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in Filmmaking
on Nov 13, 2006

There was an excellent piece on Steven Soderbergh‘s The Good German in yesterday’s New York Times (Warner Bros. opens the film next month). Channeling the 1940s era of filmmakers like Michael Curtiz (Casablanca), Soderbergh has created a film that according to Dave Kehr has the look and feel of old Hollywood.

An excerpt:

During the production Mr. Soderbergh was committed to remaining as true as possible to the technique of the era. By reproducing the conditions of an actual studio shoot from the late 1940s, he hoped to enter the mind of a filmmaker like Mr. Curtiz, to explore the strengths and limitations of a classical style that has now largely been lost.

“For weeks, for all of us, it was like living in a time warp,” Mr. Soderbergh said by telephone from Los Angeles, where he was finishing filming “Ocean’s Thirteen,” the third in a series and an unabashedly commercial movie that will be one of Warner Brothers’ major summer releases.

There have been many attempts to recapture the look of old Hollywood over the years, most of them disappointingly superficial: films that begin in black and white but quickly bleed into color, while never straying far from a contemporary vocabulary of close-ups and meandering Steadicam shots. Not only does “The Good German” stick to its monochromatic principles throughout, it uses other elements of ’40s style that may not be apparent at first.

The strongly accented camera angles, the dramatic nonrealistic lighting, the way actors move against each other within the frame and the way the camera travels across the set — these are all elements of a vocabulary that has been lost in the post-television era. In “The Good German,” Mr. Soderbergh is trying to bring this vocabulary back.

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