Indie Icons: Steven Soderbergh, a man of no limits
Steven Soderbergh is an independent film icon for his making of sex, lies, and videotape which aired with great acclaim at Sundance and Cannes, also landing him an Oscar nomination for best screenplay in 1989. But like all other filmmakers struggling to make it in the new Hollywood tidal wave, Soderbergh’s persistence and vision granted him the entry to what would become an extremely successful career, both in the mainstream and off beat markets.
Steven Soderbergh was born in Atlanta Georgia, January 14th, 1963. During his early childhood his family moved to Louisiana where Steven’s father was the dean of education at a local university. Steven began making short films at the age of 15 when he enrolled in a high school class on animation. His first break into professional film work came when the rock group Yes asked him to film a full length of their concert footage which he called Yes: 2012 live. He won a Grammy Nomination for his work, which propelled him to film Winston in 1987, as short subject film that was expanded to make his legendary sex, lies and videotape two years later.
Since then Soderbergh’s career has been a unique blend of independent and big studio productions, failures and major successes, all intertwined with his extremely eclectic style of shooting. The difference in style, for instance, between his 1996 crazed comedy Schizopolis and his low budget drama Bubble (2006) are massive! Though both films are independent, Schizopolis is a fast-paced experimental explosion of image, dialogue, and character changes, while Bubble is painful in its realistically slow, stagnant surface level dialogue and action. Schizopolis is like a three ring circus, there are so many characters and themes blending throughout, while in contrast Bubble is the slow, plodding plot of three monotone, stuck, small town factory workers.
Though Soderbergh’s initial credit came from his indie-classic sex, lies and videotape, he has since experienced extreme commercial success for his larger studio films. He was the first filmmaker in 60 years to have two films up for best picture in the same year, with Erin Brockovich and Traffic in 2000. That year Soderbergh won four Oscars for traffic, including best Director! He also gained great audience approval for his remake of Ocean’s Eleven, which featured suave, quirky performances from such A-listers as George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon. He has repeat work with many famous actors such as Don Cheatle, George Clooney and Julia Roberts because he likes to step aside and let the actor’s embody their roles in whatever manner suits them.
Though Steven Soderbergh’s film topics have more variations than Oprah’s weight, he also has a few themes that can tie his body of work together. The moral consequences of lying are acted out cinematically in many of his films including King of the Hill and sex, lies and videotape, and Ocean’s 11, all of which have characters that are pathological liars or con artists. On a personal note I have found traces of his southern upbringing in all the movies I have watched; they all have at least one character with a southern accent and mentality.
Once called the Michael Jordan of film for his proficiency in the many components of filmmaking, such as directing, producing, acting, cinematography, editing and writing, Steven Soderbergh is a film icon in his own right, regardless of the budget or content of his film.