Being that I’m the kind of person who has his own film school and what-not, I decided to read Esquire’s interview with the now-not-but-soon-to-be-again-retired Stephen Soderbergh. “Could be edifying,” I thought to myself — and it was, especially this passage:
A real litmus test for me is how people treat someone who is waiting on them. That’s a deal-breaker for me. If I were on the verge of getting into a serious relationship and I saw that person be mean to a waiter — I’m out. That’s a core problem. You’re being mean to someone who’s helping you. What is that? Everyone knows who the assholes are, and I avoid them.
Because it’s a funny story, but in the ’90s I actually waited on Steven Soderbergh quite a bit, and if that’s his litmus test, he didn’t pass it. Not even remotely.
Because as memory serves, when Soderbergh was a regular at the used bookstore/coffee shop I worked at, his treatment of me then would’ve been a deal-breaker for him now.
One particularly memorable conversation involved his then-obsession with Ambrose Bierce. I’d placed the special orders for the books myself, so I knew they’d just come in the week before Mr. Ambrose Bierce Expert saw me reading Mason & Dixon behind the counter. He proceeded to excitedly tell me, at length and with some volume, that I was wasting my time reading Thomas Pynchon, because Ambrose Bierce was where it’s really at.
He went on and on and on, enthralled by his own love of Bierce — which, after I became an Americanist and read him, I believe is totally justifiable. But the point is, Soderbergh wouldn’t just have failed his own criterion for the measure of humanity, he would have done so spectacularly.
Which, as a friend on Facebook noted, might be the point. He might have chosen his worst character trait as the defining characteristic of humanity because it’s something he had to overcome, and given the depth of charity to the underprivileged and unvoiced evident in his work, I’m tempted to believe that.
Because as much as I despised him as a patron when I had to deal with him, I can’t help but admire — however begrudgingly — what he’s done with himself in the years since, especially Che.
I know I’m defending the film against an idiot of an ideologue at that link, but even if I had to defend it against Roger Ebert himself, I’d do so with the same vehemence…
…despite how I feel about the man personally. He’s just that talented, damn it. There’s a real humanity to his late-period work, especially in the films that everyone hated because they dealt with unsavory subjects like prostitutes or viral pandemics or Che.
So on behalf of all the baristas and book-store employees he berated before he came to understand this truth as being self-evident, I’m just going to go ahead and forgive him.