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Steven Soderbergh


from EMPIRE, 1992

"THEY DID OVERPRAISE ME FOR my first movie, and I didn't ask for that," says Steven Soderbergh quietly. "They went too far in that direction with that movie, and too far in the other direction on the second."

Indeed, the Golden Boy of Cannes, 1989, would seem to have lost a touch of his sheen of late. Feted on the Croisette as the new Boy Wonder, and awarded the Palme D'Or as Best Director, the 26-year-old Steven Soderbergh burst on the scene in no small manner with sex lies and videotape, the intimate exploration of the lies people tell. He was The Man Of The Moment, The One To Watch and - more to the point - The One To Sign Up As Director Of Your Next Production, just like Quentin Tarantino is this very minute.

Meeting Soderbergh three years later, after the US run of his second film, Kafka, earned exactly $576,431 and very few critical Brownie points, he seems an entirely relaxed - if slightly exhausted - individual, taking the beating as calmly as he took the adulation four years ago.

"It was just weird," he says of the vicious attacks by many US critics (Kafka is yet to be released in the UK). "You see article after article about how tired people are of studio movies, and then here is an independent movie that is going to live or die on its reviews and it gets flayed. I'm not saying you should say this is a good film because it was made independently, I'm saying that it should be like diving, where you get points for difficulty whether or not you accomplish the dive. A lot of the comments were vitriolic. "

    Indeed, boring," "tedious," "pretentious," and other epithets were liberally flung in Kafka's direction, but Soderbergh himself complains that no one seemed to understand what he wanted to do after sex lies and videotape. "It's not a film without flaws," he admits. ''I'm just saying that obviously my agenda for making the film was somewhat different from what people thought my agenda was going to be."

The criticism, in fact, was just one of the trials Soderbergh experienced in completing his epic, with appalling weather, Czech bureaucracy (it was largely shot in Prague), recalcitrant writers and unhelpful stars, particularly Jeremy Irons, all contributing to the nightmare. "I remember reading that Jeremy thought that Kafka was a man who wasn't sure what to do, and he equated me with being as lost as Kafka, which is possible," he chuckles. "He also admitted that he had no idea what we were doing."[[wysiwyg_imageupload:287:]]

Despite the spectacular failure of his Difficult Second Movie, Soderbergh does not seem to be in danger of being hounded out of the filmmaking world just yet, being hard at work on no fewer than three new projects. "Regardless of what people may have thought of Kafka, even the most negative reviews respected the filmmaking," he insists. "I think many people were waiting to find out if I was completely inept and had flown through sex lies on somebody else's back or something. The funny thing is since it wasn't Hollywood money, it didn't count. If it had been Fox's money, it would have been an issue. It just didn't count because it had been labelled an art movie."

So, in fact] the quality and popularity of sex lies and videotape will stand Soderbergh in good stead for some years yet, notwithstanding the odd Kafka?

''I'm lucky and I'll tell you why," confides Steven Soderbergh. "Some amount of genuine respect is still currency in Hollywood. If people really think you're a good filmmaker then you can still get things to happen. It still means that there will be producers who will want to work with you and there will be actors who want to work with you. And if the worst comes to the worst I can go home and write something along the lines of sex lies and videotape and direct that. I know I can raise a million dollars somewhere."