Saturday, February 9, 2013
Directors who take their ball and go home
Much has been made about Steven Soderbergh threatening to quit directing. Since his Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra is set to appear on HBO, Side Effects, releasing today, could be his last theatrical release, if you are to take him at his word.
Then again, his word has also been modified from this rather absolutist stance. Maybe the specter of a future devoted entirely to painting seemed a bit daunting, so he has lately decided to re-dub this break from filmmaking a "hiatus."
Either way, I find there to be something a little petulant about people who state that they'll quit doing the thing they're doing. Especially when they do it as well and as frequently as Soderbergh does it.
It's the frequency part that really smacks of something that could almost be described as hypocrisy in the case of Soderbergh. How do you go cold turkey after spending several years on a pace of releasing a movie every seven months?
Sure, burnout is a possible factor. But if you are starting to burn out on something you love, can't you usually see the warning signs and forge for yourself a less intense schedule? Most directors are comfortable making one movie every two years, and some less frequently than that.
Which is why I always get the feeling in these situations that the person is really saying "I'm not getting the creative respect that I want/deserve. So I'm taking my ball and going home."
It's nothing overt the person is saying, but rather, a reading into the situation. Usually, a person quits doing something because they have become disillusioned with the process of doing it. And usually that's the result of this thing not bringing that person the rewards he/she believes it should bring. According to wikipedia, Soderbergh said that "when you reach the point where you're saying, 'If I have to get into a van to do another scout, I'm just going to shoot myself,' it's time to let somebody who's still excited about getting in the van, get in the van." Couldn't you extrapolate from this comment that he's saying "If I have to get in a van to do another scout and I'm not winning an Oscar on the other end, I don't want to do it anymore"?
Okay, that's reading a lot into it. And Soderbergh strikes me as the kind of guy who doesn't care that much about Oscars (I could probably find a quote from him that said as much if I googled it). But I don't think it's totally off base either. If Soderbergh found "getting in that van" to be so odious, why did he do it so often? In fact, so often that it looked like he was trying to set a record for the most films shot during the least amount of time?
My second example of a possibly petulantly quitting director is perhaps a clearer example. Kevin Smith has also told people that he will be wrapping up his directing career after he makes the hockey movie Hit Somebody, which was then expanded into two movies before ultimately becoming envisioned as a six-part TV miniseries. Clearly wanting to go out with some kind of feature rather than just fading away, Smith changed those plans to directing a third Clerks movie pending some other details falling into place.
Like Soderbergh with his painting, Smith also has other time-consuming passions that could easily replace the time he spends making films, as he has a knack for instantly expanding into any new form of social media. His podcasts are really popular too.
But here it seems a bit more like he was dissatisfied with the way he had started being received, and is quitting as some kind of "I'll show you" act. The announcements about his future coincided with his release of Red State, which he had to distribute himself and which was not greeted with universal acclaim (though I felt it should have been). At that point he started saying things about how he was "running out of stories to tell" and talking about how Harvey Weinstein had built him up as a celebrity auteur because his films couldn't stand on their own. Sounds pretty bitter to me.
The reason I feel more confident in accusing Smith of these petulant motivations is that I doubt he would have said or done any of this if Red State had been greeted as the masterpiece that I believe it is. If he'd gotten more love from critics and audiences on this movie, don't tell me it wouldn't have given him renewed encouragement about his own capabilities. It would have easily inspired him to continue these initial strides as a serious filmmaker, who thinks about how he composes his shots and writes stories that don't provoke merely with potty humor.
If you're detecting a little petulance in me, well, that may just be because I don't want to see either of these guys disappear. I alternate liking and not really liking Soderbergh's movies, but the ones I like (Magic Mike), I like a whole lot. And I would argue that Smith is currently making the best movies he's ever made. Both Red State and another movie he listed as one source of his low cinematic morale -- Zack and Miri Make Porno -- are comfortably in my top five Smith movies.
I was even looking forward to the hockey movie. So here's hoping neither Soderbergh nor Smith takes his puck and goes home.