Year of Release: 1989
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Stars: James Spader, Andie MacDowell, Laura San Giacomo, Peter Gallagher, Ron Vawter
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 9
“sex, lies and videotape” marked the start of an era for Hollywood – the era dominated by Miramax, Sundance and the emergence of independent filmmakers as a powerful voice to be heard – all backed by significant gains at the box office.
When “sex, lies and videotape” premiered in Sundance in January of 1989, Steven Soderbergh was a professional with some credit in the editing area, but other than that, a virtual unknown. Though today Steven Soderbergh is one of the big names among the directors of Hollywood, matching up his more mainstream efforts as “Erin Brockovich” and “Ocean’s 11”, with more personal and experimental films as “Full Frontal” and “The Limey”, when “sex, lies and videotape” premiered in 1989, the odds that something would come out of that were very small. He had a relatively obscure cast, headed by James Spader, who was more known for John Hughes’ film “Pretty in Pink” and Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street”, all in supporting roles, Andie MacDowell, then more known as a model and for a credit in Hugh Hudson’s “Greystoke” (where her voice was dubbed by Glenn Close’s), Peter Gallagher had done mostly television and for Laura San Giacomo, this was the beginning of it all. “sex, lies and videotape” ended up winning the Audience Award at the Sundance Festival and the Palm D’Or at Cannes, the same year, edging out “Do the Right Thing” from Spike Lee, one of the main contenders for the award. The film went on to collect accolades and awards, and had a very respectable box-office (pushed by a strong marketing campaign from Miramax), introducing everyone to the concept of independent film – something that John Cassavetes had done throughout his career, but that in the late 80’s early 90’s would be blown to a whole new level (for more details about this whole process it’s best to read the wonderful book – Down and Dirty Pictures by Peter Biskind). The film itself is a wonder, overshadowing some more recent efforts of the director. Through a very tight structure Soderbergh analyzed relationships between couples, man and women, and showed intimacy and connection between people in a way that not many directors had done and have done since. The wonderful screenplay managed to confront sexual intimacies without being titillating, all through the wonderful lens of Walt Lloyd, the director of photography (and some of the plans that were captured give that sense of something private, intimate and delicate). The audience ended up being drawn to the journey of those characters, where there was no “villain”, only credible characters, filled with their own frailties, insecurities, needs and longings. Soderbergh used the booming video technology extremely well, creating a gritty sense of reality within film, and making us, the audience, feel as voyeurs to a reality that was being shown in front of our very eyes.
The actors excelled at their roles – Andie MacDowell was stunning, earning a Golden Globe nomination in the process, and starting out an illustrious career. This is still her best role by far. James Spader won the best actor award at Cannes, and has had a career divided between interesting supporting roles in blockbusters (Mike Nichols “Wolf” is a good example) and more starring roles in other independent efforts (Steven Shainberg’s “Secretary”). Laura San Giacomo has gone to other supporting roles (Garry Marshall’s “Pretty Woman”) and to television stardom with the show “Just shoot me”, the same that has happened with Peter Gallagher (respectively with Jon Turteltaub’s “While you were Sleeping” and “The OC”), just to highlight a few.
“sex, lies and videotape” has managed to become a classic in more ways than one, but for it’s sheer cinematic essence, it’s an incredibly accomplished film.