Run the title King of the Hill by most people, and you’ll get a big smile for Mike Judge’s long-running animated series, and maybe a Boomhauer impression. But it’s also the title of one of the lesser-known entries in the Steven Soderbergh filmography — his excellent 1993 adaptation of A.E. Hotchner’s memoir, a film so widely ignored that it never even saw a DVD release. Until now, that is; Criterion has released King in an excellent new DVD/Blu-ray edition, with the customary complement of outstanding bonus features, including (no kidding) a whole other Soderbergh movie that’s even less celebrated. Some thoughts on that film, and a few more unjustly ignored movies by our favorite filmmakers:
The Underneath (Steven Soderbergh)
In the lengthy and candid interview that precedes this 1995 film’s inclusion as a bonus feature on the King of the Hill disc, Soderbergh dismisses his so-called “bottoming out” movie thus: “It’s just totally sleepy.” He recalls being on set, the very first day, and feeling “already absent… It’s a very unpleasant feeling to know that, not be able to discuss that with anybody, and see everybody working so hard… and you know that thing’s just dead on arrival.” But the more he talks, the more interesting and personal it gets, as he explains that the picture was made during a “weird time” of professional doubt and personal collapse. All of which seems to imply that those outside elements, which Soderbergh claims are inextricably linked to the picture, may only have those connotations for him; for the outside observer, this is a sleek, elegantly made, moody little neo-noir thriller with some genuinely exciting experiments in cinematography and storytelling. But the filmmaker stands firm: “I can’t say that I would recommend it to anyone — other than to look at it in the context of a career.” Yet that’s exactly why it’s so valuable; in many ways, it feels like a dry run for his brilliant Out of Sight three years later, and later films that would similarly use the extreme color saturation (Traffic), narrative circularity (The Limey), and heist elements (the Ocean’s trilogy) that he takes for spin here.