By James Rocchi (original publication date -- 1/21/09 -- Sundance Film Festival
The beige square on the Sundance schedule for today -- "Sneak Preview," 6:15 at the Eccles -- was, over the past few days, filled in with a thousand brushstrokes of rumor and intimation and heard-it-from-a-friend-who-heard-it-from-a-friend whisperings. The first murmuring I heard to make that "Sneak Preview" a must-see was that the presentation was going to be an evening with Steven Soderbergh, a night of clips and conversation -- until that proposition, exciting as it was, was supplanted by another rumor: That the Eccles Sneak was going to be Soderbergh showing The Girlfriend Experience, his new run-and-gun, shot-with-the-4K-Red-digital-camera, adult-actress-in-the-lead-role, largely-improvised drama about the life of a New York escort. The rumors, for once, were true.
Soderbergh introduced the film with, as he put it, "a few caveats" as a "work in progress" projecting a 1080p reduction of the 4K file. In 1989, Soderbergh gave Sundance, and then us, sex, lies and videotape; in 2009, he offers sex, truth, and digital video. Much fuss was made when Soderbergh announced this film, and even more was made when he cast adult actress (the polite euphemism for 'porn star,' and that itself a polite euphemism for 'someone who has sex on-camera for money') Sasha Grey in the lead role as a Manhattan call girl who offers not just rushed release but the more refined "girlfriend experience" -- a suite of services including, as we see in the opener, fine red wine and Marc Jacobs black dresses, soft kisses and small talk, and many more things, an experience that goes far beyond sex. And yet still includes it.