8th February: Side Effects released (US)
15th March: Side Effects released (UK)
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LET THEM ALL TALK
Photos | Official website
Photos | Official website
NEW & UPCOMING DVDS
Now available from Amazon.com:
Now available from Amazon.co.uk:
DVDs that include an audio commentary track from Steven:
Clean, Shaven - Criterion Collection
The Graduate (40th Anniversary Collector's Edition)
The Third Man - Criterion Collection
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
The director who won't stand still
Steven Soderbergh questions moviemaking styles in Full Frontal and gets ready to
By JOHN CLARK
(NY Daily News, July 21, 2002)
Director Steven Soderbergh is
saying goodbye to all that. "That" is Los Angeles, his home for the last
five years, which he has relinquished in favor of New York and which is
the subject of his new film, "Full Frontal."
"It's my limited impression of it, a snapshot," Soderbergh says, seated in
his vast loft production office in SoHo. "I guess if I spend four or five
years in some place, that should be made use of somehow. Not to document
it and just walk away seemed kind of pointless."
Soderbergh, who picked up a Best Director Oscar last year for his
sprawling, dazzling drug saga, "Traffic," did more than just
document his impressions of L.A. He plays with the movie medium itself, to
breathtaking, bewildering, even irritating effect.
"It's an odd film," he says of "Full Frontal." "I don't know what
will happen to it. I don't really care. You're either going to dig this
and have fun, or you're going to hate it."
To dig "Full Frontal," which opens Aug. 2, the viewer has to come
to grips with its different layers. It starts with what soon turns out to
be a film — a slick Hollywood romance called "Rendezvous"— within
the film. This centers on two glossy characters: handsome, insecure TV
actor Nicholas (played by an actor named Calvin) and the lovely, guarded
magazine writer who is profiling him, Catherine (played by an actress
called Francesca). Nicholas/Calvin is played by Blair Underwood,
Catherine/Francesca by Julia Roberts.
Between snippets of this ersatz romance, "Full Frontal" documents
the messy lives of the people associated — sometimes remotely — with the
making of it: Carl (David Hyde Pierce), a milquetoast magazine writer who
co-wrote "Rendezvous"; his hostile wife, Lee (Catherine Keener), a
human- resources manager who abuses her company's employees by making them
perform like circus animals; Lee's sad-sack sister, Linda (Mary
McCormack), a masseuse who has a blind date at a Holiday Inn in Tucson; an
unnamed actor (Nicky Katt) who's playing Hitler in a community theater and
talks endlessly about his "process," and Gus (David Duchovny), the elusive
producer of "Rendezvous," whose 40th-birthday party is the focal
point of the film. Hovering on the periphery are Calvin, who's looking for
sex, and Francesca, who's looking for love.
If this sounds confusing, it is, but Soderbergh has helped clarify matters
by shooting the different strands in contrasting styles. "Rendezvous"
was shot on film stock, with conventional staging, slick production values
and well-worn movie dialogue. "Full Frontal," the film that
envelops it, was shot on digital video and employs naturalistic dialogue,
jump cuts, long master shots, voice-overs and intertitles. The lifelike
artlessness of this approach underlines the artful phoniness of Hollywood
fare typified by "Rendezvous." At the same time, of course, "Full
Frontal" is not really a documentary about life in L.A. but a movie
posing as one. We suspend our disbelief, only to be told at the end that
that's exactly what we're doing.
"The idea was to investigate received notions of esthetics, that we imbue
certain kinds of esthetics with more veracity than with other kinds of
esthetics, when in point of fact they're both fake," Soderbergh says. "Why
does the 'Full Frontal' portion of the movie seem more real than
the 'Rendezvous' part of the movie when they're both a construct?"
Even if you don't care about why, say, the handheld camera antics of "ER"
and "NYPD Blue" seem more "real" than the stagy theatrics of
hospital and cop shows of the past, it is interesting that Soderbergh is
deliberately undermining the techniques that helped win him an Oscar. Most
directors would have embraced what works for them, not taken it apart.
"I certainly don't know where else to go with that approach, the sort of
run and gun, other than to say that this isn't any more legitimate than
any other esthetic," he says. This sort of analytical thinking has been
both a blessing and a curse for Soderbergh. His films are invariably
smart, but sometimes, as he is the first to admit, he gets in his own way,
overanalyzing rather than operating from instinct. This was especially
true of his early years as a filmmaker.
