Steven Spielberg stood outside the main theater on the Paramount Studios lot last week, waiting for the premiere of a documentary that had already put him through an emotional wringer.
"It was like pulling a bandage off very, very slowly," said the Oscar-winning entertainment mogul in recalling the first time he had viewed the film about a year ago. "I had to watch it in stages, in dollops. But when the bandage finally came all the way off, I realized it didn't hurt so bad."
What had initially unnerved Spielberg was the subject of the documentary: Steven Spielberg.
The film, simply titled "Spielberg" and premiering Oct. 7 on HBO, is the most extensive and insightful examination to date of the filmmaker, who is at once the most popular and successful in movie history, and one of the most private and elusive creators in Hollywood..
Said the 70-year-old Spielberg, "I knew in watching the film, I would have to face myself. I had a couple of nice cries. But I was very pleased. If I had to do it all over again, I would do it with Susan."
"Susan" is Susan Lacy, the creator of the groundbreaking "American Masters" series on PBS, which centered on revelatory profiles of several prominent artists and musicians, including Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell and the late Mike Nichols. Lacy left PBS four years ago after signing a multiyear deal with HBO to produce and direct documentaries. "Spielberg" is her first project for the pay-cable network.
The 2 1/2-hour film utilizes generous clips from blockbusters ("Jaws," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind", "E.T the Extra-Terrestrial"), more serious endeavors (the Oscar-winning "Schindler's List," "Saving Private Ryan"), films that stoked controversy ("The Color Purple") and even misfires ("1941").
The filmography traces the evolution of the artist who first fell in love with movies as a young boy and later blossomed into a master craftsman and storyteller whose phenomenal financial and commercial success changed the face of the film industry.
"Most people don't think of Steven as a personal filmmaker," Lacy said last week in an interview a few hours before the premiere at Paramount, where she would be joined by Spielberg and some of the A-listers who have appeared in his films, including Tom Hanks, Vin Diesel and Holly Hunter.
Lacy continued: "They think of him as a commercial filmmaker. They don't think of him the same way that they do a Marty Scorsese. I thought he was not as valued a director because he's so successful that it's kind of hard to look at him as an artist and as a personal filmmaker. So that's what I wanted to do -- I wanted to tell that story and tell it through his films."