You Can Make ’Em Like They Used To (Movies)





N 1989 an unknown 26-year-old filmmaker from Louisiana delivered what might have been the final blow to the shaky edifice known as the Hollywood studio system. Steven Soderbergh’s “Sex, Lies and Videotape,” an independently financed tale of love and adultery, won the grand prize of the Cannes Film Festival, the Palme d’Or, as well as an acting prize for one of its stars, James Spader.

Acquired by the fledging distribution company Miramax, the film, made with a reported budget of $1.2 million, went on to gross almost $25 million in the United States, a spectacular figure that put Miramax on the map and established American independent film as a force to be reckoned with. As they watched their ancient hegemony crumble away, the studios rushed to establish their own “independent” divisions.

Now, 17 years later, Mr. Soderbergh is back with a movie that means to make amends. “I often think I would have been so happy to be Michael Curtiz,” Mr. Soderbergh said. Mr. Curtiz, the contract director, made more than 100 films for Warner Brothers, including “Casablanca” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” between his arrival in Hollywood from Hungary in 1926 and his death in 1962. “That would have been right up my alley,” Mr. Soderbergh said, “making a couple of movies a year of all different kinds, working with the best technicians. I would have been in heaven, just going in to work every day.”

“The Good German,” which Mr. Soderbergh directed for Warner Brothers, reimagines what it would be like to make a movie under the studio system of old. Based on the novel by Joseph Kanon — a thriller with a conscience about an American war correspondent (George Clooney) who returns to the rubble of postwar Berlin to find the German woman (Cate Blanchett) who was once his lover — the movie, which opens in limited release on Dec. 15, is both set in 1946 and, in a sense, filmed there as well.


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