sex, lies, and videotape – Review

8 May

I love going back to the beginning of acclaimed film makers’ careers and seeing what they were capable of before making it big. Kevin Smith had Clerks, Robert Rodriguez had El Mariachi, and Richard Linklater had Slacker. All are impressive starts. Let’s go back even earlier than these movies to a director’s debut that surprised everyone, and he just so happens to be one of my favorite film makers. This is Steven Soderbergh’s sex, lies, and videotape. Not only did it take major awards at the Cannes Film Festival, but also helped jump start the independent film movement of the 1990s.

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Ann’s (Andie MacDowell) marriage is in trouble, and she can’t seem to figure out why. In her mind, she just no longer has any interest in sex. In reality, her husband John (Peter Gallagher) is having an affair with Ann’s sister, Cynthia (Laura San Giacomo). This deceit continues regularly until John’s old college friend, Graham (James Spader), arrives in town with hopes of finding a new apartment. Graham has a secret of his own, a fetish that rips into the lives of everyone involved and changes the way they look at each other and their relationships.

Now, this movie has really left me thinking. On the surface it works really well as a dark sex comedy/drama, but it possesses something much more psychological. The characters in this movie are all twisted beyond repair, and it’s only appropriate that the first scene of the movie takes place in a therapist’s office. Trying to unravel the characters is no easy task and the past few days since I’ve watched it, I’ve been thinking about it and thinking about it. It’s obvious that sex is the main drive for everyone in the movie, but what their true intentions and motivations are are sometimes a little bit foggy. The sex seems to control their entire lives, but what are they really trying to hide or escape from?Sex-Lies-and-Videotape-1989

 

The writing in this movie is also something to really be appreciated and looked at differently than you would a more normal kind of movie. The way the characters speak to each other is far from how people actually interact in everyday life. Deep personal secrets are brought to light way earlier than they should and the graphic nature of the dialogue compared with how long some of the characters have known each other makes it almost a surreal experience listening to them talk. It also makes you wonder what Soderbergh was trying to do by not beating around the bush at all, which is a way more common thing to do in movies. This deconstruction of sexual dialogue is sure to make puritans cringe, but is certainly something to be appreciated.

It also isn’t very rare for a debut film to have acting in it that is less than superb, but that isn’t the case in sex, lies, and videotape. James Spader won the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival for his subtle portrayal of Graham, who is arguably the most normal person in this movie. Peter Gallagher and Laura San Giacomo are both fine, but Andie MacDowell is the real powerhouse next to Spader. Soderbergh was originally very hesitant in casting her, but it appears he made the right choice. Her nervous energy is comparable to James Stewart in Rear Window.

Thinking back on sex, lies and videotape, I can sort of describe it as what would happen if Alfred Hitchcock and Woody Allen collaborated to make a movie together. It has the neurotic energy of Woody Allen, the mystery of Hitchcock, and the combined dialogue of both. Steven Soderbergh may have, at the time, unknowingly created one of the more important movies of the last 30 years, since the aftermath resulted in Miramax being the forerunner of bringing independent movies to the main stream. It’s a superbly written and acted movie that has certainly made its mark in film history.

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