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Steven Soderbergh on Honour Among (Art) Thieves

Steven Soderbergh has left the world of movies. That’s not to say that he has retired – one of his latest ventures is The Knick, a hotly anticipated TV show starring Clive Owen about the birth of modern surgery.

But to go back a bit further in his career is to see why exactly he will be missed from the Hollywood scene. The ground-breaking independent film Sex, Lies and Videotape came out in 1989 and established him early on as a new voice to watch out for.

He has been lauded for commercial successes like Out of Sight (1998), Erin Brockovich (2000), Ocean’s Eleven (2001) and the Oscar-winning Traffic (2000), as well as smaller, critically acclaimed independent releases like The Underneath (1995). But he has also fallen prey to periods marked by low-budget box office failures.

His career trajectory since Sex, Lies and Videotape has been less a straight shot to the top and more like a rugged hike with an equal ratio of valleys to heights.

But the recurrent motif of critical and commercial success throughout his career points to a persistent excellence in Soderbergh’s work, something that does not take him entirely by surprise.

“I felt like it would happen,” he says of his filmmaking success in a recent interview with Esquire magazine.

“I grew up in a subdivision in Baton Rouge. I had no connection to the business at all. But I felt like it’s going to happen to somebody. I was like an athlete who didn’t have any extraordinary skills, but had basic skills, but worked really hard.

That was me. I’m a grinder. I’ll beat you because I will not sleep.”

But when it comes to the role talent plays in creativity, Soderbergh doesn’t seem to subscribe to an individualistic theory of solo inspiration, acknowledging how everything he does builds on what came before.

“When I look at amazing work that’s been done, I just look at that and say, ‘That’s fucking amazing,’ and say, ‘What about me can make it slightly different?’ So it’s not just a Xerox. Everybody steals, that’s a given.

If you steal a coat, what are the buttons you’re going to put on it? At the end of the day, the quote I use is ‘In the land of ideas, you are always renting.’ The landlord can always go ‘Bye!’ If you’re not humbled by that then you’re an idiot and you will fail.”

As Aristotle and the Internet like to frequently point out, excellence is not simply an act, but a habit, and Soderbergh has long made it his habit to be the hardest-working man in the room.


This editor liked Ocean’s Eleven the most out of his films; there’s something about a good heist with the right amount of smarm. Follow us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to supplement your casino break-in today.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Written by Gesilayefa Azorbo

Gesilayefa Azorbo is a writer, photographer, emerging filmmaker and occasional poet. She is doing a Documentary Media MFA at Ryerson University, and is currently working on a music documentary. She likes (and often writes about) music, movies, books and people. When not listening to music, she is most likely humming it under her breath.

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