PERFORMING ARTS

Steven Spielberg: A Life in Films

Yale Univ. (Jewish Lives). Jan. 2017. 248p. photos. notes. index. ISBN 9780300186932. $25. FILM
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Film critic Haskell (Frankly, My Dear: "Gone with the Wind" Revisited) examines the life and career of Steven Spielberg through the lens of his films in this biography for Yale's "Jewish Lives" series. The initial chapters, exploring Spielberg's struggle for acceptance while growing up in largely non-Jewish suburbs in New Jersey and Arizona, provide insightful clues about the inspirations for his early films, with Haskell speculating on how Spielberg exorcised his own childhood fears by passing them on to audiences in movies such as Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. This book's narrow focus, however, as well as Haskell's understandable tendency to focus on the critical reception to the director's work, renders it more successful as film criticism than biography. Despite a frequent recourse to Freudian analysis to draw debatable conclusions about the meanings of some films, and a focus on masculinity that overlooks the appeal of much of Spielberg's work for female filmgoers, Haskell's discussion of the childlike wonder inherent to many of the director's films and her eloquent defense of some of his riskier, less successful movies is particularly valuable.
VERDICT Recommended for readers of film criticism or commentary.

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