Monday, January 13, 2003

Hollywood If I Could
I like George Clooney.

No, not like that.

Clooney's someone who did an awful lot of shit before he got where he is today. He's been doing a bunch of interesting interviews to support Solaris and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and in one of them he commented that whenever he turns on the TV at 3 a.m., there he is in another terrible show, with another terrible hair crime. I think only Jean Claude Van Damme tops him for the visual archive of hair crimes committed over the last 20 years.

Once he found himself in a position of power on ER -- in a gift of a role as the understated maverick who could never lose sympathy because he saved children's lives -- he started pulling stunts. He was instrumental in the episode of ER that the cast did live, twice in one night -- once for the East Coast, once for the West. Then he got involved in producing a remake of Fail Safe as a piece of live televisual theatre. Then came film, and starting again, doing some shit, clearly relearning how to act again, because an acting style that's charming on TV just dies on film.

See how often he looks down, in those early films, retains cadences from TV. Then he hooked up with Steven Soderbergh. His head comes up, he learns economy and bigness at the same time. And in Soderbergh, one of America's cleverer risk-takers, he seemed to have found someone who thought the same way.

In another recent interview, he lays this out. He says that the nature of the film beast is that in five or 10 years, he won't be allowed in front of a camera, let alone behind it. So he needs to do the things he wants to do now, while he's in the position of power to make them happen. He comments that Solaris is flopping domestically, though it'll probably make most of its money back in foreign markets. But that doesn't matter. What matters is that they did it. The film is there. And it is -- I realise this flies against the face of all critics everywhere -- a good film. I always hesitate to use the word "emotional" when discussing story, as I fear I sound like the wreckage of Francis Ford Coppola talking shit about the Godfather movies in the beginning of his twilight years. But Solaris has an unmannered, mature emotional complexity to it. It is, in fact, a '70s art-film. It gets the best performance I've ever seen from Natasha McElhone, and Clooney is clearly fucking with his perceived star persona as the chilly, damaged psychiatrist. One of the character's friends calls him "a nihilist shrink."

I grabbed the original Soderbergh script down from Script-O-Rama, and there are some interesting cuts. Anything that added to the science-fictional tone of the film got cut. It's all in the inference in the finished film. It's genre deconstruction, concentrating on the thing the majority of sf doesn't do -- creating a real life in the relationships.

It may not be what anyone wanted to see, but it's the film they wanted to make.

At similar peaks, people in Clooney's position tend to do things that will maintain or crest that peak. Running to stand still. There's something admirable in someone who says, now I'm going to do the things I need to do until they kick me off the peak. -- Warren Ellis

Reprinted with permission.

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