10 favorite lines from Steven Soderbergh's "I'm retiring from movies" interview with New York Magazine
Side Effects hits theaters February 8, and then it's Goodbye to All That
It's a fine interview, but it's awfully long for Interweb consumption. Here are a few highlights:
On why he's quitting:
It’s a combination of wanting a change personally and of feeling like I’ve hit a wall in my development that I don’t know how to break through. The tyranny of narrative is beginning to frustrate me, or at least narrative as we’re currently defining it...If I’m going to solve this issue, it means annihilating everything that came before and starting from scratch. That means I have to go away, and I don’t know how long it’s going to take. And I also know you can’t force it. I love and respect filmmaking too much to continue to do it while feeling I’m running in place. That’s not a good feeling.
On not being a "one for them, one for me" sort of director:
I can’t spend two years on a project without being totally excited about it. Any movie I’ve made has been because of the challenge it offered me as a director, because it provides a new canvas. Even the big-budget stuff like the Ocean’s films...Those movies provided a really unique set of opportunities visually...They allowed me to play in a way the other movies don’t. It’s the closest to a comic book as I’ll ever get — I viewed them as like Roy Lichtenstein panels, which was really fun.
On getting jobs:
At a certain point, your ability to get a job could turn on the stories people tell about you. The reason [then–Universal Pictures chief] Casey Silver put me up for [1998’s] Out of Sight after I’d had five flops in a row was because he liked me personally. He also knew I was a responsible filmmaker, and if I got that job, the next time he’d see me was when we screened the movie. If I’m an asshole, then I don’t get that job. Character counts.
On 80s movies:
The eighties was a terrible decade for American films, with a few exceptions in the independent world. It’s basically when the corporations took over. And one of the few, to my mind, interesting aspects of the decade were these psychological thrillers that popped up.
People tell stories about Hitchcock, that for him the shooting part was not fun. I don’t believe he was as bored by shooting as he and others claim; for me, there’s nothing more fun than watching a performer do something you don’t expect. But I understand what he means: The exciting part is the idea, and then the execution of it sometimes is just laborious. [It's where] we’ve made sure to take advantage of all the opportunities that the story provides.
On romancing the audience:
I remember describing making movies as a form of seduction and that people should look at it as though they’re being approached at a bar. My whole thing is, when somebody comes up to you at a bar, what behavior is appealing to you? And there are certain things that I’m not willing to do to get a reaction. It’s not pandering so much as being obvious. Do you want to hang out with someone who has the most obvious reaction to everything that happens? That’s boring! And when I see a movie that’s doing the obvious thing all the time, it’s frustrating.
On TV taking over in terms of cultural importance:
It’s true that when I was growing up, there was a sort of division: Respect was accorded to people who made great movies and to people who made movies that made a lot of money. And that division just doesn’t exist anymore: Now it’s just the people who make a lot of money. I think there are many reasons for that. Some of them are cultural. I’ve said before, I think that the audience for the kinds of movies I grew up liking has migrated to television. The format really allows for the narrow and deep approach that I like, and a lot of people … Well, the point is, three and a half million people watching a show on cable is a success. That many people seeing a movie is not a success. I just don’t think movies matter as much anymore, culturally.
On film scores:
Music has become another of the most abused aspects of filmmaking. I’m mystified by the direction scores have taken in the last ten years. It’s wall-to-wall—it’s the movie equivalent of the vuvuzelas from the last World Cup! I don’t understand it at all. For me, it’s ideal when you can get the music to do something that everything else isn’t doing.
The worst development in filmmaking—particularly in the last five years—is how badly directors are treated. It’s become absolutely horrible the way the people with the money decide they can fart in the kitchen, to put it bluntly. It’s not just studios—it’s anyone who is financing a film. I guess I don’t understand the assumption that the director is presumptively wrong about what the audience wants or needs when they are the first audience, in a way.
It’s what Dave Hickey said: It’s air guitar, ultimately. Was it helpful to read Pauline Kael’s work when I was growing up? Absolutely. For a teenager who was beginning to look at movies as something other than just entertainment, her reviews were really interesting. But at a certain point, it’s not useful anymore. I stopped reading reviews of my own films after Traffic, and I find it hard to read any critics now because they are just so easily fooled. I think [Kael's] reading of that stuff was pretty superficial as well. She had a great gift for setting movies in cultural context, but what set her apart from most critics—and especially a lot of critics today—was that she was at her absolute best when she loved something. And that was exciting to read. Nowadays, I find critics to be very facile when they don’t like a film, but when they do like something they get tongue-tied.
BONUS: On the possibility of another indie film explosion:
It would be hard because movies cost so much to market. I’m encouraged by Video on Demand, which is a very promising distribution method. But it’s much harder for filmmakers now. You’re sort of expected to emerge full-blown. That’s rare.
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- Interview: Kristen Connolly, star of The Cabin in the Woods — April 12, 2012
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