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BOOKS & THE CULTURE Ode to Moebius BY JESSE LICHTENSTEIN Full Frontal Directed by Steven Soderbergh If you’ve read any of the ink on Steven Soderbergh’s new film, Full Frontal, you’ll have noticed a pretty. consistent script. Here’s a textbook case, we’re told, of a Major Hollywood Director who’s a little unnerved by his own success, who still fancies himself an artist, and so who has made a relentlessly unattractive, uncommercial, deliberately alienating experimental film. Kind of like the rare actor’s actor who wins an Oscar and then confines himself to dark indie films and black box theater for a few years as an offering of penance to his muse. Perhaps there’s an element of truth to this. Perhaps this is the filmmaker’s self-justificationa self-serving, private act of expiation offered up for public viewing. I don’t knowI’m no expert on Soderberghian psychology. But there’s just one problem: I kind of liked the movie. Full Frontal will not go down in the annals of essential films, but it isn’t meant to. This is part of the problem reviewers have had with it: We’re reluctant to take the minor works of major artists on their own terms. And Soderbergh inhabits a complicated space of major directordom. He enjoys remarkable box office success \(his last three films each grossed more than $100 lades \(two simultaneous Oscar nominations for Best Picture, with Erin Brockovich and Traffic, and a Best Director most of his opus deep in the indie section of your video store, if you find it at all. He’s been a filmmaker’s filmmaker, who writes, edits, and photographs many of his movies. He can tell a story straight and subtly \(King of the Hill; sex, or with editing fireworks He takes on odd projects with little commercial appeal His mainstream success naturally engenders resentment, and many have attacked this return to low-budget filmmaking \(albeit disingenuous pose. In briefwe’ll get our hands dirty peeling the plot layers in a moment Full Frontal records 24 hours in the interconnected lives of a half-dozen or so people in L.A. at least tangentially connected to The Industry. It’s shot primarily on digital video, alternating with 35mm footage of a movie within the movie. It was made for $2 million and although the actors include the veteran very-VIPs Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt, everyone had to drive herself to the set, apply her own makeupwho knows, pack her own ham sandwich. Arguably in a film about filmmaking, these juicy, Variety-style morsels mean something. But they have remarkably little bearing on the experience of watching thisor any othermovie in the theater. The movie begins on a Friday morning in L.A. and leaves its characters the same time Saturday morning. In the interim, we switch from character to character as each goes about the day, and interspersed throughout this shiftingperspective narrative are scenes from the film within the film, called “Rendezvous.” Everyone has some connection to a movie producer named Gus, who is responsible for “Rendez-vous” and whose penthouse birthday party most will be attending that night. Calvin Julia in the film. Carl Bright \(an excellent dle-aged magazine writer with thinning hair and justified insecurity about his wife’s continued interest in him. He cowrote the script for “Rendezvous.” His wife, Lee \(the now ubiquitous acerbically depressed vice president of personnel at a nameless firm; she’ll be 41 tomorrow. Linda \(Mary McCorunderachiever of the pair, is a staff masseuse at the hotel where Gus’ birthday is to be celebrated. She’s met someone on the Internet and, although they’ve never exchanged photographs, they’re planning to meet up this weekend at a Holiday Inn outside ofTucson. Artie, played by Enrico Colantoni, is the other co-writer of “Rendezvous.” He and Carl have also written a play in the ever-expanding genre of Nazi send-ups, “The Sound and the Fuhrer.” He’s putting up the play at a small storefront black-box; tonight is opening night, and doesn’t know his lines. Artie is himself distracted by last-minute online chats with a wonderful woman he’s met onlinehe hasn’t seen her picture, but they’re meeting up this weekend at a Holiday Inn near Tucson. Everyone seems to be having a crappy day. Carl fails an impromptu personality test administered by his editor-inchief and finds himself out of a job. Lee, cracking under various strains, makes the employees she is about to lay off stand on chairs and recite African geography. Artie’s play, in dress rehearsals, looks destined for disaster. Linda does something desperate at work for extra money. Lee has a pointless tryst with Calvin that ends in acrimony. Carl 22 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 9113102