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From the Vaults: Underneath With Soderbergh

When Steven Soderbergh Came to SXSW ’95 ...
Marjorie Baumgarten, 6:00pm, Fri. Feb. 8, 2013

Maybe it's the season: the South by Southwest Film and Interactive Festivals are coming up on their 20th anniversaries – which has many of us wondering where the time has gone. We'll have lots more to say about that milestone in an upcoming issue, so stay tuned. In the meantime, Steven Soderbergh's new film Side Effects opens today, which got us thinking.

Back in March 1995, Steven Soderbergh came to Austin to attend the second SXSW Film Festival to present his new film, The Underneath (which was shot in Austin) and appear on a panel. The Underneath was Soderbergh's fourth completed feature film, and the young man who made such a splash in 1989 with his first indie film, sex, lies, and videotape – the movie that launched the Sundance Film Festival into an acquisitions hotspot – was adjusting to the downturn his career had taken since its meteoric rise. The amazing financial success of sex, lies, and videotape was followed by Kafka and King of the Hill, neither of which ever found much love in the marketplace.

On the eve of the release of The Underneath (which was based on a 1949 film noir that even Soderbergh described as "really not a great film"), the filmmaker mused in a Chronicle interview with "Awake in the Dark" columnist Patrick Taggart about the future course of his career. "There's Nothing wrong with the mainstream if you can make something good there," Soderbergh said.

There's been a kind of line drawn in the sand and it's too bad," the director continues in "Sex, Lies, and Soderbergh." "We don't need more art films, we need more mainstream films made more intelligently." I can't help but feel rueful upon reading that statement since Soderbergh claims that Side Effects is going to be the last movie he makes – at least for the foreseeable future. Soderbergh wants time to try his hand at other artistic endeavors and feels that he's already done everything he's wanted to do in film. Maybe, in time, his creative fuse will reignite with ideas for more movies. We can hope.

For the last two decades, Soderbergh has fluidly moved between the independent and studio filmmaking worlds. His studio movies – like Erin Brockovich, Out of Sight, the Ocean's 11 series, Contagion, and Magic Mike – have proved to be high points in popular entertainment – smart, entertaining, and commercially viable. I feel as plaintive as the kid at the end of Shane: "Come back, Steven," I cry. "Come back."

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