Steven Soderbergh has just confirmed his retirement from directing, having celebrated his 50th birthday. In early 2011 he denied the rumours, blaming them on a drunken conversation with Matt Damon and calling him “about as discreet as a 14-year-old girl”. Then that summer he semi-confirmed them, calling it a sabbatical. Now, in a forthcoming interview with the New York Times (http://bit.ly/WvVXay), he says he is putting down the camera for good, and picking up a paintbrush instead.
“The tyranny of narrative is beginning to frustrate me,” he explains. “Or at least narrative as we’re currently defining it.”
I feel proprietorial about Soderbergh. Sex, Lies & Videotape, made when Soderbergh was just 26, was I think the first Time Out cover I ever did. I too was just 26, and filling in while the Editor was away (Simon Garfield it was, now a prominent author of non-fiction books). It was bold to put an unknown, low-budget indie on the cover, in the days before indie films were a powerful force (Sex, Lies… was instrumental in making them so), but we all loved the film.
To be honest, it helped when the film company unearthed some Greg Gorman pics of Laura San Giacomo lounging on a bed in black leather boots (above). The title helped, too. “Sex” sells, of course. With “Lies”, you’ve got your conflict. “Videotape”, well, how better to win over the home rental market once the theatrical release is over? There’s a lesson there still for aspirant film-makers. A great title is worth millions in marketing.
That early commercial nous explains, in hindsight, how this indie auteur can have forged a parallel career as one of Hollywood’s most successful mainstream directors, balancing the likes of Out of Sight, Erin Brockovich, Ocean’s Eleven and Magic Mike with Schizopolis or The Girlfriend Experience – and, in Traffic, fusing the two worlds. Not all his films are brilliant, but they are never dull.
He’s clearly a funny guy, too. Take this from the aforementioned New York Times interview, on his frequent collaborator George Clooney: “He inspires people. He listens. He’s generous. He’s loyal. He’s funny, which is crucial. He solves problems better than anyone I know. That’s why people keep telling him to run for office, but he’s too smart for that. If there were 500 of him, you could take over an entire country—but of course three weeks later you’d lose it again because of all the parties.”
The film world will be the poorer for his departure.
Soderbergh’s final film, Side Effects, opens in the UK on March 15
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