Steven Soderbergh emerged as the hottest independent filmmaker on the planet
when "sex, lies, and videotape" went from Sundance to Cannes to
Lincoln Center to multiplexes everywhere eight years ago. Then came "Kafka,"
which I found less dreadful than most critics did, and "King of the
Hill," a gently nostalgic yarn that deserved more attention than it
got, and "The Underground," an imaginative neo-noir that never
got above-ground with audiences. Understandably fed up with the commercial
scene, Soderbergh has now taken the opposite route, financing his new "Schizopolis"
out of his own pocket (about $20,000 according to one source) and shooting
it like an extended home movie--with a bare-bones plot about a dentist,
a pretentious New Age guru, and assorted other characters--starring his
friends and former wife. Nobody likes a good avant-garde romp more than
I do, but "good" is the operative word, and despite its originality
"Schizopolis" is hard to put up with once its jokey attitude and
meandering structure have lost their novelty. Cannes did Soderbergh no favor
by unveiling it as a special "film surprise," raising audience
expectations that couldn't possibly be fulfilled. He has too much talent
to fall by the wayside, and I sympathize with his evident disgust vis-a-vis
the commercial circuit. But here's hoping he comes up with a more viable
alternative next time around.