Before anybody sits down to eat a big bowl of Iron Man 3 (well, any North American body; the rest of the world's been eating for a week, and based on the grosses I'd say they're full), Steven Soderbergh needs the world to know that the movies are in trouble. In a rambling but frequently pointed speech Saturday at the San Francisco International Film Festival, the man who gave us Sex, Lies, and Videotape, Out of Sight, Erin Brockovich, Traffic, Bubble, three Ocean's movies, Che, The Informant!, Contagion, Side Effects, and a soon-to-be-aired movie with Michael Douglas as Liberace and Matt Damon as his lover, lamented the death of art in the movies.
"We are a species that is driven by narrative" to make sense of the chaos, he told a receptive audience. But we are no longer in the narrative business. We're in the chaos business, the business business. The Hollywood studios are making fewer movies than they were a decade ago, while the number of independent films has grown astronomically during the same 10 years. But the studios dominate the marketing, which is why our grandmothers know the opening date for Man of Steel but have no idea who Olivier Assayas or Carlos Reygadas are. Soderbergh wondered why movies cost so much and, in a memorable observation, accused the executives of being acinematic and possibly movie-illiterate: