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Steven Soderbergh Throws Himself Under The Bus For ‘The Underneath’; Talks Criterion ‘King of The Hill’

The Playlist By Rodrigo Perez | The Playlist March 11, 2014 at 3:18PM

Steven Soderbergh is nothing if not candid. And self-critical. But unless you're a longtime fan you may not have heard the always-frank filmmaker essentially throw himself underneath the bus for Universal/Gramercy Picture’s 1995 crime film, "The Underneath” starring Peter Gallagher, William Fichtner, Elisabeth Shue and Alison Elliott. A remake of 1949's noir "Criss Cross," the film came at a critical time in the filmmaker's development and a tumultuous one in his life. He had started his career with the Palme d'Or breakthrough "Sex Lies & Videotape," a film that essentially jumpstarted the American indie film scene ("it's all downhill from here,” he quipped during his acceptance speech), but his subsequent efforts didn't connect with audiences.
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The Underneath

4. “The Underneath” apparently rivals an old Don Siegel movie for a film with the least amount of footage exposed.
Soderbergh says one of Don Siegel’s down-and-dirty Clint Eastwood films holds the record for the least-amount of footage exposed on a set: 62,000 feet of film exposed. And he adds, “The Underneath came close to shooting so little."

“I needed to bottom out, to borrow a phrase, in order to rebuild.”

"Anybody who knows anything about that stuff will gasp when they hear that figure," he laughed about the extremely low ratio of footage that will leave a filmmaker with very few options in the editing room. For comparison, he noted that Michael Mann shoots 30,000 feet of film a day (or at least did when things weren’t all digital)."You could call it efficiency, you could call it a desire to escape from the production as quickly as possible. Certainly coverage didn't interest me at the time but that's a suspicious number as far as I'm concerned. That seems shady to me, that sounds suspicious," he said raising a wry eyebrow.

5. Soderbergh was so disillusioned with the film, he turned down the Cannes Film Festival.
Festival President Gilles Jacob called Soderbergh personally to see if he was interested in premiering the film at the 1995 film festival. Soderbergh flatly turned him down. “It’s the worst thing I’ve ever made,” the filmmaker recalled saying to the Cannes organizer. “I’m not even going to screen it for you.” Jacob laughed and said, “I've never heard anyone say that to me—ever."

6. Soderbergh recommends shooting a film while a studio is simultaneously making a soon-to-be legendary trainwreck.
The small production had the good fortune of shooting at the same time as Universal’s notorious bomb, “Waterwold.” ”The key is—if you can somehow orchestrate this—is to make your movie at the same time the studio is making a legendary, out-of-control production,” he laughed, “We literally couldn’t get anyone on the phone while we were shooting so we were completely on our own. It was nice, I like being left alone, but I remember… when we had questions or needed something, we could not reach anyone.”

7. “King of the Hill” was a different experience, but was not well-received at Cannes in 1993.
“King of the Hill,” Soderbergh’s third feature film, is one that he recalls fondly. While he’s still not as satisfied with the result as he could be, the director said the experience itself was a pleasureable one and he believes the movie is (mostly) successful on its own terms for what it was. His decision to turn down Cannes for “The Underneath” likely ties into his experience with “King of the Hill” at Cannes. The movie was poorly received, but he says he didn’t know then what he knows now: the movie isn’t a “Cannes movie”— as Woody Allen put it, it didn't have any kind of "heavy-osity." It didn’t have a political subtext that he says can be as simple as the socio-political subtext of gay culture in “Behind the Candelabra," which screened in competition last year.

King Of The Hill

Soderbergh says the film was so poorly received, that interviewers began canceling interviews with him because they conflicted with the ones set for Chinese filmmaker Chen Kaige (and his well-received “Farewell My Concubine,” which would go on to co-win the Palme d’Or that year, tied with Jane Campion’s “The Piano”). Universal reps at the festival were furious, but the always self-aware filmmaker told the studio to not lose sleep over it. “It’s not my year,” he said understanding the ebb and flow of popularity and capturing the zeitgeist. “It’s someone else’s turn.”

8. Mostly, Soderbergh recalls “King of the Hill” as a film that allowed him to make mistakes.
Soderbergh said the irony of “King of the Hill” now, looking back on it, is that he was dissatisfied with himself, but thought the studio system at the time (Gramercy Pictures which was Universals '90s indie wing) was great and helpful. Now he believes the reverse is true; his work is where he wants it to be, but the studio system that is blockbuster and commerce-driven isn’t helpful to filmmakers these days. “20 years later things have flipped,” he said. “I’m much happier with where I am as a filmmaker and less happy with how the studio system that is functioning in terms of its approach to making movies.”

The filmmaker says the first seven years of his career is uneven, two steps forward and two steps back, but in terms of his development, these steps were necessary. “Filmmakers now don’t get to make the mistakes that I made,” he admitted. “They really don’t. And I needed those mistakes. And I feel bad, everyone’s expecting [new directors] to emerge just full blown right out of the gate. And I needed those early movies to figure out what I was up to.”

"Kiing of the Hill" and "The Underneath" are now available via The Criterion Collection.


This article is related to: King of The Hill, Steven Soderbergh, The Underneath, The Criterion Collection, Features, Feature


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