakers of the past, and he’s drawn on it.”
Is Steven Spielberg still underappreciated?
“He came out of the box of 23 with the most successful movie in history, which bought him final cut for the rest of his life. He didn’t just stick with the tried and true, which he knew was going to be successful. Like the franchise film, which he did not create by the way. He took a lot of risks along the way, and he grew, and he challenged himself as an artist, and he did. I think ‘Schindler’s List’ is the pinnacle. But then he continues. A film like ‘Lincoln’, which is interior and doesn’t include one special effect, doesn’t hardly show a single Civil War scene, that was a risk. Because people don’t expect that from Steven Spielberg. So he defied expectation over and over.”
One of the highlights of the film is watching a young Steven shooting home footage with Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, and Brian DePalma —
“They had a wonderful time. All that footage in that entire sequence was shot by Steven. It was great fun, there was a lot more of it, and I would have loved to have included it. He has been very protective of that. Honestly, I don’t think anybody, out of the two or three people that are very close to him, have ever seen it.”
They were all very different filmmakers.
“What inspired him, and the kind of filmmaker he aspired to be is very, very different from the other guys that he was hanging about with in the 1970s. They all wanted to be John Cassevetes. Steven wasn’t inspired by John Cassevetes, he was inspired by David Lean. It really set him apart from the other guys, that kind of grandness and scale.”
How has Steven Spielberg reacted to the documentary?
“It is weird for him. It’s hard to see a film about yourself. He loved the film. He’d never really examined his own body of work, and it was a revelation to him to see how much of who he is entered into his movies. Because so much of it isn’t conscious. As he says in the film, most of his films come from a place inside that he doesn’t understand himself. There’s a lot of magic and mystery in his work.”
“Spielberg” will air on 8pm EST on HBO on Saturday October 7.