Posted tagged ‘steven soderbergh’

A month of duels: Soderbergh vs. Tarkovsky

July 8, 2009

In the spirit of some of the greatest duels in the history of drama (we’re thinking Shakespeare here, of course), we present to you a month of duels: we put forth two contenders, you decide the winner.

First, the original Russian trailer for Tarkovsky‘s Solaris:

Second, the 2002 George Clooney-starring Solaris remake by Steven Soderbergh.

Who’s the winner? Remember you can see the Tarkovsky original here on Thursday and Friday.

Stay tuned for more duels in the coming weeks!


Doing it, Digitally: A Chat with Glenn Kenny on Steven Soderbergh’s Girlfriend Experience

May 26, 2009

Steven Soderbergh has had what some would call a bipolar career, starting off with his widely acknowledged indie Sex, Lies and Videotape and ending up somewhere around Ocean’s 13 (a three-quel, not a thirteen-quel, thankfully), by way of Erin Brokovich. But even with his mainstream films, Soderbergh has burned the candle at both ends, continuing to make his farcically commercial vehicles while releasing camp, kitsch and craziness like the pastiche film The Good German or the crazy micro-budget Bubble.

The latter film is the result of his partnership with HDNet Films and producer Mark Cuban, shooting on the vaunted RED-One camera, a digital device with the quality of film, and casting mostly non-professional actors as largely versions of themselves for a heady experience that usually involves two-weeks-or-so of shooting and simultaneous video-on-demand releasing. This model, which he used previously for Bubble and his political-epic Che (a selection of the New York Film Festival 2008), is turned towards the smaller, upscale livelihood of a call girl and her personal-trainer boyfriend in his new film, The Girlfriend Experience.

I sat down with Glenn Kenny, a real-life blogger and film critic, who in the film plays a character out of a movie by Todd Solodnz or Todd Field: a smarmy “hobbyist” and rater of escort services who self-identifies as “The Erotic Connoisseur”.

Given that he himself is a blogger and that most of the people in the movie are playing themselves or something similar–Sasha Grey, the lead, is a porn star playing an escort–I asked him if he was worried about people thinking he actually was the part he played.

“Well,” he said, adopting a sardonic tone. “Let’s just say I’m lucky to be married in more ways than one.”

Kenny, a long time film critic and writer who wrote for Premiere magazine for over a decade, now blogs on the web at his site Some Came Running, a place where he talks about movies and his life, but does not in fact rate escorts.

“I was long-time friends with the screenwriters, David Levien and Bryan Koppleman and they had worked with Soderbergh just recently on Ocean’s 13,” Kenny explained. “They were holed up in a hotel room, writing another script entirely, when they saw a couple down outside the hotel which just didn’t seem right; an older man, with a much younger woman in intense clothes, hanging off him, as if for dear life.”

“One of them asked aloud, ‘What’s that?’ and another one of them replied ‘Oh, it’s the Girlfriend Experience, a service where a prostitute doesn’t just dole out sex, but simulated love as well.’ And this got them all thinking and so, David, Bryan and Soderbergh thought there was a script there and wrote it.”

However, even though Levien, Koppleman and Soderbergh collaborated on the script, the script was almost an outline and all the dialogue was improvised with the actors on set immediately, a sort of crystal-meth rush of Mike Leigh method. As a result, a script that was written in March 2007, according to Kenny, ended up heavily referencing September 2008, with the anxiety of the financial crisis and the upcoming election at the forefront.

“They would have newspapers for us on set from the week it was supposed to be and we would just sit around and talk about it,” Kenny recalled.

In the film, Chelsea/Christianne (Sasha Grey) is a practitioner of “The Girlfriend Experience”, while her boyfriend Chris (Chris Santos), a personal trainer, chases his own dreams of breaking it big in the world managing a gym or marketing a line of sportswear. Their relationship is interesting in the acknowledgment of Chelsea’s profession. “You’re the best at what you do.” Chris tells her, when she seems threatened by another escort’s popularity.

