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The Cinema of Steven Soderbergh

The Cinema of Steven Soderbergh: Indie Sex, Corporate Lies, and Digital Videotape

Andrew de Waard
R. Colin Tait
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    The Cinema of Steven Soderbergh
    Book Description:

    The industry's only director-cinematographer-screenwriter-producer-actor-editor, Steven Soderbergh is contemporary Hollywood's most innovative and prolific filmmaker. A Palme d'or and Academy Award-winner, Soderbergh has directed nearly thirty films, including political provocations, digital experiments, esoteric documentaries, global blockbusters, and a series of atypical genre films. This volume considers its slippery subject from several perspectives, analyzing Soderbergh as an expressive auteur of art cinema and genre fare, as a politically-motivated guerrilla filmmaker, and as a Hollywood insider. Combining a detective's approach to investigating the truth with a criminal's alternative value system, Soderbergh's films tackle social justice in a corporate world, embodying dozens of cinematic trends and forms advanced in the past twenty-five years. His career demonstrates the richness of contemporary American cinema, and this study gives his complex oeuvre the in-depth analysis it deserves.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-85039-1
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
    (pp. vi-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    Thomas Schatz
    (pp. 1-10)

    Gambling, like cinema, is a game of chance – and endurance. The art of the long con is the ability to plan with purpose, to be patient, and when the opportunity presents itself: to pounce. Uncertainty and unpredictability unite the gambler and the filmmaker, each profession more known for its spectacles than its careers. Romanticised enterprises both, the true story of gambling and cinema is one of minor acts, repeated over and over and over – in other words, labour. Prolonged labour does not lend itself to narrative though; it prefers sensational moments of exaggerated importance and overwrought imagery. The...


    • CHAPTER ONE The Dialectical Signature: Soderbergh as Classical Auteur
      (pp. 13-36)

      Since its development more than half a century ago, auteur theory – the conceit that a film director’s personal creative vision is the predominate force in shaping the artistry of a film – has remained a contentious, heavily fragmented discourse.² As with most other arts, film theory’s relationship with authorship has morphed and evolved through various iterations, due in large part to historical context and competing ideologies. Nevertheless, a common, if shaky, approach to cinematic authorship has coalesced in film criticism, and its formulation and application to Steven Soderbergh will be the focus of the current chapter. Subsequently, we will...

    • CHAPTER TWO Impresario of Indiewood: Soderbergh as Sellebrity Auteur
      (pp. 37-56)

      Perhaps a slight cognitive slip on Soderbergh’s part, it is indicative of the economic dimension in which Hollywood directors now find themselves that Soderbergh would consider the director’s concern of ‘how it’s sold’ to be an idea ‘that’s as old as cinema’; for most of Hollywood film history, directors have been ceded little control in determining how their movies were sold, marketed, or distributed. Particularly in the ‘golden age’ of Classical Hollywood Cinema, studio executives were notorious for marketing films on their sensationalistic rather than artistic merits, and even editing films for commercial reasons; recently, adjusting films for maximum appeal...

    • CHAPTER THREE Corporate Revolutionary: Soderbergh as Guerrilla Auteur
      (pp. 57-72)

      Thus far, we have outlined how Steven Soderbergh belongs to a traditional model of film authorship and auteur theory, considering his multi-faceted signature, yet also challenges this model in the instability and adaptability of this signature style across a diverse range of films. We have also explored recent economic shifts in Hollywood and the changing nature of celebrity and marketing that necessitate a reconsideration of the contemporary director as ‘sellebrity auteur,’ of which Soderbergh is a fitting example. However, two fully-fledged auteur analyses still do not seem to capture the full scope of Soderbergh’s career and oeuvre. In addition to...


    • CHAPTER FOUR Searching Low and High: The Limey and the Schizophrenic Detective
      (pp. 75-88)

      Having so far examined authorship in three different auteur analyses, we now turn to closer textual analysis of Soderbergh’s work by focusing on the central character and plot archetype that animates most of his films: the detective. Soderbergh uses the detective character outright in many films – the titular insurance worker in Kafka, the police detective in Out of Sight, the investigative lawyer in Erin Brockovich, the FBI team in The Informant!, the epidemiologist who searches for patient zero in Contagion, the spy in Haywire – while other films overtly employ the viewer as the detective to unravel the film’s...

