As one would expect, friends and film critics talk about the uniqueness of Steven Spielberg in the documentary. There were six film critics seen on-camera in it -- Janet Maslin, David Edelstein, A.O. Scott, J. Hoberman, Gene Shalit, Todd McCarthy -- and a film historian. All white folks. Not that a white journalist can't review a film about African American life or one that stars African American actors. However, just like I noticed on New York City TV back in 1985 when it came out, there wasn't one black film critic in the HBO doc talking about THE COLOR PURPLE. From 1985 to 2017.
The documentary runs 2 and half hours. For me, it flew by because -- as I mentioned -- I'm a big Spielberg fan and he rarely does interviews on TV. As they probably did for him, classic films helped sooth my heart when I was in middle school and our parents divorced. I was a good kid, a lonely bookworm who didn't know how to express his loneliness. I didn't see my father about 20 years. Characters in classic and new movies voiced what I had no language for. Spielberg's youth were underscored with loneliness that a love for classic films healed. I was politely jealous of Spielberg in my youth. I wish I had his access to opportunities. A guy like young Spielberg could sneak onto a Hollywood studio lot and talk his way into a job. The same with young actor Steve Guttenberg who, the story goes, claimed he knew someone on a Hollywood lot and that moxie led to auditions. The late Garry Shandling got a gig as a writer for the SANFORD AND SON sitcom. Like Spielberg, I was on the cusp of my teen years when I knew that film was my passion. I wanted to be on camera in films or on camera talking about them and talking to the folks who made them. But, unlike Spielberg, a black or Mexican-American guy from South Central L.A. could not sneak off a Universal tour bus, hide and later talk his way into a job at the studio. A young black guy in South Central L.A. could not go over to NBC Burbank and get a gig writing for SANFORD AND SON, even though the sitcom was placed in South Central L.A. and focused on black life. Garry Shandling would have better luck getting that gig.
We young males of color who were just as passionate about film as Steven Spielberg had already learned that, for us, the playing field was not level.
Some critics still carp that Spielberg gives us mostly popcorn movies, mass market entertainment. But it's that kind of entertainment I always sought when I had a heavy heart. I didn't rent Ingmar Bergman's CRIES AND WHISPERS.
At the loopy happy ending of SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS, the rich producer is on his way back to Hollywood with a new outlook about his work. What he says is what some of those pretentious critics should realize when they disrespect Spielberg's body of entertainment:
"There's a lot to be said for making people laugh. Did you know that that's all some people have? It isn't much, but it's better than nothing in this cockeyed caravan."
I have years of movie critic work on TV and in print to my credits. If I was one of the critics in the SPIELBERG doc, I would've mentioned that reference from SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS in regards to why Spielberg matters. Look for repeats of the documentary on HBO.