Interview: Director Steven Soderbergh, Pt. 3 of 3
On books, media violence, pharmaceuticals and other matters ...
In the last part of our interview with Steven Soderbergh, the retiring director talks about books, leisure time, the pharmaceutical industry, media violence and much, much more. ...
I was talking to someone once a while ago about Alex Gibney and their big question for him was, "Does he ever just like watch 'Law and Order' episodes? Does he ever read People Magazine on a hammock? He just seems like he has no free time."
Yeah, he's really .. it's funny. I bumped into him because he's involved with DGA stuff so I see him, you know, every once in a while. He seems very calm and very happy.
Right. But are you going to like finally watch "The Wire" completely? Like what are you going to do in all your free post-filmmaking time -- is there stuff on a human/relaxation level...
Lots of books.
A lot of books?
Lots of books. I mean I try and read like a book a week, but I've got a ton of stuff that that's what I'm really looking forward to. I get a lot of pleasure out of a good book.
What was the last really great thing you read?
Well, I just finished this fascinating biography of Yukio Mishima that just came out. ("Persona: A Biography of Yukio Mishima" by Naoki Inose and Hiroaki Sato.) This doorstop, but just absolutely fascinating and really interesting ... not that I was going to plan my exit the way he did. But he was ...that all played out the way it played out because for two reasons. One, he felt he was coming to the end of something in his own creative life and was very, very, very open about the fact that he was going to. He obviously planned this thing for almost five years and handed in literally the last piece of the last book that morning. He left it for his editor to pick up and then got in the car and went and started that whole thing.
And I understand that feeling of kind of the end of something. I guess in his case, there wasn't anything else to replace it, you know? He was a writer, and I think nothing else engaged him like writing did. And then the other thing was, which I understand in a slightly different way, his frustration with an aspect of Japanese culture that he felt was being lost and left behind and that he felt was sort of at the core of what he felt was a real Japanese person. And seeing it go away was something he had a hard time with.
He felt it deeply disconcerting.
If we can't have x, I don’t want to go on.
Yeah. And I feel that way about a certain level of rigor when doing this job. I feel like, and there's some exceptions, but I feel like there's a kind of basic skill level that is kind of not being cultivated in a lot of people now who are making movies, and it drives me insane.
What was the last movie you saw that you really loved where you went, "Yeah, that's got it"?
Well, I saw "Upstream Color" very recently 'cause I know Shane (Carruth, writer-director), and he sent it to me. And I was ... that was one of the things that makes me hope, that makes me optimistic.
Just like 'Oh, some guy in Dallas just went and made this thing and it's incredible." There's David Lynch in it. There's Kubrick in it, and he's not screwing around. Like this guy's very, very talented. So when people like that pop up, I drop my sort of bitter exterior and go, "Okay, if there's always going to be somebody like that, then it'll sort itself out."
Right. And hope that there's some section of the fridge where cream can be allowed to rise to the top as opposed to kind of just the homogenized product that you get more and more.
Yeah. But like I said, I think it's not. It's frustrating when you don’t feel like the business is recognizing talent and allowing it to grow. That's frustrating to watch.
This film -- do you think that idea of the psycho-pharmacological industry, is that a net good or a net bad? Do we have more people walking around whose lives are improved by things like Prozac and what have you? Does that make up for random profiteering and maybe over-prescribing?
It may -- there's a famous quote from somebody who asked Chou-En-Lai in the '70s about if the 1798 French revolution was a good thing and he said ...
"It's too soon to tell."
Yeah, and it may be that case because the bad news is that we're doing a chemical experiment in people's brains. The good news is we're getting data. And so it may be a while before this shakes out and we get a real sense of for all we know the pendulum has swung, it may have swung as far to one direction right now as it's every going to swing. I don’t know. Maybe it'll go further, but I feel like it's going to take a while before we get a real sense of, yeah, is it doing what we want it to do? I said at the press conference Scott (Z. Burns, screenwriter) facetiously said one day, "It's a movie about the war on sadness." And I thought, "Yeah. When did that start?"
When did we decide to start waging war on sadness? Like that just seems like a weird thing to do.
American people traditionally love declaring war on nouns.
'Cause we know how well that turns out every time.
I don’t know why after the last six months why Obama doesn’t declare a war on weather.
(Laughs) That might feel ambitious even for him.
Well, you know. So it's interesting to me to think about -- the first movie I made ("Sex, Lies and Videotape") had a shrink in it, and at that point in time, 23 years ago, 24 years ago, it never would've occurred to me to have him prescribe something for her, a mood altering ... I think back then the sense was that talking was the cure.
The Freudian talking cure.
Yeah. And now the default mode seems to be, "Let me go down this list of stabilizers and see which one won't make you want to throw yourself off a building."
...or will render you able to function, but not at some kind of heightened manic level.
Yeah, and look. Anybody who's on that stuff even successfully will tell you, "Yeah, I don’t feel the lows, but I don’t feel the highs either." You know? It's kind of in the middle.
Speaking of a war on weather, what goes through your mind when you see people saying, "You know, there are so many shootings in America. We really have to talk about our media and about our culture of violence." You as somebody who makes films and has made films with an action/dramatic component, what goes through your mind when you hear stuff like that?
A lot, because I think we should have that conversation. I'm just curious to see if it ends up being a fruitful conversation. I happen to think, look, let's put it this way: There are two things we need to remember. We are the country that invented the idea of mayhem as entertainment.
Secondly, to argue now against that, these same films are shown all over the world and in many cases make twice as much money as they make here. And this is not a problem that is shared to the extent that we have it everywhere else in the world. So let's acknowledge those two things. Do I think movies are too violent? In general, do I think that they are gratuitous? Do I think that there are people out there who become, if not desensitized, have forgotten the idea of consequences to violent behavior? Absolutely. Absolutely.
Now the question becomes can you -- is there a way to sort of to have everybody think a little harder about what they're making and combine it with some sort of reasonable policy regarding firearms.
To me the link between violent media and violent action has been disproven in an extensive 100-year-long study called "Canada."
Well, yeah. Exactly. So that's what I mean is, what are we talking about really? And at the end of the day, but you can't have a rational argument about it. You just can't. I don’t think anything's going to come out of this. I don’t think anything's going to come out of this commission. I don’t think anything's going to change. I think it's just going to keep happening.
The one final thing is you mentioned that Mishima biography as "a doorstop." You're clearly not a Kindle guy. You like things you can pick up and drop?
Yeah, I do. I had a couple of those, and you know what they're good for? Well, and I don’t have to read these anymore. You know what they were great for was scripts. They were perfect for PDF screenplays, 'cause like carrying four of those around in a backpack is a drag. And that was like perfect for that, but now I don’t have to read those anymore. And I really like not having to turn my book off when the plane lands or ascends. It's cool.
It's a compromise between saving your back and not carrying around a mass of books.
But I'm also, maybe you understand, I like seeing them on the shelf and thinking, "I read all those." The ego part of me really likes that.