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Friday, August 19, 2011

sex, lies, and videotape (1989)

Rating: 3.5/4

For a plot with so much tension Steven Soderbergh's vital indie film "sex, lies, and videotape" moves at a very slow, uninterrupted pace. Opening with timid housewife Anne Millaney (Andie MacDowell) telling her psychiatrist her fears and odd obsessions of the day. She does not think much of sex. Telling her psychiatrist, and trying to convince herself, that she would rather spend her time worrying about the real troubles of the world like starvation and the over supply of garbage than about such a minor part of life like sex. No matter how many times Anne convinces herself that sex in only a minor, unnecessary, part of life she still will not be able to avoid just how much of an impact sex alone with have on her life. At around the same moment Anne's lawyer husband John (Peter Gallagher) goes through a regular routine of ditching major clients to have an affair with Anne's sister, Cynthia (Laura San Giacomo).

The 4th member of this very fascinating love-square (oh, how I humor myself) is John's college friend Graham Dalton played in a new role type by James Spader. Graham and John have gone very different paths in life and are not shy to admit that they are no longer friends. John thinks Graham is "weird" and Graham thinks liars are the second lowest form of human being, lawyers being #1. Graham limits his belongings as much as possible, but his most prized possessions are what will change all 4 members lives tremendously.

Anne is drawn to Graham's uniqueness and Graham's curious nature gets her to reveal some of her inner feelings while the direction of the conversation leads to Graham admitting that he is impotent when in the presence of another person. This discovery makes it very unsurprising to learn that as a "personal project" Graham videotapes women talking about sex. This generation with all its endless supply of internet-porn will not bat an eye at this "discovery" but in the late 80s before home-media took over, a sexual hobby like that was unorthodox to say the least. Looking at it in that point-of-view makes Anne's disgusted reaction rightfully justified.

Each character's sexual life is shown completely; we see multiple meetings between John and Cynthia as well as the detached sexual relationship between John and Anne. It was only a matter of time until something went wrong and everything came to a head, Graham becomes their connector.

4 acting careers were simultaneously started, and, or given more serious depth in this one film. Peter Gallagher and Laura San Giacomo are strong in their limited roles, it is their character's steamy sexual relationship that leads to some very sexual moments. Also starring Andie MacDowell, who was a Vogue supermodel with very little screen experience. She gets the most screen-time and is given a challenging role. She isn't a scene controller, but her strong acting talents work well as sexually deprived Anne who masks her sexual displeasures by worrying about problems she can't control. What we are treated with is a performance from James Spader who takes a role that could so easily have been distasteful or perverted and slowly lets it become something special. Once the hidden truths about his character are known a real sadness takes place.

At the ripe age of 26, Steven Soderbergh uses the most basic filmmaking techniques to create simple situations that enhance the effect of his smart, emotionally knowledgeable script. Soderbergh's first big break came when he directed Grammy-nominated video 9012Live for the rock band Yes in 1985. Every film lover has heard of the stories about how he wrote the script for "sex, lies, and videotape" in 8 days during a cross country road trip, with being filmed on a budget of barely 1 million. And the rest is history. Soderbergh went on to become the youngest director to win the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival and his film went on to become very successful overseas -- grossing nearly its entire 24 million in Europe. The "Indie Film" Movement of the 90s was made possible from the success of films like this along with other late 80s independent films like Cinema Paradiso (1988) and My Left Foot: The Story of Cristy Brown (1989). Many die-hard indie film fans credit Soderbergh's film with starting the indie movement, which I won't argue with, but I do believe that even if this film was never made the indie boom, that has never really ended, would still have started on schedule.

Watching this film with a modern point-of-view I could see how it could be overlooked. Today about half of marriages end in divorce and many of those divorces are due to cheating. So, a plot like this just may not seem special to many, but I loved how it took such a simple situation in todays standings and let it did deeper into the causes of the "sex" and "lies." For a film about sex it is really impressive that this film has no shown nudity. While nudity in film can be enjoyable (yes, it is true) most of the time is seems forced with little reasoning other than drawing people's attention.

Steven Soderbergh's film is one of the most significant indie films ever made, and it's that simple. Although its content may be a little too reserved and patient for modern audiences though a film like this is not meant to be viewed by routine moviegoers. A low-budget film like this can't resort to the cheap thrills that a large-budget allows. I find it a really thrilling experience to watch a film like this where you can just imagine the hard work a talent that was needed for its creation, something you can cherish. Soderbergh is now an Oscar winner thanks to his film Traffic (2000), he is one of the most respected names in Hollywood, with all that said "sex, lies, and videotape" is the film I respect most.


  1. Splendid review, sounds like an interesting film.

  2. Good review, adam. I saw this a long long time ago. Gotta check it out again. I liked it but don't remember anything else. x)

  3. Great review. I love the little things in this film, especially the brilliant dialogue.