Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Top 10 Peter Andrews Films

When Steven Soderbergh was doing post-production on Traffic, he wanted the first title of the end credits to read “Directed and Photographed by Steven Soderbergh.” But the Writer’s Guild wouldn’t allow it, saying that, contractually, a writing credit has to come second, following director. So Soderbergh said screw it, and decided to credit his work as cinematographer under the pseudonym Peter Andrews (his father’s first and middle names), which is what he’s continued to do on all his films and TV shows since.

No cinematographer inspires my own filmmaking more than Steven Soderbergh. I have difficulty explaining it, but the simple way Soderbergh pans to reveal an office sign, or colors physical settings differently, or shoots upside down (because why not?), or… well, I could go on and on. When I watch Soderbergh’s films, I refuel my creative drive. The impact his work has had on me is unspeakable.

10. Haywire (2011)
Haywire makes the cut solely for its fight sequences, which are captured with a still precision that I find utterly fascinating. It’s the anti-Bourne way to photograph a fight – sit back, move the camera very little, let the action tell the story. A great, jarring example of less is more.

9. Ocean’s Eleven (2001)
This movie just looks cool. The florescent glow of the casino, the harsh primary colors of a control room, the splendid tracking shots, the urgency of a handheld sequence – it’s so stylized and welcoming.

8. Side Effects (2013)
Precision. It’s a word I’ve already used to classify Haywire, but it’s the best word I can think to describe Soderbergh’s post-Che photography. There’s an efficiency to those films that feels oddly alive. In Side Effects, for example, the camera is routinely placed, handled, and exposed in a way that perfectly benefits the scene at hand.

7. Ocean’s Twelve (2004)
Rarely has a sequel to a successful film so purposefully abandoned the style, pacing, and structure of its predecessor. Ocean’s Twelve has a free-roaming vibe to it that I completely dig. The frenzied hotel room scene, when nearly all of the team debates a potential job, is a career highlight for Soderbergh. It’s as visually cluttered as the story itself, which somehow works to the film’s favor.

6. Che: Part One, The Argentine (2008)
Although I usually prefer to discuss Che as one whole film, Soderbergh did intend to distinguish both parts of his epic. Visually, Soderbergh wanted Part One (aka The Argentine) to have an old Hollywood feel to it. Classic compositions, 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio, and with the camera fixed at all times – handheld was simply not allowed. This gives The Argentine a vast, controlled look that expertly emulates the type of films Soderbergh was trying to pay homage to. It’s so interesting, for example, to watch the film’s extended Battle of Santa Clara sequence executed in such a meticulous fashion. It’s one of the best scenes of Soderbergh’s career, and his photography is a chief reason why.

5. Che: Part Two, Guerrilla (2008)
Che: Part Two (aka Guerrilla) is the visual antithesis of The Argentine. Guerrilla was shot in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio (giving it more of a square look, as you can see if you compare the above screencaps from Part One and Part Two), and the camera was placed on Soderbergh’s shoulder, or, on rare occasion, a tripod. When Che was released, Film Comment wrote an excellent piece about the film, appropriately comparing the look of Guerrilla to a horror film. Now, if you’ve seen both parts of Che, you’ll know that Part One is much faster paced than Part Two (despite both clocking in at 135 minutes long). So, essentially, it would make more sense for the rapid pace of Part One to be shot with the energy of Part Two and vice versa. But if there was ever a contemporary director to buck convention, it surely is Steven Soderbergh.

4. The Girlfriend Experience (2009)
The Girlfriend Experience visually epitomizes the strength of independent digital filmmaking. The film was shot entirely with digital cameras, it starred a porn star, was financed (for $1.3 million) by a controversial billionaire, and had a shooting schedule of just 16 days. On paper, this flick was fast, cheap, and out of control. But Soderbergh’s compositions are anything but. By using a shifting color palette and constantly obstructing his main character, Chelsea (Sasha Grey), with objects in the foreground, Soderbergh imposes a distance between the audience and Chelsea in such a palpable way. Hell, even the footage of the fellas on a private jet to Vegas works because it feels urgent in a way the rest of the film does not. I love everything about the visual construction of this film.

