Sex, Lies, and Videotape
|Sex, Lies, and Videotape|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Steven Soderbergh|
|Produced by||John Hardy
|Written by||Steven Soderbergh|
Laura San Giacomo
|Music by||Cliff Martinez|
|Editing by||Steven Soderbergh|
|Distributed by||Miramax Films|
|Release date(s)||August 18, 1989|
|Running time||100 minutes|
Sex, Lies, and Videotape (styled as sex, lies, and videotape) is a 1989 independent film that brought director Steven Soderbergh to prominence. It tells the story of a man who films women discussing their sexuality, and his impact on the relationships of a troubled married couple and the wife's younger sister.
The film won the Palme d'Or at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival, and was influential in revolutionizing the independent film movement in the early 1990s. In 2006, Sex, Lies, and Videotape was added to the United States Library of Congress' National Film Registry as being deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."
Ann (Andie MacDowell) lives in Baton Rouge. She is unhappily married to John (Peter Gallagher) and has never experienced an orgasm. She is seeing a counselor for her problems. Graham Dalton (James Spader) is an old college friend of John's. He is now a seeming drifter who, after nine years, returns to live in Baton Rouge. Graham arrives to find Ann, who has no idea that John has invited Graham to stay with them until he finds an apartment. When John arrives home, Graham's demeanor becomes remarkably more guarded, due in large part to John's overt disapproval of Graham's bohemian persona. They also discuss the fact that Graham's college girlfriend, Elizabeth, is also living in Baton Rouge.
John is sleeping with Ann's sister, Cynthia (Laura San Giacomo), a free-spirited bartender. He rationalizes it by blaming Ann's frigidity. He frequently leaves his law office mid-day to meet with Cynthia, instructing his secretary to reschedule clients who are already in the lobby waiting to see him.
Ann makes an impromptu visit to Graham's apartment, where she notices stacks of camcorder tapes around the television. When pressed, Graham explains that he interviews women about their sexual experiences and fantasies, on videotape. Ann, overcome with shock and confusion, flees his apartment.
Within a day, Cynthia appears at Graham's apartment and introduces herself. Cynthia presses Graham to explain what "spooked" Ann the preceding day. Graham explains the videotapes, and admits to Cynthia his sexual dysfunction: that he is impotent when in the presence of another person, and that he achieves gratification by watching these videos in private. Graham propositions Cynthia to make a tape, assuring her that no other person is allowed to see the tapes. She believes him, and agrees. Cynthia reports back to Ann, who is horrified. Cynthia also tells John, who also reacts very negatively (though more than a little possessively).
Ann and especially John are both reactionary in their condemnation of Graham, who in one conversation reacts with perhaps the defining line of the film: "I look at you and I feel... normal".
When Ann discovers Cynthia's pearl earring in her bedroom, she is furious. She heads over to Graham's apartment with the intention of making a videotape. Graham objects, telling her it is something she would not do in a normal frame of mind. She insists and Graham relents.
Afterward, Ann demands a divorce from John. In the ensuing argument, John gleans that Ann has been to Graham's, and that she made a video. He goes to Graham's house, hits him and locks him out of the house, then watches Ann's tape. In it, Ann says she has never felt any kind of 'satisfaction' from sex. After Graham asks if she ever thinks of having sex with other men, she admits she has thought of Graham. Ann later turns the camera on Graham, who resists but she persists. Graham confesses that he is haunted by Elizabeth, and that his motivation in returning to Baton Rouge is a vague notion of reconnecting with her. He explains that he was a pathological liar, which destroyed an otherwise rewarding relationship with Elizabeth. He explains that he has since gone to great lengths to keep people at a distance and avoid relationships. Graham turns off the camera; it is implied that the two have sex.
A chastened John joins Graham on the front patio and, with obvious pleasure, confesses to having sex with Elizabeth while she and Graham were a couple. Furious, Graham goes into a rage and destroys all of the tapes, as well as his camera.
In the end, John is summoned to his boss's office, where it’s implied that he is about to be fired due to his frequent cancellations of meetings with important clients to have sexual trysts with Cynthia. In the next scene, Ann and Cynthia reconcile at the bar Cynthia tends before Ann returns home and joins Graham on the front porch, as they appear to be a couple.
- James Spader as Graham Dalton
- Andie MacDowell as Ann Bishop Mullany
- Peter Gallagher as John Mullany
- Laura San Giacomo as Cynthia Patrice Bishop
- Steven Brill as Barfly
- Ron Vawter as Therapist
The film was written by Soderbergh in eight days on a yellow legal pad during a cross country trip (although, as Soderbergh points out in his DVD commentary track, he had been thinking about the film for a year).
Soderbergh's commentary also reveals that he had written Andie MacDowell's role with Elizabeth McGovern in mind, but McGovern's agent disliked the script so much that McGovern never even got to read it. Laura San Giacomo, who was represented by the same agency, had to threaten to leave that agency in order to be able to play Cynthia. Soderbergh was reluctant to audition MacDowell but she surprised him, getting the role after two extremely successful auditions. The role of John would have been played by Timothy Daly, but delays in completing the financing for the film led to Peter Gallagher's getting the role instead.
The film's Executive Producer was Larry Estes.
