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?
Power behind the screen
In partnership with George Clooney, director Steven Soderbergh has become
one of Hollywood's top players. David Gritten meets him.
By David Gritten
(The Daily Telegraph, February 8, 2003)
acclaimed as a boy wonder in the arts can be something of as albatross. How do
you ever recapture that sense of gilded, gifted youth? What do you do for the
rest of your life? Steven Soderbergh joined the boy wonder club in 1989 by
winning the Palme d'Or at Cannes with his debut film, Sex, Lies and Videotape.
He was just 26, and acknowledged the problem even as he accepted the award: "I
guess it's all downhill from here," he said.
For almost 10 years his prediction seemed spot-on. Critics grudgingly respected
his next films (Kafka, King of the Hill, The Underneath, Gray's Anatomy
and Schizopolis) but audiences stayed away. Even Soderbergh wasn't
surprised: "When I look at The Underneath now, it's just so
sleepy," he tells me. "It was a broken-backed idea to begin with. There should
be some cultural police force that arrives when you say: 'I want to make an
armoured car heist movie but have it be like (Antonioni's) Red Desert.'
Someone should chain you up and carry you off.
"But I learned a lot from making that film, if only that I needed to change
course. It was the first time I'd been on a film set and wondered whether I
wanted to continue. I was in danger of becoming a formalist." His turning point
came in 1998 with Out of Sight, a stylish, funny, romantic
thriller that significantly marked his first collaboration with leading man
George Clooney. It was a big hit, and Soderbergh admits: "The experience
loosened me up a lot. It was based on a script that was already written. It was
my first film that wasn't all about me."
With Out of Sight, Soderbergh found his niche. He now
operates within Hollywood like a loyal opposition, making genre films with a
grace and flair that eludes most directors employed by studios. He is not above
a trivial caper movie like Ocean's Eleven, but invests it with such elan
that it becomes pure pleasure to watch. In lesser hands, Erin
Brockovich would be a routine true-story TV movie; but Julia Roberts's
performance won her an Oscar, and the film was nominated for four more. That
same year, 2000, was Soderbergh's annus mirabilis; his film Traffic,
about the drugs war in America and Mexico, won four Oscars. He was back.
At 40, he has gathered around him an informal repertory company. It helps that
they include some of Hollywood's biggest names: Clooney, Roberts, Brad Pitt.
Intriguingly, Soderbergh uses them strictly for specific, even small, roles
rather than casting them for star value.
He now wields subtle but huge influence in Hollywood. In 2000 he and Clooney
formed Section Eight, a small production company with a plain philosophy: "If we
can be lean and mean, get some interesting movies made and work with really good
film-makers, it's worth doing."
Section Eight (it's a US military term, meaning a discharge for physical or
mental unfitness for service) is based at Warner Bros, and already making its
presence felt. Two of its films have opened in America: Confessions of a
Dangerous Mind, based on the memoirs of eccentric TV game-show host Chuck
Barris, directed by and starring Clooney; and Welcome to Collinwood, a
comic remake of the burglary caper film Big Deal on Madonna Street, with
Clooney in a minor role.
I spoke twice to Soderbergh about his recent work and Section Eight - first at
the Venice Film Festival, then recently over informal drinks one evening in
London. He is good company: witty and gossipy about Hollywood, and occasionally
forthright about other film-makers.
He now commands such respect that he is one of few directors who can be equally
candid with studio bosses. He and Clooney were executive producers of
Insomnia, Al Pacino's recent hit, but Warner Bros fretted about the young
Englishman Christopher Nolan directing it. "I went in and told them, look, Chris
will deliver the film on time and on budget," Soderbergh recalls. "And he'll
give you an interesting movie too. You'd be fools not to hire him."
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind was made for Miramax, whose boss, the
notoriously volatile Harvey Weinstein, was nagging a stubborn Clooney to cut the
film by a few minutes. "I told Harvey, 'Look, I think you'd want to be in the
George Clooney business for a few years. But right now he's so pissed off he
never wants to work with you again. Where's the sense in that?' I think I got
him to back off a little."
Fellow directors mention small acts of encouragement and support that seal their
admiration for Soderbergh. Section Eight were also executive producers of Todd
Haynes's acclaimed new film Far from Heaven; Haynes told me
Soderbergh "helped navigate us through some points of budgetary tension. More
than once, he offered to help us cover some overspending out of his own pocket.
He was just there for us." And when Britain's Ken Loach was in Los Angeles
making his modestly-budgeted Bread and Roses, about
striking office workers, Soderbergh (who greatly admires Loach) volunteered to
find him a local crew for the low-paying shoot.
None of this virtue or influence makes Soderbergh immune to box-office failure.
In America, he has had two recently. Critics panned the experimental Full
Frontal, a self-indulgent film with an insider's view of Hollywood types;
it was shot in 18 days for just $2 million. "Columnists attacked me on the
leader pages," he sighs. "You'd think I was a serial killer. If it had cost more
than $2 million, I'd be worried. But I wanted to make something that wasn't
immediately digestible, which was partly why I made it cheaply."
He made his latest film, Solaris, for Fox at a far higher price. A
radically different version of Tarkovsky's 1972 classic, it stars Clooney as a
psychologist in space, visiting a space station where astronauts' dormant
memories are revived; in his case, this brings him face to face with his wife
(or a semblance of her) who he knows committed suicide. It is a film of great
fluency and beauty, and may be Clooney's best performance yet. But American
critics helped bury Solaris at the box-office; it does not conform to
Hollywood ideas of a neatly resolved story or a happy ending.
Yet he is quick to defend his film, and his lead actor: "Solaris is
unlike anything George has done. I benefited from him having just directed a
movie. He was tired, and open to doing things he might not have been a year
before. There are abstract emotions in this movie, hallucinogenic fever dream
sequences where he thinks he's in the moment of his own death. That was
difficult for George to portray with a camera four feet from his nose."
As for the commercial failure of Solaris, Soderbergh is insouciant: "I'd
rather it was a real flop than just a minor hit. I'm fine about it. It only cost
Fox £30 million. They'll make it back on video and DVD eventually."
He says that, yet in the next breath complains about Hollywood's waste and
excess: "I hate it. It drives me nuts. That's what bothers me about the place.
That it's driven by money is no surprise. But I hate the indulgence it provokes
in people. It's tied into the films they make now. If you make a $50 million
movie that should cost $30 million, it won't be as interesting. The pressure to
be appreciated by a mass audience has a real impact on the quality of films
Few people working within Hollywood state that case so baldly, and his candour
raises the question of who might follow in his footsteps. He plans to take
several months off to spend time with the creative team behind the hit
television series The Sopranos, and write a book about the programme. He
admires two young American directors, Wes Anderson and Paul Thomas Anderson, but
cautions: "It's time they grew up a little. They need to start making films
about things more than 10 feet from their nose."
Could that be the boy wonder experiencing the onset of middle age?