This anxiety drives Chelsea to seek “Glenn,” the character played by Glenn Kenny, who runs a website that rates escort services. One of the most sublime moments of the film occurs when Chelsea shows up at an old furniture store to be confronted with an old man who directs her to Kenny’s character, who lives in the back.

Kenny explains: “Steven really wanted to use that store. And when we got there, this old man, the store owner, was there. And Steven said let’s put him in the movie. So I was faced with this old man, who I had just met for the first time and of course it was improvised, so I thought, what could the relationship be between me and this guy and I thought–landlord–but wait, wouldn’t it just be more awful if it was my dad?”

Two more improvised riffs from Kenny also add up to some of the best moments in the film: a description of a prostitute “junket” in Dubai that “Glenn” offers as bait to Chelsea, and a stinging review of Chelsea’s services to him administered, off-screen, for free.

“We actually shot the sex scene, I had to ask my wife about that, but it was cut from the film,” Kenny told me. “And when I wrote my on-set diaries for GQ, they ended up dropping them and I can’t help but think it was because they didn’t see me naked next to Sasha Gray.”

“As for the ‘junket’, well I’m a film critic and I thought that would be funny. I actually heard some sailors I met overseas talk to me about their experience in Dubai and how the most beautiful women they’d ever seen were the Russian hookers they saw in Dubai. So I thought, wouldn’t it be funny if my character brought a bunch of high-class prostitutes to them to try to convince them to ‘buy American.'”

Those diaries, which ended up here on Martin Scorsese’s Auteur Project, are very humorous and provide more insight into the casting process as well as the improvisation on set.

Overall, I thought the film fairly successful, a Steven Soderbergh take on Two or Three Things I Know About Her, with Sasha Grey standing in for Mariana Vlady and an interesting time-capsule of an anxiety not-too-far-gone.

“I like Soderbergh even when he is working on Ocean’s 13, though like all directors he’s made up-and-down films. He just keeps throwing things at you until he gets what he wants; he’s really hands on,” Kenny said. “You know, when they called me up for the part, they told me they needed someone who could talk, who could go-on, who could expound…”

“Who could bloviate?” I offered, giving the root of the term “blog.”

“Yeah,” Glenn Kenny said with a smile. “That too.”

-Nicholas Feitel

Nicholas Feitel also writes for his own blog, Feitelogram

Radical differences: a guide to telling your revolutionary biopics apart

October 27, 2008
A big beret to fill

A big beret to fill

Tomorrow night at the Walter Reade Theater, Film Comment Selects a biopic of a certain fatigue-sporting folk hero best known for leading the Cuban revolution.

Wait a second, you say, didn’t Che already make a rare appearance in it’s four-and-a-half-hour glory during the New York Film Festival? Yes, but that was the Steven Soderbergh-directed Che.

Benicio Del Toro as Che

This, my friends, is the rarely screened 1969 classic starring Omar Sharif embodying the indelible visage of emblazoned upon the threadbare t-shirts of grad students everywhere. And between Richard Fleischer’s blast-from-the-past biopic Che! and Soderbergh’s groundbreaking Spanish-language epic, there are some radical differences. To wit…

Omar Sharif as Che!

Omar Sharif as Che!


Soderbergh (Che): Famous for putting Sundance on the map with 1989’s Sex, Lies, and Videotape.

Fleischer (Che!): Famous for helming the film that brought the world the phrase: “…is made out of people!!!”

Castro was played by…

Che: Demián Bichir, a Mexican actor

Che!: Jack Palance, the famous one-armed push-up doing Oscar winner


Che: working characteristically fast and loose, Soderbergh shot Che himself, using a brand-new hi-def camera called The RedONE. The first half of the film was shot in anamorphic, while the second half was confined to a less wide-screen scope. [Watch Soderbergh talk about his process in an exclusive Film Society Q&A]

Che!: Widescreen all the way–this feature was pure Hollywood production.

