While it may be some time before we see a new film from "retired" director Steven Soderbergh, his latest experiment on the website Extension765.com may be the closest thing we get. The filmmaker posted a new black and white "silent" cut of the 1981 classic Raiders of the Lost Ark, which has absolutely no dialogue, but does feature music from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross scores for The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Earlier this year, he cut together mash-ups of both the original version of Psycho and the 1998 remake on the website.
I'm assuming the phrase "staging" came out of the theatre world, but it's equally at home (and useful) in the movie world, since the term (roughly defined) refers to how all the various elements of a given scene or piece are aligned, arranged, and coordinated. In movies the role of editing adds something unique: the opportunity to extend and/or expand a visual (or narrative) idea to the limits of one's imagination-a crazy idea that works today is tomorrow's normal.
I value the ability to stage something well because when it's done well its pleasures are huge, and most people don't do it well, which indicates it must not be easy to master (it's frightening how many opportunities there are to do something wrong in a sequence or a group of scenes. Minefields EVERYWHERE. (David) Fincher said it: there's potentially a hundred different ways to shoot something but at the end of the day there's really only two, and one of them is wrong). Of course understanding story, character, and performance are crucial to directing well, but I operate under the theory a movie should work with the sound off, and under that theory, staging becomes paramount (the adjective, not the studio. although their logo DOES appear on the front of this...).
So I want you to watch this movie and think only about staging, how the shots are built and laid out, what the rules of movement are, what the cutting patterns are. See if you can reproduce the thought process that resulted in these choices by asking yourself: why was each shot-whether short or long-held for that exact length of time and placed in that order? Sounds like fun, right? It actually is. To me. Oh, and I've removed all sound and color from the film, apart from a score designed to aid you in your quest to just study the visual staging aspect. Wait, WHAT? HOW COULD YOU DO THIS? Well, I'm not saying I'm like, ALLOWED to do this, I'm just saying this is what I do when I try to learn about staging, and this filmmaker forgot more about staging by the time he made his first feature than I know to this day (for example, no matter how fast the cuts come, you always know exactly where you are-that's high level visual math shit).
At some point you will say to yourself or someone THIS LOOKS AMAZING IN BLACK AND WHITE and it's because Douglas Slocombe shot The Lavender Hill Mob and the The Servant and his stark, high-contrast lighting style was eye-popping regardless of medium.
It remains to be seen if filmmaker Steven Soderbergh will remain "retired" as a feature filmmaker, with last year's Side Effects representing his last movie, as of now. In the meantime, he has been keeping busy by directing every episode of the Cinemax TV series The Knick, serving as cinematographer, editor and camera operator on the Warner Bros. sequel Magic Mike XXL, and non-cinematic projects such as a novella and an off-Broadway play.
Are you excited to see what film Steven Soderbergh will re-imagine next? Chime in with your thoughts below.