Steven Spielberg

By Harmon, Gary L. | Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA), Summer 1999 | Go to article overview

Steven Spielberg


Harmon, Gary L., Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA)


Steven Spielberg. Joseph McBride. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997.

As Joseph McBride observes near the end of his critical biography of the world's most famous film director, "It takes a village to raise a book." His acknowledgments section takes four dense pages of explanation, worth reading by itself, about the labor and intensity of a four-year press to create this unauthorized biography of Steven Spielberg, a filmmaker, "as boy and man," for more than forty years. A sign of his maturity is that this is the fourteenth book about him and his work, not counting the five children's biographies or the four books including him with other writers of the "film school generation." But McBride's work exceeds the virtues of all the others.

McBride, already author of respected books on Orson Welles, John Ford, Howard Hawks, Kirk Douglas, and Frank Capra, began the Spielberg opus with excellent credentials and connections to Hollywood insiders. From over 325 sources, McBride has created an unparalleled account of fact and insight into Spielberg's memories, motives, methods, and shifting preoccupations in his films, with significant discussions of Spielberg's major films, from the early Duel (1971) through Schindler's List (1996). What makes explaining Spielberg difficult is his participation in so many film projects as producer and, one may say, godfather. Sorting those which are pure Spielberg from those which are works of his proteges and his company-and those which lack his spiritual involvement-clarifies the apparent contradictions of his personality and his work for those, meaning most, people who experienced his work.

Spielberg intimates, relatives, and friends, including Spielberg's father, Arnold, and his cousins as well as other formidably knowledgeable critics, Holocaust survivors, Spielberg collaborators, and childhood friends helped McBride lay a deep and broad resource for insight and information for this book. And while Spielberg and his office did not help McBride directly, he was declared "kosher." As a result, many friends and coworkers did not feel reluctant about talking with him. If we aren't getting the complete truth, we may be getting all the truth that's available-triumphs, neuroses, and all.

Even so, a few important sources declined to help; these include John Williams, Spielberg's ongoing composer partner, and actors Sam Neill, Liam Neeson, and Richard Dreyfuss, Spielberg's film alter ego, who did not respond to McBride's letters. Maybe they will be helpful when Spielberg produces his promised autobiography, but one must wonder, when could he find the time? Luckily, McBride was not deterred by Spielberg's declining to meet with him and his declaring to all who would listen that he would be writing a full account himself-a predictable expression of Spielberg's biographical management and total-control personality. …

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