The director Steven Soderbergh's latest film, Full Frontal, is an experimental movie that has been designed to prove to all his smart friends that he has not "gone Hollywood". Yes, he makes big studio movies like Ocean's 11 with stars like George and Brad, and he boasts a career domestic box-office gross of $492m, but you know what? Steve is still the Indie Golden Boy who has vowed never to make a movie for Paramount as long as Sherry Lansing is running the studio.
Soderbergh, who was a judge at this year's Cannes Film Festival, won the Palme d'Or for Sex, Lies and Videotape in 1989. But whereas that film focused on real life - I thought it was insipid - here he reveals that the subject he is most interested in is himself, his Hollywood pals and the whole process of making a movie.
Shot in just 18 days for $2m, with an impressive cast that includes Julia Roberts, David Duchovny, Brad Pitt, David Hyde Pierce, David Fincher, Terence Stamp and Mary McCormack, Full Frontal is a film within a film, within a film (yawn). Except that it's not a proper film at all, but a workshop for a bunch of LA actors with time on their hands but no need to take jobs waiting on tables. This is what happens when a hugely rich and indulgent father - Harvey Weinstein - gives spoilt kids a princely sum to go and have some fun making a little movie.
This is Steve's game; and reading Steve's rules, sent to everyone who took part in this ensemble piece (and repeated on the film's website), it is impossible not to come to the conclusion that what is most wrong with Hollywood is the people in Hollywood:
1) All the sets are practical locations.
2) You will drive yourself to the set. If you are unable to drive yourself, a driver will pick you up, but you will probably become the subject of ridicule. Either way, you must arrive alone.
3) There will be no craft service, so you should arrive on set "having had". Meals will vary in quality.
4) You will pick, provide and maintain your own wardrobe.
5) You will create and maintain your own hair and make-up.
6) There will be no trailers. The company will attempt to provide holding areas near a given location, but don't count on it. If you need to be alone a lot, you're pretty much screwed.
7) Improvisation will be encouraged.
8) You will be interviewed about your character. This material may end up in the film.
9) You will be interviewed about the other characters. This material may end up in the finished film.
10) You will have fun whether you want to or not.
If any of these guidelines are problematic for you, stop reading now and send this screenplay back where it came from.
Naturally, all this is just a little experiment and as soon as the three-week shoot was over everyone was back to turning up on film sets not "having had".
Based on a series of "playlets", Full Frontal is an LA comedy drama (which is code for "not very funny") of the kind Robert Altman did with Short Cuts. That was bad enough, but it was better than this film farrago. Here a group of writers, actors and executives flit in and out of each other's inconsequential lives like fruit flies with human heads. The movie in the movie, starring Brad and Julia, is shot on high-quality film; while real life - so called - is shot on a hand-held Canon XL1S. I saw an advert in a video camera magazine for the Canon XL1S, featuring Steve and Full Frontal; but if I were Canon I would want to play this down rather than try to make a big deal out of it. He manages to make his video footage look like something you might see on You've Been Framed.
The editing merely adds to the sense of confusion; nothing is ever resolved, or explained - no, not even in the direc-tor's commentary on the DVD, which I took the trouble to see in the hope of being enlightened.
Kenneth Tynan once wrote the following of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot: "A play, it asserts and proves, is basically a means of spending two hours in the dark without being bored." Steven Soderbergh asks questions about the process of engaging with a film and comes to a slightly different definition of cinema. Being bored, it asserts and proves, is what happens when you spend almost two hours in the dark while watching a film by Steven Soderbergh.
Full Frontal (18) is on general release