Sunday, 14 March 2010

Scorsese does Soderbergh

After waiting out the months of delays, I finally got to see Shutter Island on Friday. I've made no secret on this blog of my love for Scorsese, so, understandably, my expectations were high. As is usual for a Scorsese film, Shutter Island evoked plenty a ghost of cinematic past. However, the film which it called to my mind most strongly was not one of the many films of the 40s and 50s to which it pays homage, but instead that other recent filmic metatext, The Good German: both films (very successfully) play out as attempts to pay tribute to, and reinvigorate, the films of the post-war period, both in style and content.

It is often said that Soderbergh is a polystylist whose clearest auteurist signature is his eclecticism. Although I don't think that's true (or indeed know if it's even possible to speak of such things in a post-Barthesean age), I do feel that somehow The Good German fits snugly into Soderbergh's oeuvre in a way which, upon initial viewing, I'm not sure if Shutter Island does into Scorsese's. As someone who has always argued in favour of Scorsese the filmmaker of staggering range, as opposed to Scorsese the filmmaker of gangster pictures, I'm not entirely sure what I mean by this – but it somehow felt like the typical Scorsesean exuberance was...lacking. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying for a second that it felt like Scorsese's touch was missing – it's far from absent – just that it felt a little more subdued than usual. Perhaps, and I think this is the point I'm trying to make, Scorsese did this deliberately, downplaying his own personality in favour of channelling the filmmakers of the past.

Lest this all seem a little negative, I should state that I enjoyed Shutter Island a lot. It's powerful, gripping, moving and intelligent. But there's still a part of me which can't but agree with Jonathan Romney's remark in his Sight & Sound review of the film that 'Even the most fascinated Scorsese followers may need more than one viewing to decide whether Shutter Island really works or is simply an experimental folly'. To return to the comparison with The Good German above, Romney's statement could well be applied to almost all of Soderbergh's films, and, as it happens, more often than not, his films really do work. So, for me, I guess the jury is still out on Shutter Island. But, if I'm honest, I can't wait to revisit it and find out my final verdict...

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