Every so often I come across the adjective, ‘uneven’ regarding a person’s performance when appraisal of their talents. In most cases the usage is intended as a derogatory one implying that there is little if any consistency in the quality of the subject. This one tiny word can be exceptionally detrimental on a career but is also frequently incorrectly used subsequently perceived by the reader of the critique. On several occasions I have seen the term applied to the movies or filmmaker Stephen Soderbergh but in doing so that unfairly diminishes the exploits of one of the most innovative auteurs in the current cinematic scene. Mr. Soderbergh is a prime example of this miscarriage of judgment. I’m not going to argue that some of his films are absolutely brilliant and others seem to lack the clarity and sense of direction of his best work. After being a fan of his already back to ‘Sex, Lies and Videotape’, have gone back over his body of work many times throughout the years noticing not so much a trend by the factor that may have been not only considered. My background is one in experimental sciences. In order to succeed in any field such as this constantly have to devise new hypotheses, test them and evaluate the results. There are far more failures than successes but of each failure yields a different vantage point in something valuable has been gained. The Soderbergh films that often are met with derision upon a closer examination it might dawn on you that years experimenting with his craft; attempting to find new means to express his artistic vision. As with any experimentation summer going to go wrong but the general trend is always in a positive direction. If it wasn’t for men like Soderbergh the art of filmmaking stagnate. His latest experiment can be found in the film considered here ‘Full Frontal’ can be easily viewed as a type of recursive filmmaking; a film within our film within a film.
Of course, it is quite feasible that an experiment is ill-conceived of poorly executed which again is not a derogatory assessment of the filmmaker. In the case of ‘Full Frontal’, Soderbergh quite obviously off his game with this opus but if you go through the second iteration of experiencing it is possible you might glean at least some of his objectives. The scaffolding that represents the substrate of the film is a journalist, Catherine (Julia Roberts) who is looking to do a piece on the day in the life of the Hollywood film industry. Whole part of this endeavor is to interview participants that are in the film in production including Calvin (Blair Underwood), was playing the part of an actor of the film within the film within the film, Nicholas. The pervading feeling of a soap opera is present at nearly iteration of the story. Nicholas is an actor playing the sidekick to a detective being played by Brad Pitt. Within the context of the onion like layers of this film the lines between reality and the various levels are constantly being blurred. The example is playing himself as he works on the innermost layer of the story. The soap opera like formula infused throughout the proceedings is demonstrated by the morass of relationships. For example, Lee (Catherine Keener) is unhappily married to writer Carl (David Hyde Pierce). Her sister, Linda (Mary McCormack), amasseuse is depressed; unable to maintain any degree of longevity in her relationships. She is also writing partner is conversing online relationship with cast member, Brian (Rainn Wilson). Linda was also having an affair with Calvin. While watching you might consider investing in what is known as the critic’s desk; the clipboard with a light attached with taking notes while watching a movie. Too bad the home release doesn’t come with a relationship chart using different colors to represent Rich layer of the story the participants are in. Recursion enters into the storyline with the fact that Carl is employed by the same magazine as Catherine. She in turn is involved with Nicholas which transcends the layers. Within the context here anything directly connected to the magazine article is considered the uppermost layer of this reality.
The presentation does exhibit many of the elements of a documentary the voiceover utilized to describe people or events and their relationships. This is Soderbergh’s freshman for a the use of digital cinematography, however, denoting scenes that are being filmed in an inner layer, he returns back to 35mm. Unfortunately, Soderbergh hasn’t quite mastered the digital age yet ironically the inner layers committed to celluloid may consistently better use of blocking the sets and lighting. The story does pander to some of the popular use of Hollywood was particularly the salacious producer, Gus (David Duchovny). Is having a lavish birthday party at a high-end hotel. As part of his celebration he hires Linda to give him a massage. He offers her an additional $500 if she would ‘help relieve his tension’. Linda needs the money in order to travel to someone she met online. Although he presented himself as a man of about 22 years of age is actually in his 40s. He also is not an artist as he claimed, but is a stage director whose current play is a sensitive, emotional look at Adolf Hitler ((Nicky Katt). As strange as it may sound, things take a turn towards in a decidedly surrealistic direction. Lee decides to leave Carl, writing him a note to that effect. She then goes off to her job as a personnel director which consists of humiliating people in bizarre ways such as having them stand on a chair while hitting them with an inflated globe. Turning to a plot point that never goes all relevant audience, call is fired and upon returning home only to find his beloved dog overdosed on hash brownies.
Anyone who has ever attempted to construct experiment you know there is one factor that is paramount to consider. For best results you should only have one parameter tested at a time. Soderbergh appears to be attempting to test far too many variables at once. It is his first use of digital photography, the flow of the story is told in a nonlinear chronology in the relationships and interpersonal dynamic of the characters depends entirely on rich level of reality they happen to be in at the moment. In the past some of his more experimental films have exhibited some disjointed qualities overall held together. This film exhibit such a convoluted plot and heavily entwined plot line that it is nearly impossible to just sit back and enjoy the film at any point. So much of your attention is, by necessity, concerned with keeping the association between actor and character straight that is barely enough leeway to step back and appreciate the various nuances contained within the story. One thing that always seems consistent with the Stephen Soderbergh film is he does have a reputation to attract some of the finest actors in the industry. It is a testament to their command of their craft and professionalism that they were able to make the individual the film was performances enjoyable and the interpersonal dynamic is plausible as possible. It should be noted that the original release date of the film was in 2002 and this release in Blu-ray and DVD follows a prior release.