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Steven Soderbergh

Aaron Baker

Publication Year: 2011

Steven Soderbergh's feature films present a diverse range of subject matter and formal styles: from the self-absorption of his breakthrough hit Sex, Lies, and Videotape to populist social problem films such as Erin Brockovich, and from the modernist discontinuity of Full Frontal and filmed performance art of Gray's Anatomy to a glossy, star-studded action blockbuster such as Ocean's Eleven. Arguing that Soderbergh practices an eclectic type of moviemaking indebted both to the European art cinema and the Hollywood genre film, Aaron Baker charts the common thematic and formal patterns present across Soderbergh's oeuvre. Almost every movie centers on an alienated main character, and he represents the unconventional thinking of his outsider protagonists through a discontinuous editing style. Including detailed analyses of major films as well as two interviews with the director, this volume illustrates Soderbergh's hybrid flexibility in bringing an independent aesthetic to wide audiences.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Series: Contemporary Film Directors

Title Page, Copyright, Frontispiece

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xii

Studies of film authorship often focus on the explication of a director’s worldview and formal choices as the basis for a broader analysis of social issues and larger stylistic tendencies. The following commentary employs that pattern. I argue that Steven Soderbergh practices an eclectic type of moviemaking that is indebted both to the European art cinema and the Hollywood genre film. His films diverge from the contemporary...


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pp. 1

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Relational Independence

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pp. 1-16

Steven Soderbergh’s twenty feature films present a diverse range of subject matter and formal styles. They range from his 1989 breakthrough hit Sex, Lies, and Videotape, about the sex lives of four twentysomethings, to social-problem films such as King of the Hill (1993), Erin Brockovich (2000), Traffic (2000), Che (2008), and The Informant! (2009). ...

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Remade by Steven Soderbergh: The Underneath, Traffic, Ocean's Eleven, Solaris

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pp. 16-27

Four of Soderbergh’s films are remakes of earlier movies or television programs consistent with his efforts to balance commercial and creative considerations. They exemplify the tendency in contemporary Hollywood to presell, in other words generating profits by recycling stories that have already demonstrated their marketability. Yet remakes have...

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Star Actors: Julia Roberts, Michael Douglas, George Clooney

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pp. 28-39

Soderbergh’s films also remake the conventions of Hollywood cinema by being both character- and star-driven at the same time. The presence of George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Cate Blanchett, Brad Pitt, Michael Douglas, Benicio Del Toro, Matt Damon, and Catherine Zeta-Jones has undoubtedly helped him get his films made and seen, yet Soderbergh has...

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Cinema of Outsiders: Alienation and Crime

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pp. 39-42

Most of Soderbergh’s feature films focus on outsider characters who are alienated either by injustice they have witnessed or experienced or because they have been unsuccessful or unwilling to measure up in a world in which self-worth is determined by wealth and power. Major characters in thirteen of his movies...

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Critical Violence and Out of Sight

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pp. 42-53

While Soderbergh’s films encourage us to identify with outsider protagonists, he also qualifies their endorsement of crime by showing the limitations of the violence that often accompanies it. Violence is neither aestheticized, presented as entertainment, nor shown as effective in Soderbergh’s films; in fact, criminal rebellion gets sidetracked once it becomes violent. Kakfa’s bomb kills Dr. Murnau and destroys his laboratory...

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Words as Weapons: The Limey and Ocean's Eleven

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pp. 53-60

Like Out of Sight, The Limey questions the efficacy of violence to address class inequality, and in its place language is foregrounded as an effective means with which to negotiate social position. On one level, The Limey offers a genre story about a father, Wilson (Terence Stamp), looking for revenge for the death of his daughter, Jenny (Melissa George). ...

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Independent Form

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pp. 60-75

While Geoff King agrees that American independent cinema has always been a relational designation and therefore “not entirely separable from Hollywood,” he nonetheless presents three distinguishing characteristics: “lower budgets and less marketing-driven filmmaking,” to increase creative control; “challenging perspectives on social issues, a rarity in...

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Experiments in Digital Video: Full Frontal, K Street, Bubble

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pp. 75-86

In 2002, flush from the blockbuster earnings generated by Erin Brockovich, Traffic, and Ocean’s Eleven, which demonstrated his ability to cross over “from the idiosyncratic into the mainstream,” Soderbergh crossed back again with an experiment in digital video (Taylor 1). Ella Taylor explains that the grainy imagery and fragmented story of Full Frontal...

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Class Conflict in High Definition: Che and The Girlfriend Experience

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pp. 86-90

The overt emphasis on class conflict in Soderbergh’s 2009 biopic of Che Guevara marks a departure not from the topic itself, which has been a consistent theme in his movies, but from his past practice of submerging it within genre stories. However, consistent with his pragmatic tendency to downplay in public comments the political positions of his work, the director insisted, “I didn’t make the movie because I’m in sync with him...

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Music and Authorship in Ocean's Eleven and The Limey

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pp. 90-96

Soderbergh has described his combination of Hollywood genre with “‘a European film aesthetic’” as “‘pretending we’re in the late ’60s and early ’70s’” (qtd. in Biskind 23). Seen within this historical line of influence, the continuous tendencies in his career as a director all appear to come out of the New American Cinema to which he pays homage: his pursuit...

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pp. 106-113

The two interviews selected for this volume offer insights into several of the most prominent aspects of Steven Soderbergh’s career as a filmmaker. The first interview, Geoff Andrew talking with Soderbergh and George Clooney before a live audience in London in 2003, touches on remakes, allusion, and their collaboration with the aim, in the actor’s...


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pp. 115-122


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pp. 123-128


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pp. 129-132

About the Author, Further Reading, Publication Information

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pp. 133-136

E-ISBN-13: 9780252093012
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252036057

Page Count: 152
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Contemporary Film Directors