3. Magic Mike (2012)
A common thread throughout Soderbergh’s work as a cinematographer is his confidence in changing the look of a film depending on the setting. In Magic Mike, this is most obviously represented by the day time sequences of the film, which are drenched with a sun-orange glow. Inside the strip club during “working hours,” Soderbergh opts for a hyper-reality – clear picture, no filter – as if we’re watching a documentary that was shot with a really nice camera. But when the club is closed, it is cast in a foreboding blue (notice how dangerous Matthew McConaughey looks in that third screencap). Soderbergh has plenty of fun with color in this film (the red-bathed sex scene is a trip), but my appreciation for Magic Mike’s look extends far past color palettes. The framing of the bank loan scene, the panning from behind the truck, the black and white drug deal – there’s so much to visually enjoy about this film.

2. Solaris (2002)
This has become a tradition in my cinematographer posts. When discussing the best work of a DP, I typically single out a film that is so expertly composed, you can literally choose any frame from the movie to highlight the entire film’s overall visual appeal. So describes Steven Soderbergh’s Solaris, his most controlled and beautiful work as a cinematographer. The silhouettes, the frame tints during the flashbacks (notice the dark haze at the top of the frame in the first screencap), the overall stillness – it’s just breathtaking. Choose a frame, and chances are it’s splendid.

1. Traffic (2000)
I’ve talked about the visual aesthetic of Traffic a lot on this blog, perhaps most prominently when I hailed it as one of my favorite looking color films of all time. The reason for this goes beyond the movie’s bold color scheme (Mexico is yellow, Detroit is blue, San Diego is harshly overexposed). Moreover, the handheld energy of Traffic made me acutely aware that one could tell a magnificent story in such a frenzied fashion. You have to go back to The French Connection to find a Best Director Oscar-winning film that looks as raw as Traffic. Visually, the film has a confident, fuck-it-all attitude that inspires me beyond belief. I was 14-years-old the first time I saw Traffic, and it did, in no uncertain terms, solidify the fact that I wanted to be a filmmaker. For that reason, I will always be in Traffic’s debt.

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36 comments:

  1. Right now, I'm 2 films away from completing Steven Soderbergh in Kafka (which I'll see later this month and Haywire (in November where I'll be working on the 2-part Auteurs piece on him). Based on his work as Peter Andrews, here is how I would list them so far:

    1. Traffic
    2. Che
    3. Solaris
    4. Contagion
    5. Bubble
    6. The Equilibrium
    7. Behind the Candelabra
    8. The Informant!
    9. Magic Mike
    10. Ocean's Eleven
    11. Side Effects
    12. Ocean's Twelve
    13. The Girlfriend Experience
    14. Ocean's Thirteen
    15. The Good German
    16. Full Frontal

    I haven't included The Knick because I missed the chance in seeing the pilot and I hadn't had time to watch it. I hope to rectify that and watch all of the episodes and do a review on the show.

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    1. Love your list. The funny thing is, with the exception of my numbers 1 and 2, I could easily jumble the order around - that's how good his films look. Love that Traffic tops for you. And, not to be a hater, but I'm also glad The Good German is ranked so low for you. That was a failed experiment, at best.

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    2. That is one of my least favorite Soderbergh films where it had this look but it was all style and very little substance.

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  2. Well I can certainly get behind this list. I admire Soderbergh for many reasons but perhaps it's his cinematography that I admire the most. There's just something about the way he shoots that looks amazing. It's so clean and crisp looking and, as you say, precise. Dude has a fantastic eye. I'm not a huge fan of his remake of Solaris (Tarkovsky's is an all time fav., can't help it) but the way he lensed that movie I think I would actually say is superior to the original (even taking into account when the original was shot). That film just looks so cold and isolated - which might make it my favorite of all of Soderbergh's cinematographic endeavors.

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    1. So glad you're a fan of his. For me, Soderbergh is everything. Even his fucking font choices are always on point. The man is a god. And I love hearing that while you prefer Tarkovsky's Solaris, you still appreciate the photography of Soderbergh's version. It's just so damn beautiful.

