A O SCOTT
With the release of Side Effects,Steven Soderberghs retirement from filmmaking (at least for the big screen) finally took effect. Liberation might be a better word,since his recent activities seem to belong to a restless person newly freed from the constraints of his profession,rather than a used-up man at rest.
Last Saturday,a few weeks before heading to Cannes,where his HBO film about Liberace,Behind the Candelabra,will be shown in competition,Soderbergh,50,delivered a remarkably candid address at the San Francisco Film Festival on the State of Cinema. Transcripts and recordings of his speech quickly spread across the movie-mad regions of the Internet. A day later,a hard-boiled suspense novella called Glue began to appear,140 characters and an occasional photograph at a time,in the Twitter stream of (AT)Bitchuation,known to be Soderberghs handle. (Seven chapters have appeared so far).
For much of his career,Soderbergh has shown a flair for paradox,at once soliciting and shunning the spotlight,much as he seems to be doing now.
The smart move is to pull up stakes and head for the nearest cliche. But you dont. That brief passage,from the second chapter of Glue,might stand as a typically self-deconstructing credo. The first sentence,after all,is composed almost entirely of the cliches that the second sentence pretends to brush aside. A similar tension runs through Soderberghs films,many of which strive to carry out tried-and-true genre moves with intelligence and surprise.
His San Francisco talk was partly about just how frustrating these efforts have become. In his account,the world of movies has less and less room for cinema. Cinema is a specificity of vision, he said. It isnt made by a committee,and it isnt made by the audience. It means that if this filmmaker didnt do it,it either wouldnt exist at all or it wouldnt exist in anything like this form.
The problem,as he sees it,is that the committees and the companies,in the supposed service of the audience,have squeezed much of the cinema out of movies. When I was coming up, he said,succeeding with an independent film was like trying to hit a thrown baseball,which is to say not easy,but possible. Now,its like trying to hit a thrown baseball with another thrown baseball.
Twitterature is more like T-ball: The risks,stakes and degree of difficulty are all gratifyingly low. And Glue,which takes about 20 minutes to read,has laid its modest claim on the publics attention with more stealth than hype. The point of his experiment seems to be to isolate the minimal elements of a story. There is a protagonistyouwho has witnessed his own funeral and who is involved in the globe-trotting pursuit of a mysterious object identified as (HASHTAG)&(PERCENT)(HASHTAG). Hopscotching among European capitals you encounter various enemies,all of them identified by a single letter.
Glue is perhaps best understood as a Soderbergh film carried out by other means. Is it a screenplay in disguise? But it is too early to assume that Soderbergh is kick-starting the self-aware genre exercise that will bring him out of retirement.
Glue is assuredly not,or at least not yet,a movie. But by its authors own definition,you could certainly call it cinema.