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on February 12, 2014
Steven Spielberg is a man that needs no introduction. Arguably the most successful (and versatile) director of all time, Spielberg has shockingly yet to have gotten a definitive biography or critical study that not only respects his work but also sees him as a restless, wide-ranging artist (Joseph McBride tried but came too short while Lester Friedman's excellent "Citizen Spielberg" is hardly available in retail stores). Richard Schickel's "Spielberg: A Retrospective" tries to right all wrongs: to provide a critical analysis on Spielberg's work, see his growth as a filmmaker, delve a little bit into his personal life and become the definitive Spielberg book to buy in public domain. In most cases, the book does its job but while "A Retrospective" is an entertaining read, to quote Oskar Schindler, it "could've done more".

If anything else, the book is worth purchasing for the photos. The photos are wonderful to look at, some that have never been available in public before, while others range from sentiment from genuinely funny to haunting to awe-inspiring. But while these photos are fabulous to view, the real strength in "A Retrospective" is Spielberg himself, who is shown to be an insightful, passionate filmmaker not afraid to admit his flaws and defend himself and the work he takes great pride in. Spielberg is not the kind of person to publicly respond to criticisms or needless bashing a la Tarantino, but here he reveals his justifications for the so-called critiques labeled at his work. For example, although he was chided for the cemetery sequences that book-ended "Saving Private Ryan", Spielberg defended these sequences by saying that he did them for the veteran soldiers, that he was honoring their fathers and grandfathers who served in the deadliest war in mankind history. Similarly, for "Schindler's List", Spielberg cites the widely panned moment of the film when the girl in the read coat walks down the Krakow ghetto as a symbol of the world's failure to intervene in the extermination of Holocaust Jews. He also reacts to the controversial ending to "A.I.", the infamous sci-fi tale that was originally brought up by Stanley Kubrick.

But while Spielberg can talk a good game, Schickel is a disappointment. Schickel is known to be a mixed bag: he can write good books like his biographies on Elia Kazan and D.W. Griffith and books that aren't worthy anybody's time ("The Disney Version", "Eastwood"). Here, he's surprisingly tame. Unlike the "Conversations With Scorsese", Schickel fails to engage Spielberg (and by large extension the readers) into getting to the heart of the films. Not only that, but Schickel has little to say about the movies and when he does, it feels by-the-books. For example, he dismissed "Always" simply as a "mild misfire", rather than the full-blown turkey that it was. In the case of "War of the Worlds", Schickel cites the burning train sequence as the pivotal image that makes the movie good (apparently, he never saw the ending). And the best Schickel could muster about the disappointing "Jurassic Park" sequel was that it lacked substance but is not to be dismissed. In fact, the only movies Schickel genuinely expresses his honest opinion and defend are, ironically, the movies widely regarded as Spielberg's weakest movies: "Empire of the Sun", "The Terminal" and "War Horse".

Most disappointingly, we rarely hear about the influences (or consequences, depending on who you ask) Spielberg's movies had on the cinematic landscape. We never get comments on how "Saving Private Ryan" became the standard for future war movies and that it annually airs on cable TV uncut on Memorial Day. Or how "Raiders of the Lost Ark" re-wrote the book on how the film action movies. The notorious incident during the shooting of the "Twilight Zone" movies is scarcely mentioned (in fact, Spielberg's "Kick the Can" episode is only discussed in a meager two sentences with no photos). There's little discussion on the political controversies surrounding "The Color Purple", "Amistad" or even "Schindler's List". The negative reaction towards the fourth Indiana Jones movie is barely sketched, not to mention on how that film spawned the godawful "South Park" episode where the creators constantly and endlessly remind viewers that Spielberg and Lucas had "raped" Indiana Jones (as if we viewers didn't get it the first two times). Most of all, we don't even hear how not only "Jaws" kick-started the blockbuster mentality, but that it spawned "The Jaws Log", which many filmmakers consider the Holy Bible of film-making. In the end, one gets the impression that Schickel is not only playing safe but that he's playing cozy with Spielberg, fearing that he may say something to offend him.

So Schickel's "A Retrospective" is far from a definitive book about Spielberg, but it's definitely worth purchasing for the photos and for Spielberg's quotes and comments. But if you want a critical study about Spielberg that is more honest, rich with fascinating detail and genuinely informative, you're better off just picking up "Citizen Spielberg" by Lester Friedman.

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on October 1, 2014
It a beautiful coffee table book but thats it! It lacks substance. The author just dabbles on Spielberg! No real behind the scenes depth to his writing. Its as if he is such good friends with Spielberg that he does not want to get personal and go inside the head of this extraordinary talented man... It leaves you with a bunch of well crafted pictures. After you finish the book you come away thinking Mr. Spielberg edited it himself...
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on May 25, 2015
good photos but the actual content is more fluff and not very informative or insightful as its written by a close friend and approved by the subject. Does not go into any detail about how the films where made or provide new insight into the stories behind them. Great if you just want to look at the pictures.
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on January 13, 2016
If you're looking for summaries of Spielberg's films, this is not the place: Wikipedia, or IMDB or Amazon reviews will give you more.

What this is is an overview by professional critic Richard Schickel. I don't always listen to critics because I often disagree, but I am still curious and, since they watch a lot of movies, they do have some background. I found it an interesting read that gave me a good deal to think about. He has talked to Spielberg quite a good deal and I found what he had to say informative and entertaining. And that's enough for me.
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on March 10, 2015
one of the most inspiring books to read. i keep dreaming big overtime i go through all the great works this legend has done. the pictures reveal his simplicity, creativity, and philosophies. this is a book you will never want to sell afterwards.
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on April 20, 2013
Great bargain for Spielberg fans!!! Breakdowns of individual films are excellent as is the photographic selection (particularly the on-set 'backstage' shots). First class all around!
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on November 11, 2012
An excellent read that is less bio and more a study or retrospective of one of cinema's greatest auteurs. Insightful and eloquently written. Was particularly fascinated with the author's thoughts on A.I. after revisiting it for this book. Nice to see that he now realizes it's a masterpiece that has yet to be discovered. Worth buying to anyone who is a Spielberg fan or a true cinema lover.
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on November 23, 2012
Anyone that loves the movies will enjoy the personal insight into the mind of this master film maker. Pure Genius
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VINE VOICEon March 26, 2013
I bought this book for a friend who is also a movie buff, and I had a hard time wrapping it up as I was enjoying paging through it myself! It would make a great book to have out on the coffee table, as it is a decent size for displaying, and that size also makes it easy to read and provides opportunity for large photos.

If you're at all interested in movies and Steven Spielberg in particular, this book is well worth buying.
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on January 17, 2013
I have many, many books on the films of various stars and directors and this new pictorial history of the films of Spielberg is a great addition to my collection. A masterful film maker, this book explores all of his films up to and including "Lincoln". Worthwhile having.
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