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APAR's WORKING WEEKEND: What’s in a Name? For Steven S., the Stuff of Legend

16 Feb, 2001 By: Bruce Apar

Call him Steven S. Jr., or Steven S. the Second.

Must be something about directors given name Steven, surname starting with S.

Erin Brockovich and Traffic leave no doubt that this is the year of Soderbergh (even rhymes with Spielberg). Memories are made of this, not just for the filmmaker himself but for avid film fans and entertainment industry pros caught up in the christening of a major talent who looks and feels to have a lot more classic productions aborning in the years ahead.

Though the bond with the audience is not as intimate when the looming legend is behind the camera instead of in front of it, Soderbergh’s career year is a rare thing of beauty to be savored while we’re still in the moment. It’s akin to the foreshadowing felt while watching videos of Easy Rider’s Nicholson or The Graduate’s Hoffman or National Velvet’s Taylor.

We’re not about to give the Academy Awards too much credence as arbiters of any film’s or filmmaker’s enduring value (after all, cartoonish B-movie Rocky was deemed Best Picture!), but attention nonetheless must be paid when any director is nominated for two different films in the same year, in this case Erin Brockovich (Universal) and Traffic (USA). Soderbergh is only the second filmmaker to earn that distinction (the first being Michael Curtiz in 1938 for Cagney classic Angels with Dirty Faces and the mostly forgotten Four Daughters).

Don’t pass up the opportunity to radiate Soderbergh’s white heat by offering customers his seminal works, starting with thriller The Underneath (Universal), and including Terence Stamp in The Limey (Artisan) and Out of Sight with George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez (Universal). Lesser-known works are King of the Hill (Universal) and, available from Winstar Home Video, Gray’s Anatomy, with world-class monologist Spalding Gray, and Schizopolis, described by Winstar as a "shock comedy that pokes fun at cults, gurus, marriage and dentistry." And don’t forget his breakthrough 1989 film sex, lies and videotape (Columbia).

The New Steven’s sure-handed sense of style and classy craftmanship in turning out two crowd- and critic-pleasing works worthy of awards is enough for us to happily ignore clucking about whether he’ll knock himself out of contention for Best Director of 2000 by gaining an insufficient plurality on either film. More absurd are the suggestions that he should publicly lean to one or the other of his progeny. If Oscar voters need to be tipped off by the filmmaker himself which to vote for, it only lays bare the folly of the process.

In more sensible, less sensationalistic times, when the Oscars showed more dignity and respect to artistic achievement, Soderbergh would be named Best Director on account of both films, not in spite of their splitting the vote. In the days of Michael Curtiz, who by the way didn’t win for either film, that’s how the Awards were handled.

Although it seems inconceivable for him not to pick up an Oscar this year, whether he does or not, Soderbergh’s strong screen signature makes it safe to say the movie industry has a Steven S. sequel it’ll be awarding for many years to come.

Comments? Contact Bruce directly at:bapar@advanstar.com

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