How Will Steven Soderbergh Be Remembered After He Retires?
An unofficial Twitter poll doesn’t bode well for the filmmaker’s legacy. Asked if Soderbergh is considered a household name, my followers responded with variations of “If it’s 2001, yes,” and “Yes if your household has movie buffs in it. Otherwise, no way.”
It’s going to fall to those movie buffs to maintain the director’s status as a pivotal, groundbreaking and surprisingly successful crossover director. If I had to single out one characteristic that helps Soderbergh stand out from the directorial pack, it would have to be his ability to remain comfortable on both the indie and mainstream sides of the Hollywood street.
Very few cross that line, falling into one group or the other. Soderbergh was able to parlay the success of the Ocean’s franchise – star-studded genre exercises that coasted on camaraderie and cool – into experiments like Full Frontal, Bubble and The Girlfriend Experience.
In fact, if you trace back over Soderbergh’s 25-year career, you begin to notice that he often found himself at the forefront of each major movement that characterized the film community. The director’s triumphs with sex, lies and videotape prompted film critic Roger Ebert to label him the “Poster Boy for the Sundance Generation.” The bidding war over that film’s rights notoriously kick-started Sundance as a commercially-driven festival, a turn of events that went on to benefit later Sundance alums like Kevin Smith, David O. Russell, Todd Solondz and Christopher Nolan, to name just a few.
Right as Soderbergh was being looked to as the leader of the Indie generation, however, he was switching gears. Naturally. The director ran through experimental efforts such as Kafka (1991), King of the Hill (1993) and Schizopolis. And while those films have their admirers, Soderbergh’s next phase would be marked by mainstream collaborations with arguably the biggest stars on the planet: George Clooney (Out of Sight), Julia Roberts (Erin Brokovich), Michael Douglas (Traffic) and, of course, the glimmering ensemble of the Ocean’s movies. It was during this time that the Academy woke up to Soderbergh’s talents. And in 2000, the director pulled off the incredible, landing two of the five Best Director slots at the Academy Awards for Traffic and Erin Brokovich. In a bittersweet triumph, Soderbergh beat Soderbergh to claim the evening’s prize.
He dabbled in all genres, from sci-fi (Solaris) and period noir (The Good German) to modern history (the two-part Che) and comedy … though not as often as I selfishly would have liked. His films often had a distinct visual palette, but more than anything, they were characterized by their intelligence. Soderbergh strikes me as an “actor’s director,” because top talents wanted to work with him, they often returned for more, and he coaxed the best work out of performers such as Channing Tatum, Matthew McConaughey, Brad Pitt, Benicio del Toro and Clooney.
And he was successful on his own terms.
That’s how I’ll remember Soderbergh’s 25-year career if, in fact, it has come to a close. His versatility inspired him to experiment in multiple genres, and his talent ensured his success. How do you think you’ll remember this impressive director?
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