Steven Soderbergh surprised some when he told a packed crowd at Comic-Con on Friday that he wasn’t retiring in the way that Matt Damon had portrayed it to the media. That doesn’t mean he isn’t leaving his craft behind — he seems intent on doing so — just that it may be happening at a later time and under different circumstances than the actor had indicated.
This is one of several things he discussed with ThePlaylist, who were lucky enough to talk with the acclaimed filmmaker. The revealing conversation also brought up news about a new documentary that he’s made, what may happen with his abandoned Cleopatra film, Cleo, and how he might not stop directing.
This new documentary, which we’re just hearing about now, centers on the making of the 1970 counter-culture film End of the Road. His connection to it seems to simply be the fact that he’s a fan of its screenwriter, Terry Southern; ThePlaylist points out that he donated an unknown (but apparently large) amount to the New York Public Library in 2003 to preserve archives on the writer that are held there. Southern had a very respectable career in his day, having also co-written classics like Dr. Strangelove and Easy Rider, so the fandom isn’t difficult to understand.
Saying that they’ve been “working on it for a few years,” he also mentioned that, other than Southern, “everyone’s still alive,” which means they obtained “some really good interviews out of everyone.” The documentary will be released on Blu-ray this October by Warner Bros., in their line of re-discovered cinematic treasures. Directed by Aram Avakian, the original movie has a cast that includes Stacy Keach, James Earl Jones, and Harris Yulan, which means that he has access to some interesting subjects for interviews here. I like that he’s earned enough power at this point to make a documentary about someone and something he admires, like Martin Scorsese‘s Elia Kazan documentary, A Letter to Elia. Passion for a subject comes through in films of this sort, and I’ll bet that he did a great job with it. Plus, there’s the excitement in simply seeing what he does with a format he’s only tackled a few times before, so this is certainly good news.
He also revealed that Cleo, the cancelled 3D, rock-fueled biopic of Cleopatra that was to star Catherine Zeta-Jones and Hugh Jackman, may not be dead. Claiming it “was ready to go” but simply fell through because of “some scheduling issues on the side of the cast,” it’s very clear that this is something he doesn’t want to leave it behind. Being quoted as saying that he “really loved” the script by Jim Greer (who is a member of the band Guided by Voices, the group that was going to do the film’s soundtrack), there was the interesting mention of adapting it as a play. No one really knows if he’ll do that, but his seemingly open future could lend time for it to happen.
This leads into the whole retirement issue, which he made sure to stress is still going through, and that he’s “winding down” right now. He just wants to keep those plans private, because, as he put it, “no one wants to hear you talk about leaving a high paying job.” Even movies like Magic Mike, the Channing Tatum stripper story, aren’t seen by him as an attempt to delay retirement, because he appears to have a “two-year plan” to get that, Liberace, and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. all made.
He briefly hinted at what we may expect from him in a post-filmmaking career — Damon has said it would be painting, and while not denying that, there seems to be the possibility that directing is still in the cards for him. For example, the mention of “some short film that takes a couple of years to make that doesn’t adhere to any [traditional] marketing film structure” done in an attempt to “keep trying to surprise yourself and keep your creative senses fresh and on their toes,” might be forthcoming. I hope that if he does in fact retire soon, which I do think he will, he does so in a respectable fashion. This is a guy who’s one of our most interesting directors out there today, whether you like his movies or not, and he’s never willing to conform to the expectations of audiences or critics. Let him end things how he wants.
No matter what he does, there’s more Soderbergh coming in the near future — Contagion opens on September 9th, and Haywire will be released on January 20th.
Are you a Soderbergh fan? How do you feel about his big plans, including a possible retirement?