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Steven Soderbergh ‘Fascinated’ by Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour

Steven Soderbergh is taking a page from Taylor Swift’s playbook.

“People laugh that there is a college class being taught about her and I go, ‘There should be,’” the director tells Variety at Karlovy Vary Film Festival. “What she is doing, the way she is doing it… Nobody has ever done this before. The amount of control she has taken over. She is relentless.”

He continues, “These stories about doing the whole show on a treadmill, just to make sure she can do it?! It’s a success story and I am fascinated by that. [Screenwriter] David Koepp took his daughter to see the show and said, ‘You cannot believe what it’s like to be there.’ I would go if I could. There aren’t any tickets! But I watched the film.”

The Eras Tour is also on his mind when developing new work.

“I have been thinking about a project in which I analyze large scale, cooperative endeavors that work. Airports. Why do airports work? Or AA?” he says. “You look at the Taylor Swift concert, at this whole tour and it works. So why can’t we figure out Syria or any other conflict?”  

He continues, “Humor is a great delivery system for an idea and nothing lights up the brain like music, so this project better be funny and there should be some musical component as a way to open people up. I want you to come out on the other side after you see it, and feel different.”

In the meantime, he will also echo Swift’s 2008 hit “Love Story” with the upcoming movie “Black Bag.”

“It’s a love story,” he says. “It’s about two people in the intelligence community and it’s very intimate. When we were working on [ghost movie] ‘Presence,’ David Koepp said: ‘It might be interesting to make ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’ where George and Martha are in the intelligence community.’ What would that be like? A month later, he had a draft.”

Cate Blanchett and Michael Fassbender have been tapped to star, joined by Regé-Jean Page, Marisa Abela, Naomie Harris, Pierce Brosnan and “Furiosa’s” Tom Burke.

“It’s a very specific take on people who also have complex personal lives. It was terrifying, because there is a 12-page dinner sequence and nobody even moves from their seats. That kept me up.”

But don’t expect any risqué scenes.

“People confuse physical sexuality with love and romance. [They think that] if you are making a sexy movie, there has to be sex. Well… no,” he says. “We all know how that part works. What’s different is everything that led up to that and everything that comes after that. I am trying to think of the last time I shot two actors simulating sex and I just find it ridiculous and impossible. Nobody looks good. The other day, talking about a project, a writer said: ‘And then there is this underwater sequence.’ Have we met?! I hate them, they are boring as hell. I feel the same way about sex scenes.”

At Karlovy Vary to present “Kafka” and its recut version “Mr. Kneff” during “The Wish to Be a Red Indian: Kafka and Cinema” retrospective, Soderbergh had time to look back at past work. He got rid of some of it, too.

“I just burnt 44 years’ worth of notebooks and journals. I needed to dispense with the past. It was very cathartic,” he confesses. Interestingly enough, an old “urban musical set in Indianapolis” survived the purge.

Made after the success of “Sex, Lies, and Videotape,” “Kafka” wasn’t well received when it first premiered.

“I wasn’t happy with it either. It wasn’t a normal biopic – it makes no attempt to portray ‘the real Franz Kafka.’ That’s what I liked about it and people went: ‘It doesn’t tell us anything about Kafka!’ No, it doesn’t. But it was a necessary step for me and I learnt a lot.”

He also learned to always, always say yes when a star wants to give you a sweater.

“Alec Guinness was just lovely. I didn’t prepare very well for the weather. It was winter. He noticed this and gave me his sweater. ‘Please put it on,’ he said. Later I gave it back, and he told me to keep it. I said: ‘I can’t. I can’t. Alec, I can’t take the sweater!’ What was I thinking?! I refused Alec Guinness’ sweater! I must have been so stressed I couldn’t think straight.”

Although “everything about ‘Kafka’ was confusing to people,” it allowed him to follow the kinds of projects he was interested in.

“By the time I made ‘Out of Sight,’ people had given up trying to figure out what I was going to do next. It took these five films for them to go: ‘I quit,’” he laughs.

“There are directors who have style – a Ridley Scott movie looks like a Ridley Scott movie. I’m the opposite. I look at the material and – if I love it – my question is: ‘What director do I need to be to get everything out of it?’ They are all my children and my experience of being on the set of ‘Ocean’s’ is no different from being on the set of ‘Bubble.’”

He gave up trying to “control people” – or reviewers – a long time ago. Still, most of his projects have dealt with protagonists trying to exert more control over what happens to them, and usually failing.

“This fight is always worth engaging in, but control is an illusion. I have learnt in my life not to burn a lot of calories on things I cannot control. The ‘Che’ films were the best example of a character trying to exert control. Everybody assumes I must love him. No! He would have hated me. I am just interested in a person who twice left a comfortable life behind to go into a lethal situation. That’s not normal.”

It doesn’t mean he doesn’t notice his films’ flaws, with a certain box set soon coming his fans’ way. Get ready for “Steven’s Version,” out later this year. 

“One of the things I’ve been working on is a box set of seven films the rights of which have come back to me. These aren’t the hits – these are the B sides.”

That includes “Kafka” and “Mr. Naff,” “Schizopolis,” “Gray’s Anatomy,” “Bubble,” “The Girlfriend Experience” and “Full Frontal.” 

“I have spent the last three years remastering them, in some cases recutting them, and I will put out this limited edition with individually stamped number boxsets,” he promises.

Unlike “Apocalypse Now Redux,” for example, “Full Frontal” and “Schizopolis” will now be shorter.

“That’s what you should do if you ever go back. All the people that made classics in the 1970s and went back to them… They are just not as good. They have made all the right decisions back then.”
 

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