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Posts Tagged ‘Steven Soderbergh’

Soderbergh on set of “Logan Lucky”

“Really?  Can’t be.  Say it ain’t so, Steven.”  That was what many of us said when Mr. Soderbergh declared that he was retiring from directing movies.  And for those who had followed, studied, or were inspired by his unique career and creative output, it seemed that this might certainly turn out to be a bit of a joke from a world-class jokester.  Well, that indeed appears to be the case, and of course, he never really retired by any stretch of the term (such as with Behind the Candelabra, The Knick, and more).  Here is an excellent article on Soderbergh right now one week before the release of his promising new movie, Logan Lucky (written by the decidedly mysterious Rebecca Blunt — is this another Soderbergh joke?).

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Soderbergh shooting handheld from a dolly

Soderbergh shooting handheld from a dolly

In an earlier post — Soderbergh Raids the Ark — I shared Steven Soderbergh’s very revealing experiment in which he turned Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark into a black & white silent movie.  Right now I would like to highlight two recently published articles about these two very different and undoubtedly masterful directors.  In Steven Spielberg on the Cold War and Other Hollywood Front Lines, Spielberg discusses his new historically based movie, Bridge of Spies, and many other topics with Cara Buckley of the New York Times.  In The Binge Director (in New York magazine), Matt Zoller Seitz visits with Soderbergh on the set of his show The Knick.  There are many interesting points for young filmmakers and media literacy educators in both of these superb articles.

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raiders-soderbergh1For a lesson in the art of directing from American master Steven Spielberg, here is an educational exercise courtesy of another American master, Steven Soderbergh.  On his site Extension 765, Soderbergh has taken the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark and posted a version of it in which he has removed the color and replaced the entire soundtrack with a contemporary — and very Soderberghian — score, in order to study the staging, pace, and other visual elements of Spielberg’s direction.  And, yes, Raiders looks superb in black and white, thanks to its cinematographer Douglas Slocombe (still alive at 103 years old!), who also shot such classics as Rollerball, The Lion in Winter, The Lavender Hill Mob, The Man in the White Suitand one of my all-time favorites, The Fearless Vampire Killers.  If you ever wondered what Raiders of the Lost Ark would look like as a silent film, this is it!  And if you are looking to see how others have learned lessons from the directing (and cinematography and editing) skills of Mr. Steven Soderbergh, look no further than that little TV show Breaking Bad.  For my money, Vince Gilligan and his colleagues must have spent a fair amount of time watching various examples of Soderbergh’s work to find inspiration for Breaking Bad from the tone, pace, atmosphere, and other elements of style in a number of his best movies.

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King of the HillIn an earlier post about composer Cliff Martinez, I mused about the (seemingly long-shot) potential of a release of Steven Soderbergh’s King of the Hill, writing “one of my dream projects for a film restoration would be for Steven Soderbergh to recut and remaster his film King of the Hill.  This movie from 1993 features superb performances by Jesse Bradford and the rest of the cast, striking cinematography by Elliot Davis (whose trio of films with Soderbergh are all visually stunning, the other two being The Underneath and Out of Sight), and pitch-perfect direction by Soderbergh; it is a sorely under-appreciated movie.”  Well, the news is very good indeed: King of the Hill is going to be released in a Criterion edition along with The Underneath as a bonus.  I mention this for the mediateacher.net blog because King of the Hill is a fitting movie for use with certain units of Moving Images (and it will certainly be incorporated into the instructor’s resources materials in upcoming revisions) and it is also an exceptional film for social studies curricula because of its unique and compelling depiction of the Great Depression.  And The Underneath is a perfect contemporary counterpoint to classic film noir, quite suitable for use in university film studies courses; for me, it is one of the most underrated movies of the past couple decades (and particularly by Soderbergh himself!).

Alison Elliott in The Underneath

Alison Elliott in The Underneath

My title for this post is one that I use for programming and lectures focusing on one of the most important themes of Soderbergh’s work: the pursuit of wealth and its importance in American culture.  Starting with King of the Hill, Soderbergh has returned again and again to the exploration of pressures and moral issues associated with “achieving the American dream” and the illusion of fulfillment through affluence, in such movies as The Underneath, Out of Sight, The Limey, Ocean’s Eleven (and Twelve and Thirteen), Erin Brockovitch, The Informant, and Magic Mike, among others, as well as in his writing and lectures.   

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Iron MandarinAs the school year winds down, it can be fun to open up discussion a bit to “big picture” topics.  And one doesn’t get much bigger than the summer blockbusters that have been booming across our screens and into our ears in recent years, or that implode (at least at the box office, when compared to the truckloads of money that were spent on them); whatever the case, we tend to love debating what’s hot, what’s not, and what there is to discover.  Right now, of course, the biggie is Iron Man 3, which opened to a relatively predictable huge first weekend.  I highly recommend this superbly written New York Times review by Manohla Dargis for what could be a lively discussion about the state of the movies — and the state of the nation — because it reads at least as much as an editorial or an impassioned “state of the cinematic arts” mission statement as anything else.  She skillfully integrates Steven Soderbergh’s inspiring talk at the San Francisco Film Festival from a week ago into the review and provides many provocative angles for students and teachers to consider about this movie.  In the meantime, J.J. Abrams‘s Star Trek Into Darkness is right around the corner…

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cannes2013As the end of the year is in view for many teachers, it could be time to look for some outside-of-the-box lessons — like checking out the selections for this year’s Cannes film festival and investigating the continually evolving world of film festivals, marketing, and distribution.  Not to forget red carpets.  I mention this because there is a very striking looking selection of movies this year, and for French teachers, you can do all of this work in French!

Here is the list of movies in competition, including new features by Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, the Coen brothers, Alexander Payne, Steven Soderbergh, Nicholas Winding Refn, James Gray, Roman Polanski, and many others.

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Keanu Reeves and Martin Scorsese contemplate the moving image in Side by Side, directed by Chris Kenneally

The movie Side by Side is opening now, and this will provide a very informative and provocative source of debate, contemplation, and reference for people interested in media arts and the state of creative platforms at this moment in time.  Check out the trailer and seek out further info on this movie directed by Chris Kenneally, produced and narrated by Keanu Reeves, and featuring appearances by numerous acclaimed filmmakers including Martin Scorsese, Steven Soderbergh, Christopher Nolan, James Cameron, and David Fincher.

When creating Moving Images, one of the most challenging areas to consider was how to treat contemporary issues of cinematography and conceptions of light and its capture.  As I mentioned in an earlier post focusing on the work of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, in the years since the development of this textbook, the majority of Academy Award nominees in cinematography each year have been shot on film.  No matter what the platform for cinematography, the understanding and control of light and color continue to be among the most important skills and concepts for anyone working in movies, whether through digital processes or celluloid.

I can add one personal point: I remain unconvinced by the proclaimed “reign of 3D” by Mr. Cameron and various movie execs during the past few years (and I remember a speech by a Jeffrey Katzenberg a few years ago in which he declared that “all movies will be 3D a decade from now”).  I have found it interesting the degree to which young people — at least the ones I work with — scoff at 3D and time and again tell me that it is rare that they have any desire to see movies in 3D.  Here is a blog from Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell about the topic; as usual, it is engrossing and quite informative.

I will have more to say about these topics in upcoming blogs.

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