Steven Soderbergh has created another stylistic conundrum in The Good German. Filmed in the style of 1940s Hollywood backlot movies, and dealing with a World War II story a la Casablanca, it features modern day profanity, sex and violence.
Interview: Steven Soderbergh on The Good German
Based on the book by Joseph Kanon, the film could have been just another Hollywood adaptation. "There were a couple different ways to go," said Soderbergh. "I think the assumption initially was that it would be normal, color, we'll go to Germany and we'll do it like a regular movie. And then that started to seem less interesting to me. And also expensive, like more expensive than I thought it should be. Strangely enough, the way we ended up doing the film was one of the more economical ways to do the film. Then this idea of being able to use archival footage in some way or footage from other films that were made during that period became appealing and that started to dictate the black and white."
Leaving in the F words and sexual positions became a way to avoid being a cliché. "If you don't, if you're just literally imitating that aesthetic in every particular including the way people speak and the fact that those filmmakers were working under the Hayes code, then to me it really is just a pastiche and you're not pushing the ball forward or sideways or anywhere. You're just literally making a copy of something."
It may also make it more accurate than the movies of the 1940s actually were. "People were saying f*ck in 1945 and they were beating each other up and indulging. There were moral issues that were difficult and ugly. The problem is again, people making movies in this country were censored. So that combined with a desire to have a tension between those two things, a tension between this aesthetic that is very glamorous, very romantic inherently and an approach to narrative and character that is the antithesis of that was interesting to me. I wanted that battle to be played out through the film because I thought that would be interesting. That would be interesting to watch. It would not be a passive experience to watch a movie in which that battle is taking place."
Don't call Soderbergh pretentious. He only thinks like this when we make him. "Honestly, until we get into these situations, it's not something that I've ever articulated to anybody involved with the movie or would have. That's the result of 1000s of hours of work and conversations about how do you want it or how do we want to do it or how should people talk? And you have to remember, our sense of how people behaved 60 years ago is largely shaped by the movies that were made 60 years go."
The Good German opens to theatres on December