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STEVEN SPIELBERG by John Baxter

STEVEN SPIELBERG

By John Baxter

Pub Date: March 30th, 1997
ISBN: 0-00-255587-5
Publisher: HarperCollins

 A slight biography of Spielberg, perhaps the most successful filmmaker of all time. Attempting a biography of an artist at mid-career is always a daunting task, but the remarkable success of director Spielberg (Jaws, Jurassic Park, Schindler's List, etc.) makes such a book inevitable. Unfortunately, Spielberg would not be interviewed for the book. Thus Baxter (Fellini, 1994, etc.) is left with already- published reports and new interviews with co-workers. So while he describes the making of each film and probes the differences between the childlike visionary perceived by the public and the driven, often prickly director and businessman who operates behind the scenes, Baxter never finds the key to the unique personality and talent of this quixotic artist, nor does he get beyond the now- familiar story of Spielberg's evolution from film-obsessed child to filmmaker-phenomenon. Baxter also comes to his subject with the thesis, hardly original, that the superficial plot lines and comic- book mise-en-scänes of Spielberg's films have led to the decline of the narrative film as an art form. But because Baxter never seems to grasp the nature of Spielberg's dazzling style (which at its peak, in thrillers like Jaws and Jurassic Park, involved rigorously planned camera angles and deftly timed editing), he fails to adequately define how that style might have been misused (in more character-driven films such as The Color Purple). In addition, Baxter's credentials as biographer and critic are undermined by mistakes any freshman film student could have corrected (Frank Capra's remake of Lady for a Day is Pocketful of Miracles, not A Hole in the Head, Franáois Truffaut's The Green Room is far from his ``last'' film, Broadcast News was directed by James L. Brooks, not Albert Brooks, etc.). Despite some entertaining behind-the-scenes gossip, Baxter's biography is ultimately as superficial as he accuses Spielberg's films of being. (24 pages b&w photos)