Sex, Lies, and Videotape

Movie Review #891

ONE OF THE GREAT FOUNDING FATHERS OF MODERN-DAY INDEPENDENT CINEMA.

★★★½
By Alexander Diminiano

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Released August 4, 1989 (Los Angeles, California and New York City, New York)
Drama
Rated R (contains sexual content, suggestive dialogue, profanity, partial nudity)
100 minutes

The ‘90s was essentially the Reformation Era of independent movies. “Pulp Fiction”, “The Shawshank Redemption”, “Clerks”, “The English Patient”, “Fargo”, “Shakespeare in Love”, and “Good Will Hunting” were among the John Calvins of that time. Before them, though, was “Sex, Lies, and Videotape”, the Martin Luther who came to fruition in the summer of ’89.

It’s pretty clear in “Sex, Lies, and Videotape” why this inspired so many to become independent filmmakers. It effectively deals a plot that isn’t mainstream, and proves entertaining to a Hollywood audience from its methodical storytelling. “Sex, Lies, and Videotape” is a soap opera of a movie, except it’s suspenseful, gripping, and dramatic, not melodramatic.

The movie not only helped established independent cinema but also Steven Soderbergh’s career. This is Soderbergh’s debut film. His studies in cinema were all self-taught, and his style is as masterful as it was with his most recent (and presumably his last) feature film “Side Effects” (2013). Soderbergh has routinely used a technique of cutting away from scene A and preserved its dialogue as the narration for scene B, and it works so effectively here. His cinematography—self-composed, like his editing—is constantly voyeuristic.

There’s a great narrative here, too. This is a story of curiosity and distrust, as the title might imply. A thirtysomething woman (Andie MacDowell) befriends a guy who couldn’t get any better, but refuses to speak to him once she realizes that he has a very strange hobby of videotaping women as they talk about their sex lives. When she tells her sister about this character, the plot starts going into dreadlocks.

The one problem with the narrative is the usual for Soderbergh: it’s long. The climactic scenes overstay their welcome by ten minutes, if not longer. But there’s no denying that “Sex, Lies, and Videotape” starts solidly and ends solidly. What begins as a strong character drama opens up into a conniving, ungentle, but steady and intriguing thriller.

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