Why don't moviemakers actually bite the bullet and retire for good while at the top of their game?
Scepticism over Soderbergh and Lucas retirement announcements
Haywire is not even cold in cinemas and Steven Soderbergh has announced he has made his last film.
"It's just time," he told the US radio station Studio 360. "When I started feeling like I've done this shot before, I've done a scene that's about this before, that's when I started thinking seriously about a shift."
Not that seriously, as it transpired. There was Contagion to finish off. And Magic Mike. A psychological thriller with Jude Law, The Side Effects, was in the offing. And it won't take the most eagle-eyed of cineastes to note that Haywire, his action thriller starring Michael Douglas, Michael Fassbender and Ewan McGregor, has received lukewarm reviews.
Apparently he'll now be "done" by January next year, and Soderbergh's follow-up comments indicated that he was more about a short sabbatical than a dramatic career change. "I feel like there's another kind of movie out there, and I've just got to see if I can figure out what it is," he told a later press conference.
The truth is, no one genuinely expects him to retire. Or for George Lucas to make good on his warning that "I'm moving away from the business, from the company, from all this kind of stuff" either. When he explained to The New York Times why his current film Red Tails would be the last big blockbuster he would make, it was born out of frustration that it was so difficult to produce. There was also a genuine sense of weariness surrounding the fanboy reaction to his constant tinkering with Star Wars. "Why would I make any more," he asked, "when everybody yells at you all the time and says what a terrible person you are?"
But actually, genuinely, retire? Not when there's another re-release of Star Wars to attend to – this time in retrofitted 3D – later this month. You can bet your last dusty fedora that, if the chance arrives to do another Indiana Jones movie, he'll take that up, too. Meanwhile, Lucas is proposing that he might make smaller, more personal and experimental films instead.
All of which begs the question, why don't moviemakers actually bite the bullet and retire for good, at the top of their game? Instead of bemoaning that those who do retire pack up early – such as the late Brat Pack 1980s-era director John Hughes – we could instead celebrate a body of work untainted by the law of diminishing returns. No one could possibly suggest that the recent work from Francis Ford Coppola or Jean Luc-Godard is performing any other function than detracting from the majesty of The Godfather or Breathless. It may sound cruel, but perhaps it would have been better for all concerned if Lucas had left the Star Wars trilogy with the Ewoks celebrating, rather than embarking on the ill-advised prequels as a 55-year-old.
But the reason filmmakers, and to a certain extent actors, can never quite let go is surely revealed in Hollywood's remarkable – and to a certain extent cheering – devotion to its elder statespeople. The early weeks of this year certainly suggest that old may well be dramatically turning into the new young.
Vanessa Redgrave celebrated her 75th birthday last week with an absolutely masterful performance in Ralph Fiennes's Coriolanus. At 82, Christopher Plummer was just nominated for his second Oscar in three years. And 69-year-old Martin Scorsese's Hugo won him a well-deserved 11 Academy Award nods; not to mention that in the Best Director category he's up against Woody Allen (76) and Terrence Malik (68).
And if Allen – whom even his greatest fans could not call consistent – can still find the inspiration to make such a delightful film as Midnight in Paris, there is succour for every ageing director who can't quite leave film alone. It is telling, though, that Scorsese, Allen and Malik haven't wasted valuable years incessantly fiddling with previous work or got themselves bogged down in sequels. No wonder filmmaking leaves Lucas and Soderbergh tired and disillusioned if they're continually returning to the same thing in the Star Wars and Oceans sagas. Scorsese was driven by wanting to make a different kind of movie, one that his daughter could see, and was genuinely excited by the possibilities of 3D. Such enthusiasm for the sheer act of filmmaking is shot through Hugo, and in the end is its charm.
One thing's for sure: Lucas won't properly retire. Not really. So perhaps the only answer for the man who created Star Wars is to follow the example of Han Solo in The Empire Strikes Back by cryogenically freezing himself, and coming back, reinvigorated, years later. The Return of the Jedi, as it were.
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