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‘Spielberg’ review: HBO takes a looks at the legendary director’s career

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The HBO documentary, "Spielberg," profiles the legendary director. (Credit: HBO)

DOCUMENTARY “Spielberg”

WHEN | WHERE Saturday, 8-10:30 p.m. on HBO

WHAT IT’S ABOUT Director Steven Spielberg laughs when he says, “I’ve avoided therapy, because movies are my therapy.”

But at 70, Spielberg is self-aware enough not to be joking. And if he weren’t, documentarian Susan Lacy has crafted this personal outline equaling a lifetime in analysis.

Her portrait “Spielberg” comes nearly 50 years into a Hollywood career that has swung from Spielberg’s early TV movie “Duel” and theatrical thriller “Jaws,” to the intimate emotion of “E.T.” and “The Color Purple,” to the visceral history of “Schindler’s List,” “Saving Private Ryan” and “Lincoln.” Lacy covers it all in semi-chronological rhythm, intercutting wide-ranging interviews and copious film clips, with a robust backbeat of Spielberg family history — parents’ divorce, Jewish “outsider” feelings, teen home-moviemaking through which “insecure” young Steve learned to “exorcise his own demons.”

Lacy (30-year producer of PBS’ “American Masters”) charts the trajectory of Spielberg’s human odyssey and cinema mastery with insights from dozens of witnesses. His three sisters are here, along with his mother (who died in February) and father (100 years old); plus film friends, including Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, Steven Bochco, Drew Barrymore, Tom Hanks, Liam Neeson and Daniel Day-Lewis. As critics discuss Spielberg’s impact, his cultural image is covered in clips ranging from a ’70s talk show to a ’90s “Pinky and the Brain” cartoon sendup.

MY SAY Lacy has mined everything, it seems, except perhaps too little naysaying. She only touches on Spielberg’s long-debated penchant for sentiment, as well as early critical champion Pauline Kael’s later reassessment, which Spielberg gets to address.

His being here to do that makes “Spielberg” a valuable early draft of film history, following the path pioneered by PBS’ 1970s profile series “The Men Who Made the Movies.” That classic gave voice and credit to early film auteurs (John Ford, Frank Capra) who Spielberg has said influenced him. But those profiles did less psychoanalyzing.

Times change. Lacy effectively makes the case that Spielberg has, too, by pushing films into visualize-anything digital effects (“Jurassic Park”), while pushing us to consider the all-sides cost of terrorism (“Munich”) and “the rule of law” (“Bridge of Spies”).

BOTTOM LINE Has Spielberg grown into what one critic calls “the Hollywood equivalent of a public intellectual”? Lacy lays down evidence, for us to ponder.

SPIELBERG THROUGH THE YEARS on TV this week:

Duel, 1971 (Saturday, 8 p.m., MeTV)

Jaws, 1975 (Wednesday, 1:30 p.m., Showtime)

The Color Purple, 1985 (Sunday, 11 a.m., Centric)

Jurassic Park, 1993 (Saturday, 2:30 p.m., CMT)

War of the Worlds, 2005 (Monday, 2 p.m., TNT)

Lincoln, 2012 (Sunday, 11 a.m., Friday, 6:30 p.m., Showtime)

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