Most people would believe that sex, lies, and videotape was Steven Soderbergh’s extremely auspicious debut. Well, uh, not quite. Not counting the expected short films (including the maddeningly hard-to-find Winston), Soderbergh’s debut on the scene was the concert film Yes:9012Live, which sees the titular band on tour to promote their 1985 comeback album 90125. If you go into it with any ideas of what a “Soderberghian” concert film would look like, you are guaranteed to be horribly disappointed, as Soderbergh invests it with no flair or personality whatsoever. The most interesting thing about it is also the worst thing about it, which is the Video Toaster-esque visual effects which keep popping up and interrupting the show, which looked lame then and lamer now (Soderbergh was embarrassed enough by them to craft a “director’s cut” completely removing them for the DVD release). I tried talking about this for the original Soderbergh series, and I absolutely do not wish to talk any more about it. Instead I will focus on the piece of Soderbergh ephemera tucked away on the DVD, a short film entitled Access All Areas.
One gets the sense that Richard Lester is Soderbergh’s ideal self. Lester lent a sense of irreverence and subtle cinematic bravura to projects big and small, impassioned and mercenary. Soderbergh has obviously made a living working out of that mode, and has directly ripped off individual Lester films several times (The Limey owes as much to Petulia as it does to the more commonly-stated comparison, Point Blank), most obviously with Schizopolis (which even inspired Soderbergh to interview Lester for the essential book Getting Away With It). But as a pisstake in addition to the Yes concert film, Soderbergh decided to rip off what is commonly thought to be Lester’s masterpiece, A Hard Day’s Night. With Yes. As they existed in the 1980s. It is interesting.
The short is divided into sections, starting with “Getting There”, showing Yes on the road (and in the sky). It starts with some extremely rough prototypes of the Soderbergh object shot, showing off the cars and shiny surfaces at Yes’s disposal in adorably shaky, videotapey close-ups. As they start moving to get to the concert, Soderbergh keeps returning to one Lester trick in particular, the jump cut. But whereas in Lester’s work, it’s used to keep up a wild energy in the film, here it’s obviously being used to disguise how fucking boring most of the footage Soderbergh got was. Is the two minutes of the band coming out an airplane not working? Cut to each band member with someone saying “Wham!” as punctuation to the cuts, that’ll fix things.
The next section is “Production”, which opens with a tilt down to a Yes sign being repeated several times with what sounds like slot machine handle noises, because sure. It then goes into an embryonic version of the trick Soderbergh would repeat in The Limey, where a character is introduced with almost a trailer montage of some of their moments. Soderbergh cuts between several shots of Yes’s management/producers/whatever the fuck gabbing on the phone and fixing equipment (there’s a legitimately kind of cool shot of who I think is their manager reflected in a small mirror on the wall). That’s soon over and we go into “Fans”, which is just footage of people buying tickets and t-shirts and saying that they’re seeing Yes in concert because they like Yes. Soderbergh doesn’t even bother doing anything with that, and quickly moves onto “Pre-Gig”, where the Hard Day’s Night comparisons start becoming clearer. Soderbergh films Yes shooting the shit backstage and with reporters, telling boring stories (covered by Soderbergh cutting between them being told backstage and to a reporter, a preview of another Limey trick) and making each other crack up. Some of their camaraderie with that unfortunately-dressed reporter (dig that deep purple jacket) clearly aims for the smartassery the Fab Four demonstrated with those trying to pick their brains in Hard Day’s Night, except they were genuinely witty and energetic to watch, whereas being backstage with Yes feels like experiencing hedge-fund managers trying to remember what goofing off is. And the Beatles’ style was better. Every member of Yes was unfortunately graced with Miami Vice haircuts and jackets during the period Soderbergh happened to be filming. Either that or “Where’s the Beef?” t-shirts.
This section is a lot of the band members just doing random shit, like kicking open guitar cases, spraying baby powder in front of the lens, and bending wire hangers and spoons (the spoon part leads to a genuinely okay gag about one member saying they can bend it with their mind because “my mind tells my hands what to do and I fucking bend it”). Soderbergh keeps throwing in those jump cuts, but not only do they not relieve the tedium of being backstage with boring, middle-aged British men, they make almost everything Soderbergh shoots pass by in less than a blip, which is death to whatever theoretical comedy there would be. It’s like Lester by way of the most ADD imitations of his style, which I could probably pass off as a scathing commentary on the MTVification of media because literally nobody has watched this or will ever watch this. The one part of this sequence that ends up working in its own weird way is a conversation between two women about watching and betting on the Oscars with friends, which is covered so that the women barely peek into their opposite ends of the frame, leaving an odd amount of dead space between them. One of the band members soon comes in and the spell is broken, but it’s fun and inexplicable while it lasts.
It’s then onto the “The Gig”, which shows an entirely unexciting montage of the concert (none of it footage from 9012Live, though). I’m sure Soderbergh’s access to the stage was limited (although he really oughta have called it “Access Some Areas” if that was the case), but the shots he gets of the band performing are pretty standard, boring stuff. Lester knew how to cover the Beatles performances in both Hard Day’s Night and Help!, and this lacks any of the pop those sequences exhibited. Soderbergh seems to know that, though, as he cuts in an argument being had by who appear to be two of Yes’s accountants. It’s exactly as interesting as that description makes it sound.
“Post-Gig” sees the most interesting thing in the short happen, which is Soderbergh and the band stumbling upon security beating up an unruly, shirtless fan (it’s said he attacked someone with a radio). The second-most interesting thing in the short also happens in this section, which is the occasional glimpses we get of Soderbergh in the mirror, with a mop of hair that’s depressing enough to really make you be thankful for his current chrome-dome look. It also has an extended sequence of one band member bitching about there building too little build-up during their performance of “Starship Trooper”, which might’ve worked better if we saw literally any of the performance of “Starship Trooper”, but whatever. The short concludes with the band members being credited with names like “Jack Mehoff”, “Michael Hunt”, and “Ivur Biggun”, and ends as it must, with the tape realizing its worthlessness and destroying itself.
Access All Areas is unenlightening as a trip backstage with Yes, subpar as a Richard Lester homage, and not particularly entertaining to anybody. But it’s at least a little more fun to talk about than the polished anonymity of the concert film, and sees Soderbergh flailing in areas where he would later excel. I’m just glad he didn’t let any of his actors dress themselves after this.