Steven Spielberg Essay - Critical Essays

Joseph McBride

Steven Spielberg

Novelist Michael Crichton called Steven Spielberg “arguably the most influential popular artist of the twentieth century. And arguably the least understood.” Joseph McBride presumes to understand Spielberg by discussing the film director’s career in the context of his childhood and adolescence, demonstrating that from the beginning Spielberg was focussed on the goal of becoming a filmmaker. After demonstrating his talent through a number of amateur films made while he was still in high school, Spielberg moved with his family from Phoenix, Arizona, to Los Angeles, and managed to make friends at Universal Studios, where his career took off, first as a television director, and, shortly thereafter, as a director of feature films.

Though McBride was not able to interview Spielberg nor any of Spielberg’s closest Hollywood associates, he managed to interview the director’s father, Arnold, and many of Spielberg’s relatives and friends. Much of the book concentrates on the director’s childhood, since McBride sees a gradual maturation reflected through the films directed, films that, like E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL (1982), he considers constitute an emotional autobiography as the director escapes from the “Peter Pan syndrome” and emerges into adulthood with such pictures as EMPIRE OF THE SUN (1987) and, finally, SCHINDLER’S LIST (1993).

However, most of the book concentrates on the earlier films. The strongest chapters detail the production history of JAWS (1975), CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977), and E.T., including those films that made Spielberg Hollywood’s hottest director. At the same time, McBride is careful to describe Spielberg’s early work for Universal Television, under the tutelage and supervision of Sidney J. Sheinberg, who both recognized and respected the young man’s talent. The book tends to gloss over the accomplishments of such daring departures as THE COLOR PURPLE (1985) and EMPIRE OF THE SUN, both adapted from literary sources, which are largely dismissed as works of secondary importance, but this biography is the best work yet published on Spielberg.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. XCIII, April 15, 1997, p. 1374.

Commentary. CIV, August, 1997, p. 68.

Empire. May, 1997, p. 145.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. July 13, 1997, p. 8.

The New York Times Book Review. CII, June 15, 1997, p. 24.

The Observer. April 13, 1997, p. 18.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLIV, April 28, 1997, p. 65.

Sight and Sound. VII, August, 1997, p. 30.

The Times Literary Supplement. July 18, 1997, p. 18.

The Washington Post Book World. XXVII, June 29, 1997, p. 3.