Waiting for Oskar; Steven Spielberg: The Unauthorised Biography by John Baxter (Harper Collins, [Pounds Sterling]18.00)

Article excerpt

Byline: Quentin Falk

AS DIRECTOR of five of the ten most successful box-office films of all time, and now co-owner of Hollywood's newest and potentially most powerful movie studio, Dreamworks, Steven Spielberg is, in his 50th year, perhaps the ultimate `player'.

Yet the fame and unimaginable fortune that constantly attend the film-maker of blockbusters like Jurassic Park, E.T., Jaws and the Indiana Jones trilogy, certainly don't seem to have helped him win many friends beyond his close coterie and, of course, those anonymous millions who have gleefully flocked to his movies for more than 20 years.

Until he deservedly, though very belatedly, scooped the Oscars with Schindler's List in 1994, Spielberg's sole Academy prize had been almost a decade earlier when, aged just 37, he won The Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award for `outstanding motion picture production'.

This honorary trophy is normally reserved for producers, directors and entrepreneurs in the twilight of their years. Spielberg may have detected some irony in the fact that the man after whom the award is named was, rather like him, a visionary but of an altogether earlier era who died in his mid-30s while still at the height of his powers.

Up to Schindler's List, Spielberg jointly held the unenviable record for earning the most Oscar nominations without scooping a single statuette, for his careful adaptation of The Color Purple.

Until the Academy did the right thing, the suspicion lurked that Spielberg was the victim of his own avowed populism and that he was, his peers perhaps reasoned, simply too successful for his own good. And he certainly gets no respite from the author of this readable, though note this well, unauthorised biography.

Close Encounters of The Third Kind in 1978 `marked,' suggests Baxter, `the beginning of his decline as an artist'. Today, he comments rather callously, Spielberg has nothing left to prove, and should perhaps opt for `honourable retirement and acceptance of his role as icon of the mass market'. As if this terse write-off wasn't enough, Spielberg is also bracketed with those fictional failures-in-success, Jay Gatsby and Charles Foster Kane. …