A few years ago Steven Soderbergh announced his retirement from feature film directing and everyone, seriously, everyone overreacted. It seems like retiring from the entertainment/art world is sacrilege. If you still have something to offer, maybe even if you don’t, you should continue trying to get your vision across. As the news came to my attention, I was hesitant to believe the retirement decision. That is, until I actually read some interviews and articles. Just looking at headlines or tiny excepts, you could easily fall to the idea that Soderbergh was going to be a full-time painter.
That is not the case (although part time would be cool). Clearly, Soderbergh has no intention of directing films in the near future. That doesn’t mean that the audio/visual medium was losing a diverse artist. Retirement was probably a buzz word rather than indicative of his intended trajectory. Instead his “retirement” was more in context of a shifting focus. Since his decision to stop feature film directing, Soderbergh has committed to directing two seasons of the amazing period piece The Knick (which I will be writing about in the coming weeks) and performing multiple positions on the upcoming sequel to Magic Mike (a film I have yet to see). However, the most surprising turn in his post cinema escapades is what Soderbergh is doing for no reason other than to satisfy his own interests: re-editing classic films.
2014 saw Soderbergh edit quite a few films. First was Psychos, which intertwined the beautiful Alfred Hitchcock original with the strangely unneeded Gus Van Sant remake. Then came a hefty dwindling of the 216 minute Heaven’s Gate down to 108 minutes (his edit begins with the title card seen above). He educational rendition of Raiders of the Lost Ark, simply titled Raiders, takes away all dialogue and leaves the viewer with a two hour Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross music video meant to show you how awesome of a filmmaker Steven Spielberg truly is (of you could ever forget). While all the edits are absolutely worth a watch, Soderbergh’s re-edit of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is the one I found to be my favorite. I may be biased considering my love of the original and any subsequent additions to it (for better or worse). I think the original is one of the best films ever made, so any changes to it demand my attention.
What Soderbergh does to the film is hone it down to its essential parts. There are different edits of the film already, including its initial presentation running at 161 minutes (what I wouldn’t give to see this) and the most commonly seen 141 minute version. Soderbergh cut his version down to a slim (comparatively) 101 minutes. Sections of the film are stripped bare, specifically the Heywood Floyd scenes in the first half of the film. Most of the other edits only change the ambiance, like new pieces of music and sound in certain scenes. However, the most interesting aspect of the edit is the inclusion of HAL throughout the film. His visage, the bright red light staring deep into the center of the frame, pops up during some incredibly crucial and surprising scene. The juxtaposition created with these edits further solidifies ideas of evolution, creation, and technology while adding another element of importance to HAL.
Theses editing exercises are incredibly fun and really came out of know where, especially considering Soderbergh’s appearance in a lawsuit where he was against unauthorized editing (although in that case there was a financial component to it , where as in these edits there is not). I highly suggest you check out Steven Soderbergh’s website, watch his version of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and keep up with his “downtime”; it’s a lot more interesting than most people’s active day.