Cinema and Media Studies Steven Soderbergh
by
Andrew deWaard
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 June 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0187

Introduction

Born in Atlanta, Georgia, on 14 January 1963, Steven Soderbergh is a unique and prolific American filmmaking talent, having directed nearly thirty provocative films, often working as cinematographer, editor, cameraman, and screenwriter as well, while also helping produce dozens of films for his colleagues. His diverse body of cinematic work includes big-budget spectacles, formal experiments, crowd-pleasing genre films, and existential exercises. His feature films include the influential, independent debut sex, lies and videotape (1989), which won many awards, including the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival; the byzantine psychological thriller Kafka (1991); the Depression-era period piece King of the Hill (1993); the gloomy neo-noir The Underneath (1995); a stylization of a Spalding Gray monologue in Gray’s Anatomy (1996); the offbeat, low-budget experiment Schizopolis (1996); the crime caper Out of Sight (1998); the nonlinear revenge film The Limey (1999); the crowd-pleasing social problem film Erin Brockovich (2000); the multinarrative War on Drugs epic Traffic (2000), for which Soderbergh won an Oscar for Best Director; the slick, lucrative, franchise-starting Ocean’s Eleven (2001); the digital experiment Full Frontal (2002); the philosophical sci-fi romance Solaris (2002); the subversive sequel Ocean’s Twelve (2004); the blue-collar murder mystery Bubble (2005); the post-WWII historical pastiche The Good German (2006); the trilogy-ending Ocean’s Thirteen (2007); the two-part, clinical biopic of Ernesto “Che” Guevara Che (2008); the sex-work digital portrait The Girlfriend Experience (2009); the corporate satire The Informant! (2009); the collage-style documentary And Everything Is Going Fine (2010) about Spalding Gray; the pandemic-based disaster film Contagion (2011); the lean, gritty action film Haywire (2012); the wildly successful movie about male strippers Magic Mike (2012); the Hitchcockian thriller Side Effects (2013); and Behind the Candelabra (2013), a decadent biopic of Liberace for HBO. Soderbergh has since retired from feature-length filmmaking and shifted to a career in theater, writing, and television, including the Cinemax series The Knick (2014), following earlier work in television such as K Street (2003) and Unscripted (2005). Academic writing on Soderbergh’s cinematic body of work has tended to focus on certain topics: his bold, formal experiments in narrative, cinematography, editing, and genre; his significant role in the development of American independent filmmaking and unique deployment of film authorship; the representation of gender, race, and sexuality in his films; the critical stance toward political and corporate institutions; his deft usage of homage and adaptation; and the philosophical questions his films pose.

Books

More than twenty years into his career, a trio of books by film studies scholars finally arrived to take stock of the filmmaker’s broad and diverse body of work—Baker 2011, deWaard and Tait 2013, and Gallagher 2013—each with a unique auteurist analysis. Common themes include the changing nature of cinematic authorship, Soderbergh’s key role in the American independent film movement, genre filmmaking, intertextuality, and the theme of crime. A brief overview, Wood 2002, introduces Soderbergh for more general audiences, covering the first decade of his career.

  • Baker, Aaron. Steven Soderbergh. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2011.

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    A concise, accessible, yet thorough overview of Soderbergh’s career, primarily approaching his body of work as a negotiation of European art cinema and Hollywood genre film, but also covering a series of thematic patterns: adaptation, star actors, crime, language, independence, digital video, class, and music.

  • deWaard, Andrew, and R. Colin Tait. The Cinema of Steven Soderbergh: Indie Sex, Corporate Lies, and Digital Videotape. New York: Wallflower/Columbia University Press, 2013.

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    The authors of this unorthodox auteur study focus on thematic clusters traceable within Soderbergh’s prolific career and varied body of work: the changing role of the director (traditional, celebrity, and guerrilla), the mysterious figure of the detective (in The Limey, Solaris, and The Good German), and Soderbergh’s role in new genre cycles (the “New Crime Wave” in the ’90s, the ethical heist film, and the global social problem film).

  • Gallagher, Mark. Another Steven Soderbergh Experience: Authorship and Contemporary Hollywood. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2013.

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    Gallagher focuses on the discourse and context surrounding Soderbergh’s career and body of work, providing the opportunity to analyze authorship itself in contemporary Hollywood with Soderbergh as a fertile case study. The author advances a number of provocative conceptualizations, such as “transhistorical taste cultures” (45), “co-situated textualities” (139), “global auteurism” (90), and “parafiction” (197). Includes an in-depth interview with the director.

  • Wood, Jason. Steven Soderbergh. Harpenden, UK: Pocket Essentials, 2002.

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    A short guide that serves as a brief introduction to the filmmaker, detailing some biographical information as well as the cast and crew, plot, subtext, and background of each film, covering up to Ocean’s 11.

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