    • CHAPTER FIVE Returning to the Scene of the Crime: Solaris and the Psychoanalytic Detective
      (pp. 89-99)

      Having considered how The Limey absorbs and aestheticises the operations of history and memory within its formal and narrative structure, and how the process of ‘remembering correctly’ functions within Soderbergh’s conception of schizophrenia and nostalgia, we can continue our exploration of the role of the detective in Soderbergh’s oeuvre. Solaris takes the process of memory details and negotiation of personal histories one step further, not only immersing the spectator in the character’s memories, but allowing the characters to actually interact directly with these recollections, as a result of the planet Solaris’s psychological effects on the inhabitants of the orbiting space...

    • CHAPTER SIX The (Bl)end of History: The Good German and the Intertextual Detective
      (pp. 100-112)

      In an interview given a few years before beginning production on The Good German, Soderbergh relates his formal and stylistic promiscuity to his desire to make an innovative ‘leap’ within the medium of film. Soderbergh is searching for ‘another level,’ and one idea he has is to tell a story spanning the entire twentieth century, and then

      …cut it up into ten ten-minute sections. You pick a year from each of those decades. In each year, let’s say the 1903 decade, you shoot in the aesthetic of The Great Train Robbery. In the teens, you shoot in the style of...


    • CHAPTER SEVEN Genre and Capital: New Crime Wave in the 1990s
      (pp. 115-130)

      In this final section, we will turn from the detective character as a structuring element towards larger configurations of genre. This chapter will explore the major resurgence of crime films in the 1990s and Steven Soderbergh’s participation in this larger trend. The crime film and its many iterations/sub-genres are Soderbergh’s default mode, and most of his films are inflected with criminals, detectives, or a combination of both. We will investigate his role within the larger moment of the indie cinema/crime film resurgence while emphasising how his contributions are emblematic of the cycle, yet also distinct. In opposition to the traditional...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT The Ethical Heist: Competing Modes of Capital in the Ocean’s Trilogy
      (pp. 131-146)

      Spanning a six-year period, Ocean’s Eleven, Ocean’s Twelve, and Ocean’s Thirteen are Soderbergh’s most outright popular and commercially successful films, and they are also some of his most well-received, particularly the first entry in the series. Though these are quite clearly mainstream movies intended for a broad, multiplex audience, they nevertheless retain the signature stylistics that we have thus far attributed to the director. Ocean’s Twelve is even truer to Soderbergh form than the first film, comprised of reflexive storytelling and technique, which may account for some of its critical backlash. The third film then returns the characters to the...

    • CHAPTER NINE Trafficking Social Change: The Global Social Problem Film in the 2000s
      (pp. 147-163)

      As international relations scholar Justin Rosenberg succinctly states: ‘“Globalization” was the Zeitgeist of the 1990s.’² A critic of the method in which the implications of globalisation have been theorised and aggrandised, Rosenberg draws attention to the way globalisation was more a ‘felt’ phenomenon than the rapid acceleration of globalised flows that the theory’s advocates would have us believe; it was the ‘spirit of the times’ to believe the world was in a state of increasing interconnection and integration. While debate continues over the conceptualisation and extent of globalisation and globalisation theory, it still seems undeniable that we live in a...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 164-166)

    At the end of Soderbergh’s book – Getting Away With It: Or, The Further Adventures of the Luckiest Bastard You Ever Saw, which is part diary, part interview with Richard Lester – he looks back at the career of his interview subject and provides a tidy yet generous summary. In Soderbergh’s view, Lester made ‘three Masterpieces,’ ‘four Classics,’ ‘six worthwhile divertissments’, and ‘three Really Fascinating Films That Get Better With Age.’¹ As opposed to the overwrought prescriptions of auteur theory, Soderbergh’s criteria appear reasonable and humble, and it is worth holding the filmmaker to his own standards. In our estimation,...

    (pp. 167-176)
    (pp. 177-186)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 187-194)