No filmmaker interviews quite like Steven Soderbergh. Sure, some filmmakers may share his appreciation fo film history; others may be willing to speak candidly about their success and failures in the industry; still others might be willing to take a measured approach to the future of cinema. But nobody can combine all of it – the technology, the artifice, the self-loathing, and the triumphs – into the conversation quite like Soderbergh. For years now, Soderbergh has carved his own path in Hollywood, exploring new distribution platforms, emerging narrative concepts, and industry trends with a notable lack of ego. This makes him notably difficult to pin down in the traditional auteurist mode, even if the quality of his films are consistently high.
So it should come as no surprise that a conversation with Rolling Stone to celebrate the 20th anniversary of “The Limey” quickly becomes a referendum on his career as an outsider filmmaker. In one of my favorite sections of the interview, Soderbergh describes why the secret to his enduring success has been letting go of the writing. “[If] if you’re not Paul Thomas Anderson, don’t put yourself through hell for no reason,” Soderbergh told Rolling Stone. “There’s a reason he only makes movies every what, four years or so? To go to the well to write original screenplays — it’s fucking hard.”
In reflecting on the filmmakers who helped make 1999 one of the best years in cinema history, Soderbergh also compared himself to Spike Jonze, a filmmaker with a degree of inventiveness Soderbergh claims not to have. “Some guys are originals. Look at Spike Jonze — there’s nobody like him, you never know what’s coming next, it’s always inventive and smart and funny,” the director added. “He’s just unique. And it would be a waste of my time and other people’s money to think that I was Spike Jonze. I can’t do what he does.” Instead, Soderbergh refers to himself as a “synthesist,” someone who is able to take preexisting elements of story and performance and combine them in creative ways. “I can work with actors on performances, and I can find a visual approach that supports those two things. It was freeing to figure this out, because that kind of approach allows for continual self-reinvention.”
When asked about the ongoing conversations about tentpole filmmaking and independent cinema, Soderbergh pointed to his 2014 State of Cinema address at the San Francisco Film Festival. “I don’t think anything’s really changed,” he said. “When I described cinema as ‘an approach’ . . . it has nothing to do with the capture medium, or the venue or location in which it’s viewed. To me, it’s purely an artistic attitude and a point of view.” For Soderbergh, then, the business and cultural side of the filmmaking industry is nothing to lose sleep over. “I mean, it’s a little like getting upset about the weather. It is what it is.”
For more on the state of cinema – oh, and some of the troubled production history of “The Limey” – be sure to read the full interview over at Rolling Stone.