A while ago, I went to the cinema to see Side Effects, which several reviews had informed me was director Steven Soderbergh’s final film before retiring. “This clever pharma-thriller would be a fitting sign-off,” ran the subhead in The Observer’s review.
Soderbergh has been making noises about retirement since at least 2009, in which time he has made five films, so everyone is sceptical about his winding-up order.
But still, part of me thought that if Side Effects did turn out to be his last film, it would be worth seeing in the cinema.
I paid my money.
Then Cannes rolled around and Soderbergh strolled down the Croisette with Behind the Candelabra under his arm. Granted it was originally made for US TV, but with a cinema release elsewhere – essentially it’s a movie financed by HBO rather than a film production company (this is getting tiring). Either which way, we did the rigmarole again: this was Soderbergh’s last, last movie. Until the next one, which might turn out to be a long-form TV serial. Now everyone’s jumping on board the “Oh, I might retire” bandwagon.
“This probably will be the last film I will direct,” Richard Curtis just told Empire magazine about his forthcoming time-travel rom-com, About Time. Kevin Smith, we hear, is also planning his retirement, culminating with a third and final instalment of his Clerks series which is due to go into production in 2014.
Apparently, he’s going to squeeze in a film based on an ad placed on Gumtree by a Brighton resident looking for a walrus-inclined lodger.
Quentin Tarantino has also hinted that he might call it quits, when he gets to his tenth film. He’s on eight now. In 2003, he said he might give it all up when he’s in his early 50s – he’s 50 now.
All these smoke signals about retirement are tiresome. Is the whole of Britain meant to mount a campaign to make Richard Curtis change his mind (with a wraparound cover from The Sun)? Or should we all chip in for a farewell oversized-card-slash-token-present, get Darren from accounts to make an awkward speech and then all head to the pub for a few lager tops? Curtis bowing out of film directing would not exactly be a tragedy. As a writer, he has done some wonderful work (Four Weddings still stands up) but as a director, it’s been a straight-up dud-fest. Love Actually is among the worst films I’ve ever paid to see. I could only manage 10 minutes of The Boat That Rocked before changing the channel, and the trailer for his latest suggests very bad things indeed.
Kevin Smith’s reasoning for moving on is at least reasonable. “In the last few years,” he wrote on his blog, “I’ve been trying to leave film behind because it’s such a s-l-o-w and expensive medium. Art is in the realm of the quick: creativity is fleeting and fast.”
Still, I’d prefer it if directors made their films, sent them on their way and had done with it. Save us the false pronouncements that they might have to reverse in two, five or 10 years. A grand declaration of retirement means nothing; it has no edge to it. They say they’re done, it gets some headlines and people move on to the next would-be retiree. No one is going to hold them to it if they later return to filmmaking. It’s not like we’re going to say, “Sorry, Kevin, you retired back in 2014 so now, five years on, we can’t just let you go back on all of that and make Jersey Girl II.”