Wednesday, May 2, 2012

808. Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989)

Running Time: 99 minutes
Directed By: Steven Soderbergh
Written By: Steven Soderbergh
Main Cast: James Spader, Andie MacDowell, Peter Gallagher, Laura San Giacomo
Click here to view the trailer


This is actually the first of three "double shots" that I'll be featuring during this batch of 100 films. I actually didn't plan on doing one for Steven Soderbergh, but I received "Traffic" in the mail from Netflix and owned a copy of this, so I figured, what the hell.

 There are four principle characters in Soderbergh's 1989 debut feature, "Sex, Lies, and Videotape". First off, you've got Ann Bishop Mullany (MacDowell), a woman in therapy, who worries about problems facing the world - problems she has no control over. Ann is married to John (Gallagher). The two have a sex life that is basically non-existent. Sex doesn't interest Ann and she even goes so far as to admit that she's never had an orgasm. As Ann spills her problems to her shrink, what she doesn't know is that John is having an affair with her sister, Cynthia (San Giacomo). John is a junior partner at a high profile law firm, who continually pushes his clients to the back burner in order to sneak out of the office for a quickie with his sister-in-law. Lastly, there's Graham (Spader), the most important piece of the puzzle. Graham and John went to college together and as the film opens, Graham is riding back into town, for a reunion with his old friend. Graham and John quickly realize that they've grown into different people and in an effort to get more time with Cynthia, John sends Ann out to apartment hunt with Graham. What spawns is a relationship between Ann and Graham, that starts as a friendship but grows into something deeper.


I saw this film for the first time, many years ago. In fact, when I first saw this film I was probably a teenager and probably liked it more because of it's sexual subject matter, rather than for the reasons intended. When I re-watched it again tonight, I realized that there was a lot here to take in and a lot to like. Lets start with the cast of characters, of which Soderbergh doesn't waste any time establishing. In fact, Soderbergh gives us all we need to know about each character within the first ten minutes (maybe less) of the film and from there we have enough information and feel like we already know everyone included. He establishes Ann as a sort of an oddball, worrying about menial things. Ann is also a bit of a prude, who blushes when her therapist asks her about masturbation and detests foul language. John is a cocky, lying lawyer, who steps out on his wife on a daily basis. Cynthia's role really isn't that big, as she's just kind of there. She is who she is, a brash mouthed southern girl, who loves sex and gets off at the thought of "doing it" in her sister's bed. And then you have Graham, who we don't get to know fully until the picture progresses, but who is a loner and a drifter, a man who enjoys the fact that his key ring only has one key. Once these very different, but very interesting characters are established, it's not hard to immerse yourself into the plot of the film.

Later, we learn that Graham is impotent and even later than that, we learn that he gets off on videotaping women, asking them questions of a sexual nature (their first sexual experience, their fantasies, what they've done, what they'd like to do) and later, re-watching the tapes and pleasuring himself. To Graham, this is his way of making love to these women. Since he can't get an erection in the physical presence of them, he, instead, gets an erection in the videotaped presence of them. During the scenes where we're actually seeing the videotapes on the screen, the soundtrack that plays is an eerie, intense music, almost something out of a horror flick. It feels as though we shouldn't be seeing what we're seeing and Soderbergh does a great job of making us feel uncomfortable. It's a good kind of uncomfortable though, an uncomfortable that is meant to be, that makes you realize how powerful those certain scenes are. Of course, the final climax leads to the videotaping by Graham of Ann. The way it all plays out is quite brilliant. First we see the videotape start and then we flash forward to a shot of, what seems to be, Graham assisting Ann back into her clothes. Later, we see all the juicy details and it's up to us to fill in the blank, a pretty obvious blank if you ask me.

The end also sees Ann divorce John and John fall even further when it's hinted that he also loses his job. At the very end, we see Ann arriving home and when the shot pans out we see that she's arriving home to Graham. The film ends with the two sitting on the porch, making small talk about an impending rainfall. It's a really nice, low key ending that I really thought was suitable. It's an ending that says, despite being a big part of a relationship, sex isn't everything. You had these two completely different characters, from a sexual standpoint, in Graham and Ann. One who wanted nothing to do with sex, didn't want to talk about it and certainly didn't want to do it and the other who was consumed with it, possibly because he wasn't physically capable of doing it. In the end, their sexual desires (or lack thereof) meet at a crossroads and the two end up better off for it. Ann finally unleashes her sexual repression and Graham, possibly because he's in love with Ann, overcomes his impotency and his desire to videotape women.

It's a film where you can pick the characters, their actions, their motivations and their dialogue (and what fantastic dialogue!) apart and really peel back the film, study it and immerse yourself in it. The acting is A+ all the way and even though I love "The Office", this film really makes you realize that James Spader needs to get off that show and get into some more high profile films, because the guy can go with the best of them. The direction is top notch too and even the editing is flawlessly done. As a viewer we're made to feel uncomfortable and awkward at various times throughout the picture, but anytime a filmmaker can make us feel what they want, that's always a great feeling.

RATING: 8/10  Man, the hits just keep on coming! Check back later this week for my review of "Traffic", the continuation of Seven Shadows and the April 2012 recap. Whoo! Busy week!


May 2, 2012  2:14am


  1. Lowes48superstar3May 2, 2012 at 10:13 AM

    I Don't Know If You've seen contagion yet, but That was a Good Film. Soderbergh makes such interesting films. You can pick out something different in each one of his movies.

  2. Well since I watched this one with you I had better say somethihn huh? Well it wasn't bad just wasn't something I would normally prefer. It sounded like it would be good but ended up being kinda strange! I will say though, James Spader was not hard to look at! Love ya!

  3. Lowes - I have yet to see "Contagion", but I did want to and would like to eventually.

  4. Thanks for the very good review of "slv" I really enjoyed your perspective. This is one of my very favorite films for all the reasons you mentioned!

    I also love The Office, but it is a total waste of Spader's great dramatic talent. :( Time for him to get some complicated challenging characters to portray on film.

  5. Thanks for your comment! Spader is outstanding here. I've had the film "Secretary" (at least I think that's what it's called), starring him, on my watchlist for ages, but have yet to get around to watching it.


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