Steven Soderbergh's E-Shopping Experiment: Online Store Hawks Booze, Headphones and Memorabilia

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Coming as they do from one of Hollywood's most versatile, gifted and prolific filmmakers, Steven Soderbergh's many flirtations with retirement are generally taken with grains of salt as large as any of Liberace's pinky ring diamonds.

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But supposing his latest claim is true -- that his breathlessly reviewed HBO biopic Behind the Candelabra will mark the start of a prolonged sabbatical -- then what could be next for the man who spun a recession-era fable about the American work ethic in 2012's male-stripper movie Magic Mike, and drolly suggested that Gwyneth Paltrow's well-documented foodie-ism could trigger a global pandemic in 2011's Contagion?

Novel writing? Still photography? Animal husbandry?

Try again.

Soderbergh's next project brings him into the world of Internet shopping.

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The director's Extension 765 -- think of it as an general store for all things Soderberghian -- went live on Wednesday, and drew throngs of virtual window-shoppers, curious to see what kind of wares were available inside.

The name, like so many things on the site, pays homage to a little-known film reference: "In The Conversation, whenever Gene Hackman calls to find out what's going on, Harrison Ford answers the phone and says, 'extension 765,' " Soderbergh told Reuters.

The website is pleasingly designed, employing a clean, hipster-friendly aesthetic and a distressed Courier font that evokes long hours spent banging out screenplays on a temperamental typewriter. It offers multiple departments for your Soderbergh-shopping needs, all profits from which are funneled toward "good causes."

In "Auction," fans can bid on personal effects that the auteur says he couldn't bring himself to toss into the trash but "didn't want to keep, either." Bidding on an Erin Brockovich clapper begins at $250, two framed tickets to Ocean's 13's 2007 Cannes premiere begin at $600, and so on.

"Art" makes available the aforementioned still photography -- striking black-and-white prints taken by the director himself, beautifully framed and priced at around $750. They appear to be going fast. "The Polaroids are exposure tests from the days when we shot film (seems like a long time ago…)," Soderbergh explains in one of the site's many wry blurbs.

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So far, "Swag" offers only T-shirts and tote bags bearing the Extension 765 logo -- a spin on those old-fashioned, touch-tone telephones -- but we're told that "something totally badass" is on the way: headphones.

"It frustrates me that the great-looking headphones sound shitty, and great-sounding headphones look shitty," Soderbergh says, without actually calling out Dr. Dre directly. Designed by the team at RED Camera, Soderbergh's headphones promise to offer both Oceans-worthy style and Side Effects-caliber, cutting-edge science. No info yet on pricing.

The nerdiest section would have to be the one called "Threads," filled as it is with T-shirts bearing film references ranging from the obscure to the ultra-obscure. There's one featuring Sybil the Soothersayer, a minor character in 1976's Network, and another touts the Fabian Publishing Company -- the New York publishing house run by Joan Crawford in 1959 melodrama The Best of Everything. Most T-shirts are priced at $38.

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That level of cinematic geekdom is enough to send anyone to the bottle. Luckily the "Booze" department can help. Soderbergh here touts his own special designation of singani, a clear alcohol distilled from white muscatel grapes and widely considered to be the national liquor of Bolivia. Soderbergh first sampled the potent spirit while working on 2008's two-part Che.

"I've got the stuff in a warehouse in Florida. I'm in the process of obtaining a distributor," Soderbegh says of his Singani 63 label. "But watch out: You can knock the stuff back like water and before you know it, you're fucking invisible." So far, the closest you'll get to sampling that magical elixir, currently gathering dust on shelves in a muggy warehouse near the Everglades, is by watching an arty promo video, featuring the ladies of Gotham Girls Roller Derby.

For try as he might, it's hard for this budding Jeff Bezos to keep away from the camera.

Twitter: @SethAbramovitch

Email: seth.abramovitch@thr.com

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