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The Soderbergh experience IN FOCUS Richard Crouse 26 June 2009

07Critically acclaimed director Steven Soderbergh says all his films “feel commercial” when he’s making them. His latest, The Girlfriend Experience, is now in limited release.

You’d be hard pressed to find a movie fan that hasn’t seen the Steven Soderbergh films Traffic, Erin Brockovich and at least one of the Ocean’s movies.

A little more eclectic, but still popular are The Limey and Out of Sight, two of the director’s box office near-misses. Mainstream films like those, though, comprise only a fraction of the director’s resume.

Since his breakout film Sex, Lies and Videotape in 1989, Soderbergh has directed 19 films (including  The Girlfriend Experience, in theatres now), but only a handful — usually the ones starring George Clooney or Julia Roberts—could be called blockbusters. Many others have, however, languished.

Here’s a couple of the director’s deserving films that didn’t set the box office ablaze.

Soderbergh said that “all attempts at synopsizing (Schizopolis) have ended in failure and hospitalization.”

With health card in hand, here goes: Schizopolis is a surrealistic look at two people who can’t communicate. As the level of emotional detachment increases so does the weird stuff.

There’s an exterminator (David Jansen) who only speaks in non sequiturs and near the end Soderbergh’s character (he’s a triple threat here as actor, writer and director) only speaks in overdubbed Italian, Japanese and French.

Even the director acknowledges that this is an eccentric film, noting that the only people who ever ask him about it are “the ones with the crazy look in their eyes when I go to festivals.”

1993’s King of the Hill is more accessible but still made less than $1.5 million at the box office. Based on a 1972 memoir by A.E. Hotchner, it’s the story of a 12-year-old boy surviving and thriving on his own during the Great Depression.

One IMDB contributor called this “the best American film of the nineties,” while another wrote “Spielberg, eat your heart out, this is a real feel good movie.”

Rent it for its unsentimental storytelling and great performances, particularly from Adrien Brody who plays the main character’s surrogate big brother.

Other interesting Soderbergh movies still waiting to grab an audience are the Spalding Gray monologue film Gray’s Anatomy and the suspense story Kafka, but no matter how odd or how low budget these films are, don’t get the idea Soderbergh doubts their commercial appeal.

“When I’m making them,” he says, “they all feel commercial to me. It’s no joke. If I’m making a movie for a million bucks, I feel like this thing could blow up. It’s happened before.”

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