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  3. I completely agree on the Traffic post. Beautiful color compositions. I haven't seen Magic Mike but The Knick is my favorite looking thing he's done digitally. From the opening shot, the use of warm colors that bathe Clive Owen. It's really well done. As far as digital film goes, Contagion and Solaris are some of the better works as far as visuals go.

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    1. I meant to say Che instead of Solaris. Solaris' is shot really well too.

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    2. Nice man, love hearing that you're a fan. The Knick is such a trip. I'm a few episodes behind, but I love everything I've seen. And I agree that the digitally photography is amazing. Great stuff.

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  4. This is one of the best lists you have made since I followed your blog. I do not know to many cinematographers, Robert Richardson, and Robert Elswit mainly just because they have done some of my favorite movies, but it is time to add Steven Soderbergh to the list. I couldn't agree with you more on a few things in this list. For one, Traffic, I can completely agree that Traffic is by far his best work, and easily my favorite, with the different color tones for the different stories, simply brilliant. Also Solaris, so great that it is at number 2.
    I disagree with a few things though, I do think Ocean's Eleven cinematography is better than 12, but I could be saying that because of the fact that I have seen it more times, for a few reasons. Also I just flat out disliked Haywire when I saw it. I will admit I don't think I noticed the fight scenes when I watched it, but I think I was like half asleep and tried to watch it at 3 in the morning which probably had something to do with that. I would have put Full Frontal there instead, even though I really don't like that movie any better than Haywire. Anyway, still a great list, I may have to watch a few of these again, and see Magic Mike (wasn't ever really sure if I wanted to watch it, I feel like I don't need to watch male strippers, if you know what I mean), but really well thought out and executed. I'll be completely honest, I never knew Peter Andrews was the same person as Steven Soderbergh, now I can sound smarter when talking to my friends about his movies. Great post.

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    1. Wow man, thanks! I totally understand your disagreements. I'm maybe one of 4 people who prefers Ocean's Twelve over the other Ocean films. Twelve just does it for me. It's the ultimate Fuck You film. And Haywire... yeah, people hated that one, but I absolutely dug it. And the controlled photography of the fight scenes rocks.

      Magic Mike is not just about male strippers - trust me man. There's a reason a lot of females don't like that movie. It was sold as a male stripper romp, but it is not that at all. The film says a lot about greed, excess, drug culture, and so on. It's really quite a fascinating character study of life in America, right now. I remember when I saw it in the theater, I was literally (no bullshit) the only male in the sold out crowd. And upon leaving the theater, the murmurs among the female attendees made it clear that I was the only person in the theater who enjoyed the film. Love that damn movie.

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    2. Yeah I heard the movie was actually better if you were a male as opposed to a female, I kind of made my comment on it a joke, but it may actually be worth checking out based on what you said.

      I just added it to my Netflix mailing list, I'll watch it in a few days (Enemy is coming in the mail first, it's on its way, and I like to watch a lot of movies twice before returning them) but once I get it and watch it I'll come back and probably do my own blog post on it.

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    3. Nice man, really glad you're going to give it a go. Enemy... LOVED that film.

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  5. I love your DP lists :) These are some beautifully shot films, with the exception of Magic Mike, which I hated. :P

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    1. Thanks Brittani! Okay, fair enough, but do you at least like the way Magic Mike looks? It's soooo pretty :-)

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  6. You know that peter Andrews is soderbergh right? Or are you that oblivious

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    1. REALLY!? No way!!! Next thing you’re going to tell me is that he’s also Mary Ann Bernard. Ha, nice one!

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    2. Who the fuck is mary ann bernrd?

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    3. Aaand… there it is. #TrollJustice

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  7. Firstly, the comments to the troll above are fantastic. Your sarcasm game is on-point, my friend :)

    Secondly, while I do not like all of Soderbergh's films (Do not get me started on The Good German... talk about style over substance), I have a great respect for his dedication and skills as a filmmaker. And, they are all beautiful to look at.

    My 10 favourite Soderbergh films would go something like this:

    1. Traffic
    2. sex, lies and videotape
    3. Out of Sight
    4. Side Effects
    5. Magic Mike
    6. Behind the Candelabra
    7. Ocean's Twelve
    8. Contagion
    9. Ocean's Eleven
    10. The Informant!

