HBO's New 'Spielberg' Film Will Look At His 'Bittersweet Childhood'

Jul 12, 2017

Cincinnati native Steven Spielberg "opens up about his bittersweet childhood" in a feature-length HBO documentary simply called "Spielberg" premiering Oct. 7 on HBO.

Spielberg, 70, was born in Cincinnati on Dec. 18, 1946, to Cincinnati natives Arnold Spielberg and Leah Posner Spielberg Adler. He lived here less than three years, but it made a lifelong impact on him. He learned his numbers from the digits tattooed on the Holocaust survivors taught English by his grandmother, Spielberg said in the 2007 Turner Classic Movies documentary, "Spielberg on Spielberg."

Spielberg will narrate the HBO documentary by director-producer Susan Lacy, the Emmy and Peabody Award winning creator of PBS' excellent “American Masters” series. She assembled "Spielberg" from 30 hours of exclusive interviews with Spielberg, HBO says, and interviews with actors, actresses, directors, producers, family members and industry insiders.

In 1993, Spielberg told Connie Chung on CBS News that his mother inspired him to make "Schindler's List," his Oscar-winning film about the Holocaust: "I was very ashamed when I was a child of being Jewish. And this film has kind of come along with me on this journey from shame to honor. My mother said to me one day, she said, 'I really want to be able to see a movie that you make someday that's sort of about us, and about, you know, who we are.' This is it. This is for her."

Arnold Spielberg, a Hughes High School graduate, returned home from World War II to study electrical engineering at the University of Cincinnati and co-op at the Crosley Corp. Leah, a Walnut Hills High School graduate, studied at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. She developed a love for music listening to Cincinnati Opera performances at the Cincinnati Zoo, she told me in 2007.

The Spielbergs married in 1945. They lived on Lexington Avenue in Avondale until Arnold graduated from UC in 1949 and moved the family to New Jersey. They divorced in 1966.  

In the 1990s, Spielberg talked about making a film set in Cincinnati about his mother and younger sister, Anne. The script by Anne (who wrote Tom Hanks' 1988 film "Big"), was eventually abandoned after at least four rewrites, I reported years ago for the Cincinnati Enquirer.

The HBO release says in part:

"Charting the evolution of this iconic figure, Lacy draws on nearly 30 hours of exclusive interviews with the director, who opens up about his bittersweet childhood and lifelong obsession with moviemaking, his precocious early work as a TV “wunderkind,” his rise to fame through an incredible string of blockbusters, his later forays into more serious dramatic films, and the personal and professional relationships he’s cultivated through the years.

" 'Spielberg' also includes insights from members of Spielberg’s family, as well as friends and colleagues, plus clips and behind-the-scenes footage from many of his milestone films, including “Jaws,” “Raiders of the Lost Arc,” “ET: The Extra-Terrestrial,” “Jurassic Park,” “Schindler’s List,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “Bridge of Spies” and many more.

"Lacy interviewed more than 80 subjects for the film, ranging from A-list celebrities, to directors and producers, to industry insiders, including J.J. Abrams, Christian Bale, Drew Barrymore, Cate Blanchett, Francis Ford Coppola, Daniel Craig, Daniel Day-Lewis, Brian de Palma, Laura Dern, Leonardo DiCaprio, Richard Dreyfuss, Ralph Fiennes, Harrison Ford, David Geffen, Tom Hanks, Dustin Hoffman, Holly Hunter, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Ben Kingsley, Kathleen Kennedy, George Lucas, Liam Neeson, Martin Scorsese, Oprah Winfrey and Robert Zemeckis.

"The result is a remarkably intimate portrait that combines Spielberg’s compelling first-person narrative with an in-depth exploration of the creative process and craftsmanship that have set him apart, highlighting themes such as separation, reconciliation, patriotism, humanity and wonder, which recur throughout his work."

"Spielberg" also will be available on HBO NOW, HBO GO and HBO On Demand in October.