If you saw Che, or even the Motorcycle Diaries, Che! is a new lens on understanding a pivotal historical moment. And it just goes to show: one exclamation point can mean a world of difference.

Buy your tickets now: Tue Oct 28: 6:35

How Soderbergh’s Che sets the bar for the biopic

October 9, 2008

Benicio Del Toro as Ernesto “Che” Guevara

Steven Soderbergh’s sweeping four-and-a-half-hour long biopic Che is a stunning masterwork of documentarian vision, likely to set the bar for future works of historical biography brought to film. Profiling Argentinean revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara in both the highlight and lowlight of his life in the mid-twentieth century, Soderbergh brings to the screen an account of Guevara’s successes and defeats that is both magnificently crafted and consistently engaging. Che is divided in two halves, the first about Guevara’s triumphant campaign of motivating a socialist revolutionary movement in Cuba to overthrow the government of United States-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista, and the second about his attempt to incite a similar yet unsuccessful guerrilla movement in Bolivia that ultimately led to his execution.

The film unfolds with a brave, objectivist stance that never wavers or never seems to lapse into the gratuitous fictional liberties that could overtake such a biopic as this. Onscreen, Benicio Del Toro as Guevara is a force; his conviction alone anchors the film and allows the viewer to sympathize with Che yet not at all times believe his choices to be correct. Del Toro emphasizes Guevara’s nonnegotiable desire for his guerrilla army to be educated and self-aware, and perhaps it is this sole trait that accentuates his undeniable charisma. Che pulls out a few cute casting surprises (Julia Ormond and Franka Potente are both welcome surprises), but heralds Del Toro as the rightful and undeniable star of the show.

The first portion of the film intercuts Guevara’s 1958/1959 campaign in Cuba with his speech before the United Nations General Assembly in New York City in 1964. Soderburgh shows us New York in black and white, with the handheld-camera style of a documentary, punctuating Guevara’s preparation for his speech with snippets of an interview for American television. In contrast, Cuba is given the full-color treatment for the lush Caribbean jungle, and the viewer is treated to a sly (but never lecture-like) history lesson about the 26 Julio socialist movement in Cuba and how Fidel Castro, with Che by his side, rose to power. From the jungle to the streets of the city, Che’s guerrilla army grows in number and in strength; those looking for the punch of an action film certainly won’t leave disappointed after scenes showing a dazzling display of choreographed combat.

Once the second half of the film gains its momentum, it becomes clear how Guevara’s fervor and perhaps overconfidence in charging a socialist uprising throughout the world led directly to his downfall. His campaign in Bolivia was predicated on his success in Cuba, and it is to Che’s detriment that he did not understand that the people of Bolivia were not in need or of a desire for a grassroots uprising. Soderbergh shows us a Bolivia that is harsher, drier, and less navigable than Cuba, and this contrast highlights the confidence of his directorial eye (and, to boot, doesn’t disappoint with his trademark saturation of color when the ambient hues of the dawn and dusk allow for it).

Che is a master chronicle of historical drama on film, and it will be awhile before anyone can harness the electric energy that both Soderbergh and Del Toro bring to one of the best biopics in the history of cinema.

Snapshots: Che’s Benicio Del Toro and director Steven Soderbergh

October 8, 2008

New York Film Festival Snapshots sponsored by:

Che’s Benicio Del Toro and director Steven Soderbergh

Photo: Godlis

Che: a Q & A with director Steven Soderbergh

October 6, 2008

Video courtesy of Kevin Lee.

See more Q&As at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s YouTube channel.

Steven Soderbergh on Che

September 30, 2008


“I think J.G. Ballard once said that research was the last refuge of the unimaginative. There were times when I thought he was absolutely right. There are a million Ches–he means something different to everyone.”

-Steven Soderbergh on the making of Che.