    Great write-up, Alex!!

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    1. Ha, thanks. Silly trolls. Yeah, The Good German isn't for me either. A failed experiment a best.

      Nice list! Love that Traffic comes in at number one. I love sex, lies as well, but didn't include it here because Soderbergh didn't actually shoot it. Still, a great film.

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    2. Same for Out of Sight as well. LOVE that film, but lensed by Elliot Davis.

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    3. Gah, my mistake :/ This was actually my favourite films of his all-around. In terms of cinematography, I'd replace the two with The Girlfriend Experience and Solaris :)

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    4. Oh no, I knew what you meant - it's all good! LOVE that GFE and Solaris take their places though :)

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  8. Nice dispatching of the troll, there. Not trolling myself, I honestly did not know that Soderbergh shot his own films or used an alias. Thanks for that bit of knowledge. I've seen all of the ones you've listed except The Girlfriend Experience. I've heard some not so good things about it so I kinda forgot about it. You've put it back on my radar. Traffic is an amazing looking piece of work. And I'm really glad to see the love for Haywire. The way those fight scenes were shot made them a visceral experience. Such an underrated flick, that one is. Great post!

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    1. Ha, thanks man! I can completely understand why some wouldn't like The Girlfriend Experience. It's definitely one of his most audacious experiments, but man, it just works for me on every level. Also love your Haywire praise - I've always thought that movie rocked.

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  9. The most entertaining thing I've seen all day is that troll getting put in his place. Bravo, sir.

    Now back to the post. I've always loved the camerawork in Soderbergh's films, and it's really cool he shoots and edits his own films, too. I feel like more directors should do that, like Shane Carruth. That's what I plan on doing when I become a filmmaker. I mean, I'm gonna get most of the credit anyway, so why not? But I'm digressing again. Ocean's Eleven just looks so groovy, doesn't it? And Haywire is, stylistically, what a slick and stylish spy movie should be. I'm kicking myself for missing Side Effects in its theatrical run, and Traffic keeps getting lost in Watchlist Oblivion (don't judge me, we all do it). I gotta step up my game on that. By the way, which Solaris do you prefer? Tarkovsky's or Soderbergh's? I've seen Tarkovsky's film (it somehow found it's way out of Watchlist Oblivion) and while I liked it, I didn't quite understand it, but it could probably benefit from a rewatch. Oh, and excellent post, as always.

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    1. Haha thanks man. Sometimes, it's just gotta be done.

      So happy to hear you're a fan of Soderbergh's films. Obviously, I highly recommend Traffic when you have the time. That film really changed things for me.

      I'm in the rare minority of preferring Soderbergh's Solaris to Tarkovsky's. They're both very, very good films, but there's something about Soderbergh's version that really works for me.

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  10. I haven't seen much of Andrews' work, but one of my favorite things about Magic Mike was definitely the cinematography. It made the film seem more realistic and mysterious.

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    1. I totally agree! Glad you felt that way as well.

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  11. I saw the title and I was like 'who the hell is Peter Andrews'?! See I always learn something here :)

    I love how high up Solaris is, that's such a gorgeous movie. I think I'd include Contagion in my top 10, it just looked so fantastic.

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    1. I'm so glad you learn stuff here! That's actually really nice to hear.

      Solaris is definitely the most technically perfect-looking film of Soderbergh's career. I just love its style and compositions. Perfection.

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  12. Soderbergh is the man, especially behind the camera. I was happy to see Ocean's Twelve on here, one of his best shot. The way he establishes Amsterdam was fucking perfect. What else is there to say? He's one of the best, guy shoots a mean sign.

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    1. YES! Anyone who appreciates Ocean's Twelve is a friend of mine. And yeah, that Amsterdam title card(s) is priceless. Such ballsy, fuck-it-all work there.

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  13. Great stuff. Love seeing Traffic at #1. That barely missed my CinSpec cinematography lineup. Thrilled Haywire made the cut by the way. It's such a fun little flick. I might add Contagion and The Good German somewhere, but I love this list.

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    1. Thanks buddy. I dig that you and I have always enjoyed Haywire. Honestly, I find myself putting that one on a lot and running it in the background. It just breezes on by.

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