At the 1989 Cannes Film Festival the film won the Palme d'Or and the FIPRESCI Prize, with Spader getting the Best Actor Award. It also won an Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival. Soderbergh was nominated for an Academy Award for his screenplay. In 2006, Sex, Lies, and Videotape was selected and preserved by the United States National Film Registry as being deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."
Sex, Lies, and Videotape is important in film history for raising the profile of independent film. In his book Down and Dirty Pictures, Peter Biskind explains that the unprecedented international success of this low-budget film was instrumental in the beginning of the 1990s independent film boom. The film is also important for launching the career of Steven Soderbergh, who became a recognized director of both mainstream and arthouse films, and for launching or boosting the careers of many actors. Prior to this picture, leading lady Andie MacDowell was principally known as a fashion model whose entire performance in Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes had been dubbed over by Glenn Close. The film was also significant in that it featured James Spader playing the sympathetic protagonist, as in many of his past films he was best known for playing the role of the villain or the snobby preppy (in particular, Pretty in Pink, and Less Than Zero).
The film is also notable for being the breakout film for the decade-old Miramax independent film studio. With this film, and My Left Foot (released later in 1989), Miramax became the studio most closely associated with quality independent filmmaking. By the mid-1990s, Miramax had expanded to distribute the films of many notable independent-minded filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino, Kevin Smith and Woody Allen.
The DVD edition of the film includes a "director's dialogue" between Soderbergh and playwright/director Neil LaBute, recorded in 1998. LaBute's presence leads to conversational tangents unrelated to the film, although most of the tangents are related to the question of what it means to be a director, and are intended, as Soderbergh summarizes at the end, to "demystify" the process of making a film. LaBute's presence prompts Soderbergh to talk about reverse zooms, dolly shots, how actors have varying expectations of their director, the difference between stealing from a film you admire and paying tribute to it, shooting out of sequence, how the role of a director changes as their success (and their budgets) grow, and other filmmaking topics.
Since the film was released and US/Canada theatrical and TV rights were acquired by Miramax Films before the acquisition by The Walt Disney Company, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, who financed the film through a pre-buy holds the rights to release it on home media (e.g. DVD or Blu-ray Disc) in the US.
Popular culture references 
Hundreds of newspaper headlines, TV trailers and episode titles, etc. have played on the film's title, usually in the form sex, lies and something else or something, something and videotape. This phenomenon has taken on a life of its own – far beyond the impact of the film itself.
- Boy Meets World has an episode titled "Wake Up, Little Cory"; in the episode the name of Cory and Topanga's project is "Sex, Lies and Videotape"
- Dexter has an episode titled "Dex, Lies and Videotape."
- Family Matters has an episode named "Food, Lies and Videotape."
- CSI has an episode titled "Sex, Lies, and Larvae"
- CSI: NY has an episode titled "Sex, Lies, and Silicone"
- Dawson's Creek has an episode titled "Text, Lies and Videotape"
- Goof Troop has an episode titled "Wrecks, Lies & Videotape"
- Less Than Perfect has a final episode titled "Sex, Lies and Office Supplies"
- Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman has an episode titled "Sex, Lies and Videotape"
- Martin has an episode titled "Checks, Lies, and Videotape"
- Northern Exposure has an episode titled "Sex, Lies and Ed's Tape"
- Roswell has an episode titled "Tess, Lies, and Videotape"
- The BBC has a programme called Sex, Lice and Videotape
- Murray Torkildsen released an album called Sex, Lies and Videogames
- Tripping the Rift has an episode titled "Six, Lies and Videotape"
- South of Nowhere has an episode titled "Love, Child, and Videotape"
- The Simpsons has an episode titled "Sex, Pies and Idiot Scrapes"
- The Spooktacular New Adventures of Casper has an episode titled "Spooks, Lies, and Videotape"
- Who's Counting? Marilyn Waring on Sex, Lies and Global Economics
- Will & Grace has an episode titled "Sex, Losers, and Videotape"
- X-Men The Animated Series has an episode titled "Weapon X, Lies & Videotape"
- The Ultimates 3 "Sex, Lies, & DVD"
Other references include:
- House artist Deadmau5 has a track titled "Sex, Lies, Audiotape" featured on his album At Play
- Coolio's song "Too Hot" and Kanye West's song "Jesus Walks" both mention sex, lies and videotape
- The Primal Scream track "Come Together" from the Screamadelica album features a sample of MacDowell saying, "That's beautiful... That's really beautiful"
- The American Drum and bass group Evol Intent has a song named "Death, Lies and Videotape" on their album Era of Diversion (2008)
- Track 10 of comedian Eugene Mirman's stand-up album, God is a Twelve Year Old Boy With Aspergers, is titled "Sex, ??? Airlies And Videotape: A Three-Part Radio Play Very Based on a True Story"
- Box Office Information for Sex, Lies, and Videotape. The Numbers. Retrieved April 24, 2012.
- "Festival de Cannes: Sex, Lies, and Videotape". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 2009-08-01.
- Official website
- Sex, Lies, and Videotape at the Internet Movie Database
- Sex, Lies, and Videotape at the TCM Movie Database
- Sex, Lies, and Videotape at Rotten Tomatoes
- Sex, Lies, and Videotape at AllRovi