Sex, lies, and videotape (1989)



"Sex, lies and videotape was the start of an extraordinary career, one that reflected an era. Soderbergh came up, went mainstream, went tricksy, dropped out."

The movie takes place in Baton Rouge, La., and it tells the story of four people in their early 30s whose sex lives are seriously confused. One is a lawyer named John (Peter Gallagher), who is married to Ann (Andie MacDowell) but no longer sleeps with her. Early in the film, we hear her telling her psychiatrist that this is no big problem; sex is really overrated, she thinks, compared to larger issues such as how the Earth is running out of places to dispose of its garbage. Her husband does not, however, think sex is overrated and is conducting a passionate affair with his wife’s sister, Cynthia (Laura San Giacomo), who has always resented the goody-goody Ann.

An old friend turns up in town. His name is Graham (James Spader), and he was John’s college roommate. Nobody seems quite clear what he has been doing in the years since college, but he’s one of those types you don’t ask questions about things like that, because you have the feeling you don’t want to know the answers. He’s dangerous, not in a physical way, but through his insinuating intelligence, which seems to see through people.



Unable to satisfy himself in the usual ways, he videotapes the sexual fantasies of women, and then watches them. This is a form of sexual assault; he has power not over their bodies but over their minds, over their secrets.
The story of “sex, lies, and videotape” is by now part of movie folklore: how writer-director Steven Soderbergh, at 29, wrote the screenplay in eight days during a trip to Los Angeles, how the film was made for $1.8 million, how it won the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, as well as the best actor prize for Spader. I am not sure it is as good as the Cannes jury apparently found it; it has more intelligence than heart, and is more clever than enlightening. But it is never boring, and there are moments when it reminds us of how sexy the movies used to be, back in the days when speech was an erogenous zone.
It had great company in the competition line-up of 1989 , Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing was there, as was Jim Jarmusch’s Mystery Train.


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