Thursday, June 24, 2010
Maestro: Steven Soderbergh
Known For: Politically charged dramas, mini-budget indies and the Oceans films.
Influences: William Friedkin, Sidney Lumet, take your pick from the 70's but also Bergman and (according to Soderbergh) Jean-Luc Godard most of all.
Masterpieces: So many of his films depend on personal reaction... but let's say Traffic.
Disasters:I'd say Full Frontal and Ocean's Twelve.
Better than you remember: And how you remember them is also so personal. Let's say Che.
Box Office: 183 mil for Ocean's Eleven... no shock there.
Favorite Actor:After scouring through Soderbergh's vast casts, I find the answer to be Clooney with 5 and Damon with 5.
Why do we admire Steven Soderbergh so? It's because he's decided to make the films he wants to make, the way he wants to make them and still achieve success and name recognition. As a director, he's daring, constantly pushing the possibilities of the medium. The results are often flawed, and occasionally downright bad, yet sometimes inspired and even game-changing. No one really seems to think of Soderbergh as a "comeback kid" because there's never any doubt if he'll come back eventually with a new hit (and what he's doing when he's "down," if you can call him that, is always interesting if imperfect.). Consider his output in the years after Sex, Lies and Videotape catapulted him to indie-movement-godfatherdom. There was Kafka, Schitzopolis, King of the Hill (no relation to the T.V. show of the same name), Gray's Anatomy (no relation to the T.V. show of the almost-same name). Then, suddenly he peeks his head above the water with Out of Sight, owns the cinematic landscape in 2000 with Traffic and Erin Brockovich, brings back cool with Ocean's Eleven and then it's back into the experimental. Few other directors can pull that off, if any.
Bubble isn't about a murder mystery as much as it is about the lives of Mideast factory workers. The Girlfriend Experience isn't about prostitution as much as it's about the state of the economy. Even Traffic and Erin Brockovich, which are more blatantly political, escape traps by focusing on character. The Informant, may be a zany comedy but it's a zany comedy about corporate corruption and bureaucracy. Speaking of which, who makes a zany comedy about corporate corruption and bureaucracy? It may not seem like it at first glance, but The Informant is one more in a line of bold and uncompromising experimental films from Soderbergh. Bubble and The Girlfriend Experience should stand as monuments to independent filmmakers as what's possible. Che may not have been perfect but the idea of a two-part epic where the films' inconsistencies are as important as their uniform elements is a gamble worth noticing. The Good German wasn't perfect, but it's hard to argue with the suggestion that throwback genre's should only utilize the technology and resources of the time they're recreating (I'm looking at you Grindhouse).
Oddly enough, it's not the problems with these Soderbergh films that stand out in his filmography. In his dedication to experimentation, they seem expected, almost necessary. These Soderbergh films may not have been entirely successful, but I'd never call them unsuccessful. In fact, it's primarily when he strays from his standards of modern relevance and technical audaciousness that he seems to miss the mark significantly. Consider Solaris, a film that was perhaps too conventionally filmed and philosophically detached from the social issues and politics that Soderbergh loves to have been much more than a blip in his otherwise interesting canon. And "interesting" may be the key word here. For Steven Soderbergh, success isn't measured in terms of "good" and "bad." It's measured in terms of "interesting" or "not." If something hasn't been done before, if it dares to question the standard interpretations of filmmaking, then it's worthwhile. Usually I dislike that idea, that concept is more important than product in the world of film. Yet Soderbergh is one of the few filmmakers (along with his idol Godard) for which it easily and happily applies.