Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Soderbergh Ready to Move to Florida; Start Complaining About Weather Incessantly
He burst onto the American film scene with his first feature film sex, lies and videotape. It caused a sensation when it was shown at the Sundance Film Festival, and pretty much put that fest on the map. It also sparked a massive interest independant film. Its success paved the way for Clerks, Reservoir Dogs, Metropolitan and other indie films that revolutionized American movies throughout the next decade.
Out of Sight was well-recieved by critics, and it began to grow on audiences on video as well. His next film, The Limey was even more well-recieved, and it was clear that Soderbergh had found his groove working in the system. He was great at making mainstream films feel fresh and innovative. It seemed like he was ready to go to the next level, and craft a film that could be both a big hit and an artistic success.
In 2000, he directed two films. Erin Brokovich was pure Hollywood; a well-told story of an underdog beating corporate fatcats on behalf of sick kids and their poor parents. Traffic was an examination of the drug trade, from its manufacture in Mexico to its consumption by American youth, and was based on a British miniseries. Both were two of the best reviewed films of the year. Julia Roberts won an oscar for playing Brokovich, and Benicio Del Toro won an Oscar for his role in Traffic. More importantly, Soderbergh won Best Director. Now, he truly had a freedom that few directors achieve.
He had set up a production company with Clooney, and began producing a number of significant films; Insomnia, Confessions of A Dangerous Mind, Far From Heaven, Keane, Syriana, Good Night and Good Luck, A Scanner Darkly, and Michael Clayton.
But, he seemed to view all this success as what he needed to achieve in order to do the bizarre, small, challenging work he truly loved. He followed up his Oscar year with Full Frontal, an experiment in no-frills filmmaking that flopped. Solaris was a big budget sci-fi film, but was more concerned with inner life than outer space. It didn't set any box office records, and wasn't tremendously well-recieved, but has since been rexamined, and is now far more well-regarded.
From here, Soderbergh evidently felt he had nothing left to prove, and so he seemed content to make films about subjects that interested him, in the way he wanted, without any compromise. He made a two-part film, in Spanish, about Che Guevara. It was heralded as a masterpiece by some, called flawed by others. But it was certainly an achievement. He followed up that opulent project with The Girlfriend Experience, a film about a prostitute starring Sasha Grey, a former porn star.
When you reach the point where you're, like, 'if I have to get into a van to do anther scout I'm just going to shoot myself,' it's time to let somebody else who's still excited about getting in the van, get in the van...And so it's just time. For the last three years, I've been turning down everything that comes my way, so you're not going to have Steven Soderbergh to kick around anymore.
Soderbergh must be exhausted. There's a reason why so many film makers get accused of seeling out, of making inpersonal commercial films instead of complex passion projects. And that reason is that it's really, really hard to do. Directing any film is a massive undertaking, I don't care if it's Breathless or Max Payne. This is why alot of film directors turn out formulaic stuff in their later years. It's simply too hard to keep going at that level day in, day out. And most of the time, something you slaved over will get dismissed out of hand, or altered, or reviled.
So, I can appreciate why he's leaving. And I can admire his integrity in saying, "I'm not going to just cash a cheque." But I'll miss both Steven Soderberghs. The Commercial Soderbergh brough a deeper sense of complexity and style to standard Hollywood fare. The Outsider Soderbergh wasn't afriad to try anything or take on any subject. I hope whoever comes next from the indie world has even a little bit of his talent.