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Despite his “retirement,” Steven Soderbergh continues to be one of Hollywood’s most versatile auteurs. For the moment, Soderbergh appears to be focusing on television projects like HBO’s Behind the Candelabra and the upcoming series, The Knick, for Cinemax. While we count the days until he returns to the big screen (he’s rumored to be coming back to serve solely as the cinematographer on Magic Mike 2), we take a look back at five of films that deserve more attention and acclaim.
Steven Soderbergh first worked with legendary monologist Spalding Gray on his 1993 film King of the Hill. The two collaborated again on, Gray’s Anatomy, a film detailing the existential crisis Gray suffered after he was diagnosed with a rare ocular condition. It took Soderbergh six years after Gray’s suicide in 2004 to complete And Everything Is Going Fine, his fascinating documentary on the man himself. Forgoing the use of narration or interviews with friends and family, Soderbergh chose to use only archival footage (from home movies, filmed monologues, and interviews with Gray himself) to create this lasting tribute to his friend.
Perhaps Steven Soderbergh’s most innovative film to date (and that’s saying something), Bubble was the first movie to be released simultaneously in theaters and on cable with a DVD release that followed four days later. Bubble follows Martha, a lonely, dumpy woman who strikes up an easy friendship with Kyle, a younger co-worker. A new attractive employee, Rose, disrupts the dynamic between the two, and a murder soon changes the lives of the three doll factory workers irrevocably. Soderbergh uses a muted color palette and non-professional actors in this remarkable film to instill an unshakable feeling of the uncomfortably realities that lie just beneath the surface of ordinary life.
We had the privilege of screening Steven Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival. The film features real-life porn star Sasha Grey as Chelsea, a high-end call girl who specializes in giving her clients “the girlfriend experience.” Her work is not solely physical; she strives to give these men the illusion of an actual relationship with no strings for only $2000 an hour. Soderbergh uses her struggles to balance her job, her image, her money and her relationship with her trainer boyfriend to provide a startling depiction of the complexities of human nature.
For his third feature, Steven Soderbergh decided to tackle the traditional coming-of-age drama. Based on the memoir by author A.E. Hotchner, King of the Hill is set in Depression-era St. Louis. A pint-sized Jesse Bradford stars as Aaron, a boy on the cusp of puberty left behind in his family’s residence in the Empire Hotel when his mother is put in a sanitarium and father hits the road as a travelling salesman. Soderbergh chronicles Aaron’s journey to adulthood with warmth and honesty, including a memorable scene in which Aaron is so hungry he eats pictures of food from a newspaper.
In Steven Soderbergh’s riveting crime drama, The Limey, Terence Stamp stars as Wilson, a British ex-con who travels to Los Angeles to find out who murdered his daughter Jenny, who “supposedly” died in a car accident. As Wilson enters the seedy underbelly of LA, he finds that all signs point to her creepy record producer boyfriend Valentine (played by Peter Fonda), and he begins his mission of vengeance. Soderbergh expertly uses non-linear flashbacks to essentially reinvent the neo-noir genre. This film is made all the more effective by his casting of Stamp and Fonda, who prove every bit as engaging and captivating as they were in their prime.