The acclaimed director’s work examined through the prism of his Jewish faith.
When noted film critic Haskell (My Brother, My Sister: Story of a Transformation, 2013, etc.) was asked to write a book about Steven Spielberg (b. 1946) for the publisher’s Jewish Lives series, she was hesitant. She wasn’t Jewish, and she had never been an “ardent fan.” She had been hard on his early works, preferring European and art films, but many of his films she did love. To write this book would mean “confronting my own resistance,” but she wanted to do “justice” to his life and art and his Jewishness—“denied, then embraced.” Haskell begins this delightful book with a short biographical sketch of Spielberg’s youthful anxieties, nail-biting nervousness, experiences with anti-Semitic bullying, and a parental breakup that deeply affected him. Haskell admires how Spielberg, a poor student, fulfilled his passion for film with small jobs, finally securing a position at Universal, where his short film Amblin’ opened the door to success. He directed TV shows and made a TV movie, Duel, which the author calls a “mesmerizing little classic.” It demonstrated Spielberg’s “extraordinary technical mastery” and his knack for telling a great story and investing his audience in it. The Sugarland Express, his first theatrical work, an “epic on wheels,” first paired him with cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond and composer John Williams. Haskell then briefly analyzes 28 films—from Jaws to Bridge of Spies—with ease and aplomb, lightly touching on matters of Jewishness as they come up. With sharp observations and wise judgments, the author discusses her subject’s work with sprightly, accessible prose. 1941 was a “fiasco.” In Raiders of the Lost Arc, Spielberg’s “comic touch is unique, deft, reliable.” Catch Me If You Can is his “most personal” film, and The Terminal is a “visual tour de force.”
Compact, incisive, and witty—a great starting point for those interested in Spielberg’s life and art.