Steven Soderbergh: Movies 'Don't Matter As Much Anymore Culturally'

Even as retirement looms, Steven Soderbergh still has a feature in the pipeline destined for the big screen. But as his theatrical career apparently heads toward its sunset, the Oscar-winning filmmaker is taking a swing at the movie-making machine that has left him - at least now - not wanting to make more pictures.

[Related: Soderbergh's Liberace Pic 'Behind The Candelabra': What’s 'Too Gay' for Hollywood?]

Soderbergh's retirement has been discussed since he first announced it in 2011. In that time he has brought a number of films to theaters including Contagion, Haywire, Magic Mike and the soon-to-be released Side Effects next month. He also is finishing the Liberace feature Behind the Candelabra starring Michael Douglas and Matt Damon for HBO.

"The worst development in filmmmaking – particularly in the last five years – is how badly directors are treated," he said to Vulture. 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 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. And probably got into making movies because of being in that audience."

Soderbergh recalled when filmmakers were allowed more latitude and noted that seasoned audiences had spotted the trend and have turned to television instead.

"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," he said. "And that division just doesn't exist anymore. Now it's just the people who make a lot of money."

Continuing he added that television, which has become an increasingly important outlet for auteurs, indie filmmaker and even veterans of Hollywood and the measure of success both creatively and in absolute numbers is more flexible.

"I've said before, I think that the audience for the kinds of movies I grew up liking has migrated to television," he said. "The format really allows for the narrow and deep approach that I like. 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 any more, culturally."

Side Effects will have its world premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival next month.

[Sources: Vulture, The Guardian]


  • The Cantankerist says:

    He's 100% right re film v television. Has been for ten years. Sad as it is to say on Movieline.

    I've been watching this year's Best Pic nominees and has there been anything as well-crafted as S5 Mad Men? as audacious as Louie S2&3? as flat-out accomplished as S5 Breaking Bad? No there has not.

    Part of the problem - and you feel moviemakers rallying against it with these bloated running times - is that the art of squeezing a world into 120 minutes has been lost, particularly on the scripting side. Exposition is so clumsily inserted (Lincoln, apart from the bravura DDL speech near the start), events so obviously and poorly telegraphed (Zero Dark Thirty) and characters sketched so summarily (Argo... but really almost all of them) that an audience used to the more subtle cadences of modern television feels kinda insulted.

    And yeah, what's with that? Television used to be terrified of difficulty and uncertainty and subtlety - you might get confused and change the channel - and I guess network TV largely still is. But cable leaves cinema looking like a rather underdressed emperor nowadays. Cinema should have all the courage and instead it spooks remarkably easily. I guess that's the studio interference SS is talking about.

    Or maybe it's just not a great year for film. I thought ZDT was crudely effective - hardly a cinema sentiment for the ages, eh?; Lincoln was long-winded and fairly high on its own supply; Life Of Pi stumbled badly (not the first film to do so) in transferring magical realism to the screen - yes, there's a late attempt at justification, but that's after an interminable time playing tennis with the net down; Argo was, at best, cute; SLP at least had some old-time romcom glamour to it, but was a teen movie by the end; BotSW was atmospheric, but the fantasy elements overreached badly in a film-school-kinda-way; Django falls apart in its last third in probably the most disappointing deterioration of any of 'em; Les Mis I haven't seen yet but... well, who knows, it might be not bombastic at all, and Amour I'm still waiting to see (and, frankly, putting a LOT of my eggs into that basket, hope-wise). But I think a year like this highlights the folly of the nine/ten nominees system for the Oscars; sometimes there ain't nine or ten.

    • PG says:

      Some of what you say, and Soderbergh says, is correct. With cable TV, the prudishness of language and adult material has gone away. At the same time, the extended format allows for, even demands, the character development that is the hallmark of the best of cinema. Movies are increasingly forced to be 2 hour plus rollercoaster rides that are playing at a theater near you (and see it NOW). As for the adult dramas that play the screen, they may easily come up short to the best that TV now offers, as drive in movies used to compared to studio films.

      Nonetheless I have to disagree about this year's Best Picture nominees (and I've seen all but 2). "Argo" is an effective little thriller, "Zero Dark Thirty" holds its own for most of its running time, "Amour" is sobering, and I found "Life Of Pi" to be enthralling on both a cinematic and intellectual level. It's a given that "Lincoln" and "Silver Linings Playbook" are Oscar Bait and exhibit the worst tendencies of that category (pious seriousness, "quirky" emotionalism).

      What Soderbergh is referring to is more grim and troubling. That "movies" have lost their cutural cachet. Not n simply a commerical, box office sense. But that in they no longer hold the signature pop culture moments of our time. And may not offer the best moments of scripted drama either. As someone who grew up in the same time period as Soderbergh, and whose life was shaped by "Jaws" and "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest", the possibility of that being true is very depressing.

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