SUCCESS AND FAILURE
Soderbergh, 39, is from Baton Rouge, La. His mother was a dream analyst
and his father taught education at Louisiana State University. Rather than
attend college, Soderbergh started making short films and shot a concert
film for the rock group Yes in 1986. Then, in 1989, he made "sex, lies,
& videotape," a seminal work in the independent film movement that
started the feeding frenzy at the Sundance Film Festival and won the Palme
d'Or at Cannes. He followed this huge, precocious success with five
consecutive misfires — "Kafka" (1991), "King of the Hill"
(1993), "Underneath" (1994), "Schizopolis" (1996) and "Gray's
Anatomy" (1997). In some sense, the path he chose was deliberate, but
it went on way too long.
"I wasn't looking outside very much, the way you ought to to be inspired,"
Soderbergh says of this period. "I realized that I had just closed up shop
and was staying in too much creatively. I'd reached an end of my
resources. I thought, How do I get back to that feeling of how I felt when
I first started making films?"
Actually, that was the wrong question. The right question was: How do you
open yourself up? The answer came in the unlikely form of a series of
interviews he did with director Richard Lester for a book called "Getting
Away With It, Or: The Further Adventures of the Luckiest Bastard You Ever
Saw." This might be an apt description of Soderbergh's subsequent
Inspired by Lester's freethinking, he began to explore more commercial
source material, crucially an adaptation of Elmore Leonard's crime caper "Out
of Sight" (1998), a scary film for him because his career was riding
on it. "Out of Sight" was a critical and commercial success, but
rather than follow it with another mainstream film, Soderbergh directed
the small, elegiac "The Limey" (1999). Then he reeled off three
hits in a row: "Erin Brockovich" (2000), a conventional muckraker
about a low-rent single mom who challenges the corporate world; "Traffic,"
and last year's frivolous Rat Pack remake, "Ocean's Eleven."
With these recent films, Soderbergh has been credited with introducing an
indie sensibility to mainstream movies. However, there are some who view
it the other way around.
"I'm not convinced he's a great or major filmmaker yet," says critic David
Thomson. "I thought that 'Traffic' was overpraised. I think that in
many ways he's not lived up to the promise of his very first film. I have
the feeling about him that he's a little indecisive and slippery and not
quite sure who he is.
"I just feel he's someone who's going to end up a very commercial director
who might have been something a bit different," Thomson adds. "I don't
think he liked the fact that he ran into a bad period. I think he likes to
Soderbergh makes no apologies about directing a film as lightweight as "Ocean's
Eleven," saying it was what he wanted to make and that he learned a
lot making it, but he does admit that "Full Frontal" is in part a
response to the kind of movie it is.
"If I had to make 'Ocean's Eleven' every time out, I would shoot
myself," he says. "I need to balance that experience with an experience
like 'Full Frontal' or I get stagnant, bored."
Actually, this is a policy pursued by the smarter big-name actors but
seldom by big-name directors. Sometimes it doesn't hurt your career to go
small, and Soderbergh is very savvy about making the numbers work for him.
"Full Frontal" cost in the neighborhood of $2 million. Everyone on
the film — including the crew — is profit-sharing. He applies this
cost-consciousness to his larger films, too, because if a studio isn't
spending a lot, it won't be breathing down his neck. To work on a
Soderbergh film, an actor must be willing to be flexible, moneywise — and
Despite, or perhaps because of, his recent success, Soderbergh says he
worries about "losing it" — by which he means the ability to connect to
the world with his work (though not necessarily to audiences and critics,
whom he regards as fickle and sometimes downright wrong). He lost it once,
in the '90s, and he doesn't want to lose it again. That's one reason why
he moved to New York, to get away from the hermetically sealed movie
industry in L.A. He also says, laughing, that he has an agreement that a
pal of his will "intervene" should he start making junk.
Other than his producing duties (he's partnered with George Clooney in an
outfit called Section Eight), Soderbergh won't be making anything anytime
soon. Although "Solaris," a sci-fi chamber piece he directed, will
be released in December, he's taking a year off to catch his breath,
having spent the last five years feeling as if he's been on the deck of a
speedboat, as he puts it. He now wants to spend time with his 11-year-old
daughter, Sarah, from his marriage to Betsy Brantley. And he has some big
thinking he wants to do.
"This feels to me like the close of a chapter, this group of films,"
Soderbergh says. "Thirteen films, 13 years. What I have in mind about
Phase 2 is I want to take more risks, and I have some ideas about how to
do that, but I need time to consider whether some of the things that I'm
contemplating can be done in a way that will provide that sense of
wondering: Can we do it like this, will that work?
"I'm not talking about a movie the industry can be proud of. I'm talking
about new stuff. Maybe I'll never find it, but I feel like it's time for
me to make that attempt, to create something that is different, different
from what I've done, different from what's being done."