Monday, September 19, 2005

bubble (soderbergh, 2005)

Steven Soderbergh has been experimenting with digital video since shooting portions of Full Frontal, and two TV programs for HBO, Unscripted and K Street, on the DV format. His new theatrical feature, Bubble joins the ranks of Full Frontal and sex lies and videotape in the filmmaker's quest to scrape off as much budget as possible, while keeping his name in the entertainment news headlines. The budget-scraping method seems almost antithetical to the normal "way things are done" in the world of independent filmmaking, where even the least ambitious NYU student would like to have just a little more money; would surely, if given the choice, take the $4 million pile of cash instead of the $100,000 pile.

Soderbergh composes his widescreen images with an emphasis on gently rising diagonal lines and a shallow depth of field. The locations are an even mixture of expansive, outdoor spaces and tight, stifling interiors, although everything is attractive and clean, even the home of Rose's scruffy, temperamental ex-boyfriend, which is covered with graffiti. There also seems to be a reluctance on Soderbergh's part to shoot two actors in the same frame, frequently cutting to (or with) close-ups of his actors.

I came away from the film feeling that the two components of the film, (a) the cinéma vérité depiction of Americana '05, and (b) the whodunit-psychodrama that forms the otherwise for the most part formless (a), would each've been insufficient, taken on their own. Many viewers will think they're insufficient taken together. But the film is not without visual interest, nor value as a peek into the state of the high-school-dropout class, aged 18-49.

Previously Soderbergh would cast stars and ask them to take pay cuts - now he's filled the cast with non-professional actors and directed each of them with aplomb. The non-actress Debbie Doebereiner (Martha) is getting all the good notices. As a longtime general manager of the Parkersburg, WV, KFC, her relatively high degree of technical profiency is astonishing. Camera-wise, the only primary non-professional actor who has a "face" is Decker Moody, the detective in the film, a real-life detective and 24-year veteran of the Williamstown, WV, PD.

SPOILER: Martha is the name of Shirley Stoler's character in The Honeymoon Killers. If you've seen this 1970 low-budget classic, Bubble's resolution will come as no big whoop. /SPOILER

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