Due to unprecedented demand, Steven Soderbergh has given The San Francisco Film Society permission to release this video that was recorded initially only for archival purposes. The full transcript is also provided. —Steven Soderbergh: The State of Cinema Video & Transcript
With endless thanks to Ted Hope, The Executive Director of the San Francisco Film Society.
“Cinema is under assault,” Steven Soderbergh told an audience in San Francisco over the weekend. He said that the Hollywood studios are to blame and that moviegoers are their accomplices. “Fewer and fewer executives in the industry love movies,” Soderbergh continued, “There’s a total lack of leadership in my opinion, that’s what’s killing cinema.” The director’s remarks came at the San Francisco International Film Festival’s annual State of Cinema Address. It was a sort of Jerry Maguire memo, “Cinema is a specificity of vision. It’s as unique as a fingerprint. If it’s done well, you know exactly who made it,” Steven Soderbergh defined on Saturday, “Is there a difference between cinema and movies? If I ran team America, I’d say fuck ya. Cinema is something that is made, movies are seen.”
Soderbergh said that he needed $5 million to make his upcoming Liberace movie, Behind the Candelabra, which stars Michael Douglas as the famous piano player and Matt Damon as the musician’s lover. Yet he said that the studios needed the movie to gross $70 million to make it work financially. “No one has figured out how to lower the costs of marketing movies…no one,” Soderbergh said. “The thing that mystifies me is in terms of spending, is there anyone in the galaxy that doesn’t know Iron Man 2 is opening that weekend!?” He continued, ”Studios only gamble on openings instead of supporting filmmakers over the long haul. In my opinion, it’s about horses - not races.”
“Executives don’t get punished for making bombs the way filmmakers do,” Soderbergh charged, “So there’s no turnover with people who don’t know their own business.” “I’m spending so much time talking business and sexy math because this is what’s driving everything right now,” Soderbergh said. Yet he also sounded a few optimistic notes. So what would he do differently? “If I were running a studio, I’d get a Shane Carruth, a Barry Jenkins and an Amy Seimetz and ask ‘What do you wanna make?’” Soderbergh said, “I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect someone running a multi-billion dollar business to be able to identify talent. I’m wrong a lot, it doesn’t even raise my blood pressure anymore, maybe the audiences are happy, the studios are happy – maybe I’m wrong. Maybe everything is just fine,” Soderbergh said at one point near the end of his speech. The room erupted with some chuckles because clearly those in the audience agreed with him that everything isn’t just fine. —The World According to Steven: Insights from Soderbergh
Big deal, people
[Cross-posted at Letterboxd, because I guess I’m doing that now?]
Danny Boyle specializes in cinema of benevolent pointlessness. His elements of style and motion, however impressive (or annoying) in the moment, rarely breach the inner sanctum. In his restless genre-hopping he’s like a less clever, less purposeful Soderbergh. Not style obscuring substance, but failing to obscure it. Laying bare the who-cares.
In his last couple movies, though, Boyle tried his wavy hand at human-spirit trafficking. 127 Hours and Slumdog Millionaire blurred the line between manufactured uplift and genuine joy to a level beyond the Spielbergian (and were showered with awards attention, natch). Emotional prestidigitation looked like Boyle’s true calling. When newly one-armed James Franco cemented his impossible survival with Boyle’s shamelessly bolded and underlined sense of visual and aural triumph, I couldn’t tell which heartstrings were being tugged and which were vibrating naturally—and in retrospect I’m happier not knowing.
Goodbye to all that. Boyle’s new bauble, Trance, sticks to breezy genre nonsense. Perhaps in reproach to Chris Nolan’s saddlebagged, prosaic Inception, Boyle makes his “mind-bending thriller” on more vulgar terms: fast, cheap and out of control. The operating principle seems to be: throw everything at ‘em so quickly they won’t realize how half-cocked it is. By some British magic, Boyle actually makes this strategy pleasant instead of punishing. One hundred dense minutes pass in a—well, er, sorry, no way around this, in a kind of trance, you know.
The script pays lip-service to issues of memory and free will, love and sacrifice and art, but Boyle and co-writers needn’t have bothered with perfunctory gravitas. Danny does what he does: make the moving pictures move. Realities pile on top of and between each other, threaded with thrilling skill. These twisty, cerebral plots only make as much sense as their cinematic correlatives. All else is whatever. Including the actors; you know your director’s priorities are elsewhere when you’ve got Matthew Cassel as a crime boss and he seems like he just wandered onto the set five minutes before the camera started rolling. Image-wise, things get a little banal, too. This is Boyle’s first foray into digital, if I’m not mistaken, and even with Anthony Dad Mantle at camera’s helm—Boyle’s typical collaborator and the genius cinematographer behind some of the best-looking films made in my lifetime, including Harmony Korine’s julien donkey-boy and Lars von Trier’s Antichrist—he can’t quite convert those zeros and ones from information to poetry. Though he does have fun with mirror reflections/symmetry and shifty light.
This kind of movie should be this light on its feet. Leaden Inception feels more and more like a calamity. The loneliness of the long-distance runner: Trance is a breathless race to nowhere. We’ll see if Boyle jogs back to the humanity parties of Slumdog and Hours. Destination? The destination is in your mind, man.
He gets back to the Casino just as big globular raindrops, thick as honey, begin to splat into giant asterisks on the pavement, inviting him to look down at the bottom of the text of the day, where footnotes will explain all. He isn’t about to look. Nobody ever said a day has to be juggled into any kind of sense at day’s end.Gravity’s Rainbow