In regards to authorship and Soderbergh’s position as an auteur, I believe that Soderbergh exemplifies the true definition of what it means to be an auteur. Too often a filmmaker is referred to as an auteur because of their continued work within a certain genre or film style. Soderbergh on the other hand has maintained several techniques and formulaic choices that he has used over time, but the subject matter he works in is vastly different, and one that shows the unbridled adaptation and skill Soderbergh possesses as an auteur. Quite simply, Soderbergh is an auteur because he can take his honed skills as both a storyteller and a filmmaker and apply it over a variety of content, proving his creative vision can triumph through any type of story. Soderbergh’s filmography is a testament to this variety of films and I could create several links of themes and styles from each of his films spanning his entire career, but for this post I will focus on Ocean’s Eleven and sex, lies and videotape.
As has been pointed out by many people before me and quite obviously, although these films seem vastly different on the surface, they have quite a few similarities when it comes to style and storytelling. As demonstrated from my point in the previous paragraph, Soderbergh is able to successfully make these two different films his own and put his unique stamp on them, all while dealing with completely different subject matter. Soderbergh’s skill as an auteur allows him to develop equally satisfying films, albeit on different levels, while maintaing similar technical choices on the two films.
Ocean’s Eleven is clearly the more commercially viable film, but Soderbergh’s narrative and editing techniques help it stand apart from other Hollywood fair and help create a film that is smartly made, all while working under a large studio banner. Soderbergh’s creative definition of being an auteur comes from is his manipulation of narrative and consequently storytelling and his editing style as mentioned above. As Ocean’s Eleven is about a sleek group of robbers, Soderbergh films and edits the film in this style. In the scene where Danny Ocean is laying out the plans in a voiceover and we see each member doing his job, is a clear example of the fluidity of this film. Throughout the scenes, Soderbergh films in a very left to right trajectory that gives the illusion of a path we are following on and the cuts in this scene are conducive to the fast moving pace. In this sequence Soderbergh likes to experiment with different and more fluid cuts such as when Don Cheadle’s character disappears down the manhole and the camera disappears behind a car and the hidden cut takes us to the next scene, all while maintaining the fluidity of a left to right movement, creating this pacing and movement. In terms of narrative and storytelling reveals, Soderbergh likes to play with the audience the entire film, having each audience member thinking they are following along with the robbing plot, until the very end when it is revealed that not everything was what is seemed and the audience was really in the dark the entire time. I like to think in some sense this is Soderbergh’s slap in the face to viewers who arrogantly think they know a film the whole way through until he turns it on its head in the last few scenes and changes a lot of the dynamics.
With sex, lies and videotape, Soderbergh again likes to play with the narrative and provides a very effective sequence where near the end of the film when Ann finally films her “video” with Graham, Soderbergh cuts away from this quite early on and seemingly robs the viewer of what the film was slowly leading to, when Ann would finally crack and make a video. The technique that he uses though is supremely more effective, and obviously necessary for the plot, where he shows this video as Peter Gallagher’s character John views the video and we are then transported back in time to the video and are watching with John and also through his eyes and experiences. Like Ocean’s Eleven, we are lead to believe certain things and not until the end are the true motivations revealed and the whole picture comes in to focus. Soderbergh in this film also likes to use a lot of sound bridges, where a persons voiceover will continue for a few seconds into the next unrelated scene. This helps to create a voyeuristic quality as it is usually John who is talking and usually regarding some thing he is doing behind someone, usually Ann’s back. The sound bridge is used in Ocean’s Eleven, but very briefly and is not apt for the fast pace of that film.
Although different films content wise, Soderbergh retains narrative and editing techniques between the two films and helps us think of him as an auteur who can use his adaptive skills over a bevy of films and subject matter.