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Are Soderbergh’s tweets a screenplay in disguise?

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, May 5, 2013, at 7:59 a.m.

Prolific and adventurous Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh (“Traffic,” “Ocean’s 11,” “Contagion,” “Magic Mike”) announced in 2011 that he would retire from filmmaking.

It would seem he’s winding down with his last film projects — “Side Effects,” which came out earlier this year, and the soon-to-be-seen-on-HBO Liberace drama “Behind the Candelabra.” But his actions this week seemed to indicate that if he is retiring from film, he’s finding new ways to creatively express himself.

First, he gave a candid speech at the San Francisco Film Festival on the state of cinema. It was officially an off-the-record event, but transcripts quickly showed up on the Internet.

Apparently, his talk was partly about how frustrating it is to make “true cinema,” and he seemed disillusioned with the whole business.

“Cinema is a specificity of vision,” he said. “It’s an approach in which everything matters. It’s the polar opposite of generic or arbitrary, and the result is as unique as a signature or a fingerprint. It isn’t made by a committee, and it isn’t made by a company, and it isn’t made by the audience.”

So one would gather that his retirement is spawned more from creative frustration — and commercial bitterness — than exhaustion. Well, he seems to have found a new creative outlet in the unlikeliest of places: Twitter.

The very next day after the speech, Soderbergh started a project on his Twitter account (@bitchuation) calmly and with little fanfare.

“I will now attempt to tweet a novella called GLUE,” he tweeted. And then he started with his next tweet, simply “CHAPTER ONE.”

Then he seemed to set the scene by tweeting a picture of Amsterdam. And then the beginning of the story:

“It was difficult for you not to assume the worst after the way your funeral went down. The whole thing seemed like a parody of itself.”

The ensuing story is dark and sometimes violent, with a noirish feel (and some profanity, be warned). It’s a minimalist approach, but one that sets the reader right into the story. He makes the reader the protagonist, one who has apparently just viewed his own funeral.

I won’t ruin the rest of the plot, but the mystery involves skipping around the world to London and Paris, the pursuit of a substance known as “#&%#” and a femme fatale known only as “D.”

Soderbergh, whose Twitter account doesn’t have his name on it although he has publicly admitted that it is his, uses intriguing prose:

“The smart move is to pull up stakes and head for the nearest cliche. But you don’t.”

“It’s late and your attitude is nowhere to be found.”

“Listening to her lie was like having your skin pulled off in one strip.”

Soderbergh initially told the first seven chapters of the story over three days, starting Monday. He tweeted chapters eight through 11 on Thursday. The whole thing takes about 15-20 minutes to read.

People are debating if this could be a screenplay in disguise. Interestingly, he’s incorporating script “direction” into the posts.

“BEAT. okay, eyes on her. no touching. yet. BEAT how do you know about that? BEAT.”

A “beat” is “script talk” for a second of silence in between words.

But Soderbergh is also making this a multimedia work, sort of a storyboard, in a sense, by posting photos that illustrate the story or set the tone.

It’s all very fascinating, and if Soderbergh has really retired from filmmaking, it looks like he certainly hasn’t retired from being an artist.

It’s very inspiring. Maybe there’s creative hope for all of us.

Even, perhaps, in the movies.

Reach Rod Pocowatchit at rpocowatchit@wichitaeagle.com.

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