It is no surprise that McBride by now is the consultant critic on a host of DVDs and repeatedly recognized, especially in Europe, as a top-notch biographer. It is no surprise either that he is my favorite; I wouldn't pretend to have a final insight into a director without having read his "last word" on that person. Somehow he sees his directors in the round, covering everything from their visuals to their politics, and he sees them in psychological depth. His portrait of Spielberg is no exception. He shows movingly how Spielberg used filmmaking to compensate for his feelings of exclusion and the abuse he suffered as a Jewish kid who spent much of his youth in largely gentile neighborhoods. Spielberg needed friendship and popularity, and making films was his way of getting them. It is no insult to say that Spielberg became a great popular artist--who, however, also went beyond this: McBride captures the gist, especially in this second edition, by comparing him with Charles Dickens. Chesterton wrote that Dickens felt as one with the common people and in his work poured out his feelings for them without condescension.
Today there is no doubt about Dickens but some still cast doubt upon Spielberg's artistic status. McBride charts Spielberg's progress from that of a director characterized by critics as little more than a polished entertainer to a filmmaker of stature: Spielberg's work has grappled with subjects from the Holocaust to slavery, civil liberties, and terrorism, and handled the themes with seriousness and maturity. Like Dickens, Spielberg is an artist with a burning passion for social justice. And McBride, interestingly enough, makes a case that Spielberg was always a serious artist, from such early professional works as "Amblin'," "Duel," and "The Sugarland Express" onward, and that he remains one of our most sophisticated, versatile, and gifted directors.
The new material McBride adds to his original 1997 biography includes four chapters dealing with Spielberg's unusual dual career track in recent years as both a director and a mogul. Whatever one thinks of Spielberg's career as a producer and DreamWorks executive, McBride surprisingly argues, with some persuasiveness, that Spielberg's own work as a filmmaker has not as a result suffered, but rather the opposite. After all, Spielberg--who, by his own report, thrives on multitasking--has made some of his most challenging and artistically significant films since 1997, including "Amistad," "A.I. Artificial Intelligence," "Minority Report," and "Munich."
Again, I cannot recommend too highly McBride as a biographer and critic who is at the same time minutely diligent and panoramically imaginative, catching and able to catch all sides, including the ambiguous ones, of his beloved subject. This is the kind of biography you will want to read and it updates the Spielberg material to the present moment. McBride will give you good reason to consider that a director who is a highly successful popularizer may well at the same time be a cultural treasure.