The Good German (2006, Steven Soderbergh)

“You’re out there sellin’ love you don’t have.”

Modern black-and-white movies with awesome photography (Man Who Wasn’t There) or at least very good photography (Good Night and Good Luck) are great to watch (though it might be greater to see a non-period piece for a change, to watch modern people in modern clothes doing modern things shot in nice b/w [but not crappy and worthless people/things, as in Woody Allen’s Celebrity]), but that’s not what this is. The filmmaking is capable of course (it’s Soderbergh) but he’s using the b/w to attempt to recreate a movie from that period; not to shoot a modern film set in the 40’s but to shoot a 40’s film set in the 40’s.

Some part of Bloodshot Records’ company manifesto (or maybe I read it in the liners of one of their tribute compilations) says that they don’t choose artists who wish to pay “tribute” to an older artist by treating the songs as sacred, precious and remote objects, but rather artists who feel the joy and heartache of the originals and then play the songs as if they wrote ’em. Artists who practice the former method, who play “sacred cover songs”, may see the latter artists (“Bloodshot artists”, if I may generalize) as disrespectful, but actually it’s the sacred ones who are being disrespectful by acting as though a classic song is a historical artifact to be reverently studied rather than a still-relevant piece of music, as though adding their own passion into the mix might somehow damage the original. The Bloodshot artists realize that the original recordings of this song still exist and won’t somehow be injured by one more cover version. A Bloodshot artist isn’t playing the song to pay his (or more often “her”) dues to songwriters of olden days who paved the way for the new guys to achieve his current success… instead he’s admitting that he’s found a song with a better tune and better lyrics than he could hope to write, and so he plays it as wish fulfillment, working and sweating to assure that he can convey the passion he feels from the original, to prove to the listener that this was a song worth revisiting.

If Bloodshot was a film distributor rather than a record label, Steven Soderbergh would not be on their roster. As much as the man seems to love movies, his idea of “covering” a 40’s movie is dry and dull, accurately rendered but with no life or spirit to it. He’s the anti-Guy-Maddin. Here Soderbergh recreates historical cinema in such a way that makes you want to never see the original (“old movies are boooring”). Maddin sees more than was even there, glorifies, even fetishizes old movies, wants to crawl up inside them and wishes he could cast stars of the 20’s and 30’s in his modern movies as they were back then. Soderbergh, just happy to use George Clooney for the umpteenth time, tries to capture that film-noir feeling that he must consider lost from today’s cinema, meticulously recreating his idea of a 40’s film, draining it of all fun in the process. Someone needs to watch Confessions of a Dangerous Mind again.

Clooney (One Fine Day) is some kind of military investigator who falls for Blanchett (Charlotte Gray), who is the ex-girl of Tobey (Duke of Groove). Tobey gets killed, and I think maybe Cate kills him? She’s protecting her ex husband, thought to be dead but alive and hiding in the sewers because he saw Welles do it in The Third Man. Everyone gets killed or implicated in the end. Katy didn’t watch it.