Steven Soderbergh is ‘out of sight’ but returning, tweet by tweet

A O SCOTT

With the release of Side Effects, Steven Soderbergh's "retirement from filmmaking" (at least for the big screen) finally took effect. Liberation might be a better word, since his recent activities seem to belong to a restless person newly freed from the constraints of his profession, rather than a used-up man at rest.

Last Saturday, a few weeks before heading to Cannes, where his HBO film about Liberace, Behind the Candelabra, will be shown in competition, Soderbergh, 50, delivered a remarkably candid address at the San Francisco Film Festival on the State of Cinema. Transcripts and recordings of his speech quickly spread across the movie-mad regions of the Internet. A day later, a hard-boiled suspense novella called Glue began to appear, 140 characters and an occasional photograph at a time, in the Twitter stream of '(AT)Bitchuation', known to be Soderbergh's handle. (Seven chapters have appeared so far).

For much of his career, Soderbergh has shown a flair for paradox, at once soliciting and shunning the spotlight, much as he seems to be doing now.

"The smart move is to pull up stakes and head for the nearest cliche. But you don't." That brief passage, from the second chapter of Glue, might stand as a typically self-deconstructing credo. The first sentence, after all, is composed almost entirely of the cliches that the second sentence pretends to brush aside. A similar tension runs through Soderbergh's films, many of which strive to carry out tried-and-true genre moves with intelligence and surprise.

His San Francisco talk was partly about just how frustrating these efforts have become. In his account, the world of movies has less and less room for cinema. "Cinema is a specificity of vision," he said. "It isn't made by a committee, and it isn't made by the audience. It means that if this filmmaker didn't do it, it either wouldn't exist at all or it wouldn't exist in anything like this form."

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