High Flying Bird

As the swivel chair spins #3

Last time around this year, when I was sitting around thinking of what to write instead of writing, Steven Soderbergh made a film about basketball without actually showing even one full scene of the game. He also shot it on an iPhone 8, yes.

Look I don’t know much about basketball and it’s politics, but Soderbergh’s name on anything is enough for me; turns out I don’t need to know the game to follow it. Such is the film.

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “be the change that you want to see in the world”, he also found his place among the misfits, rebels and the trouble makers famously in the Apple Think Different campaign along with a whole lot of others. All game changers.

Soderbergh too is a game changer (total). A square peg of a director in the round hole of the Hollywood industry. Constantly pushing the boundaries, his first film got him the best director at Cannes. At 26, he was among the youngest.

A decade later, when he won the Oscar (do note the look on his face when his name is announced! The eternal outsider) after placing himself in the nominee list twice instead of just you know, once (for Erin Brockovich and Traffic). This is what he said

Yes now some of you might wonder, why we don’t talk about Soderbergh as much as say the other ‘game-changer’: Tarantino? Hold that thought.

There’s also the saying that the more the things change, the more they stay the same; which is true. That puts the position of game changers in a rather ugly spot, most of them, after their initial broader acceptance are absorbed into the ‘system’; that system which they wanted to change in the first place.

Immediately after winning the Oscar for Traffic, Soderbergh goes on to direct Ocean’s 11; imagine a Hollywood ensemble blockbuster of your liking and then multiply it by 11; that’s Ocean’s 11.

In effect, a validation from the system becomes the result of all this struggle; all this pushing boundary talk and then to be satisfied within the boundary that you expanded.

We don’t talk about Soderbergh as much as Tarantino, because for the past few years Tarantino is making a big budget Hollywood film starring Leonardo Di Caprio and Brad Pitt called Once Upon A Time in Hollywood- a systemic film (in the making); while Soderbergh made a film on an iPhone and released it on Netflix, quietly.

I am not saying big Hollywood is wrong, but getting on the highway to big Hollywood by attacking it may not be the most honest way to do it.

Soderbergh himself has done it taken the dishonest path and then finding his way back into the outsider camp again.

Ocean’s 12 was a franchise killer (from a studio POV, I love the movie), took early retirement and then cancelled retirement to find work, worked on the second unit of The Hunger Games, proposed new distribution models and going ahead with one, arguing against the theatrical release of his own movies (whoa!), constantly doing stuff.

Now, that’s a real game changer; someone who keeps hitting against the wall, no matter what the result maybe. Not looking for any incentive apart from the fact that he continues to make movies and realizing that pushing against the system is something that needs to be done for an entire lifetime.

To question on why he does what he does, by the site Indiewire, Soderbergh answered thus

Soderbergh: Well, there are always expected developments whenever you set out to either duplicate an existing system, or modify it. You’re never quite sure what’s going to come at you. But in my case there were a couple of motivations for me wanting to try and see if there’s a different way to do things. Sometimes it’s creative control, sometimes it’s a greater financial transparency, and potential ownership, and sometimes it’s pure restlessness, and wanting to ask … or wondering, yeah, I know this is the way it’s normally done, but is that the way we should keep doing it?

Now, I can see why a script like High Flying Bird appeals to Soderbergh; it’s about taking control and removing the intermediaries and just do good work. As Churchill said, “kites rise highest against the wind, not with it”

Oh! High flying bird.


Soderbergh also keeps a diary of all the things he saw and read over the year; for a highly productive movie director; this is an awful lot.

Note to self: I should also start keeping one of those.

High Flying Bird is now streaming on Netflix

As the Swivel Chair Spins is a column about watching movies from home, yes that simple.

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