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Are You Serious About No Catering Truck?

July 30, 2002|KEVIN MAYNARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Steven Soderbergh calls "Full Frontal" a "movie about movies for people who love movies." The 38-year-old director of blockbusters such as "Erin Brockovich" and "Traffic" returns to his roots to make an unofficial sequel to his seminal indie smash "sex, lies, and videotape" (1989), "only in the karmic sense."

Shot on the fly in 18 days, the film came in at a budget of $2 million and employed eight simple rules for its cast, including scale pay; no hair, makeup or craft services; and to be prepared to be filmed at any time.

Set in one 24-hour period around L.A., "Full Frontal" is an ensemble piece shot on digital video about seven dysfunctional characters all somewhat associated with the making of a slick Hollywood romance shot on 35-millimeter film called "Rendezvous." Of course, this time around Soderbergh gets to have it both ways; naturally there's more interest in experimental self-reflection when Julia Roberts is in on the navel-gazing. Without giving too much away, here's a basic primer to decoding the mysteries of this A-list art flick.

Film School 101: Not only does Soderbergh employ the moves of any self-respecting indie, such as jump cuts, long master shots, intertitles and naturalistic dialogue, he also references the whole auteur canon. There's a Richard Lester-style fragmented narrative and camera zoom-ins. Also a nice inclusion of an Italian poster of Godard's "Contempt." David Duchovny's kinky film producer comes on like a john straight out of Bunuel's "Belle de Jour." It's pure Fellini to have all the characters collide in a confined space at the end. And the film's tag line, "Everybody needs a release," is straight out of Cassavetes. ("I gotta have some kind of release," says a horny Seymour Cassel to a gaggle of frustrated housewives in "Faces.")

The Sex Files: Roberts may have joked in interviews that this was his "little nudie movie," but the only such moment here comes from the man who played a certain agent named Mulder. Apparently the shot of Duchovny was taken from far enough away that the film wasn't slapped with an NC-17 rating, like, say, Ewan McGregor's entire oeuvre sans "Star Wars" movies.

I Hate Being Typecast: Actors moan they're not given room to stretch, but clearly Catherine Keener and Roberts don't mind. This is Keener's third brittle entertainment exec ("Death to Smoochy" and the upcoming "Simone") this year; for Roberts, as Francesca, an actress playing a lovelorn magazine writer, Roberts proves once again her fondness for playing variations of herself ("Notting Hill," "America's Sweethearts").

"Full Frontal" and "Day for Night" Are Hardly Night From Day: Not only are both Soderbergh's and Truffaut's comic films about moviemaking, but Roberts wears an identical shag wig to the one worn by Jacqueline Bisset. And both actresses play actresses who throw diva hissy fits over craft services. Bisset's character demands real country butter, while Roberts' fusses over the celery in her tuna salad sandwich. Plus we couldn't help but notice that Jacques Davidovici's lush classical interludes are tres reminiscent of Georges Delerue's score in the 1973 film.

Minority Report: Blair Underwood plays an insecure TV actor named Nicholas (played by an actor named Calvin) who is transitioning into features. Clearly, he didn't have to do much research; Underwood first found fame in the 1986-94 series "L.A. Law." In a sharp rap to celebrity reporter Roberts, Calvin takes Hollywood to task for being too timid to cast African Americans as romantic leads. At one point, he complains that even Denzel Washington can't get any loving from "a pretty woman under the pelican moon," a direct jab at the on-screen platonic relationship between Roberts and Washington in "The Pelican Brief" (1993).

Lucky Seven: Nicholas' first feature role is playing the obligatory black sidekick opposite Brad Pitt in a cop action flick. Not only does Pitt play himself, but the director of the movie within the movie is David Fincher, with whom Pitt worked on "Seven" and "Fight Club." Throughout "Full Frontal," there are also various Los Angeles Magazine covers that feature Pitt striking various vanity poses wearing a T-shirt that bears Fincher's name.

Director's Cut: Movies about moviemaking often feature the directors as co-stars. In "Day for Night," Truffaut plays the film-within-a-film's lenser fittingly as a beleaguered insomniac. In "Contempt," Godard shows himself as Fritz Lang's assistant. But Soderbergh's not as interested in star time. Playing himself, he appears only briefly in one scene with a small black box covering his face.

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