sex, lies, and videotape: Criterion Collection Blu-Ray Review
Steven Soderbergh’s Palme D’or winning masterpiece, sex, lies, and videotape is re-released this week on blu-ray in a sumptuous new edition as part of the Criterion Collection.One of the sexiest films ever made – despite not featuring a single sex scene – with razor sharp insights into the intimacies and deceptions of interpersonal relationships, Soderbergh’s incredibly perceptive indie drama remains one of the most assured directorial debuts of recent times.
The film tells the story of neurotic housewife Ann (Andie MacDowell) who is unhappily married to John (Peter Gallagher), a douchebag yuppie lawyer. Ann confesses to her therapist that she has lost all interest in physical intimacy, and doesn’t think she has ever had an orgasm.John meanwhile is having a passionate affair with Ann’s extrovert artist sister, Cynthia (Laura San Giacomo).
This scenario is further complicated when John’s old college friend Graham (James Spader) arrives in town. This soft-spoken man, soulful, and honest to a fault is the polar opposite of John, and Ann soon starts to fall for him. Then she discovers that Graham has his own issues with intimacy. Unable to sleep with women due to impotence, he instead interviews and videotapes women as they talk about their sex lives. Needless to say, it is not long before both Cynthia and Ann find themselves staring into the lens of Graham’s camera.
It has become one of Hollywood’s most oft told tales, how a 26-year-old Soderbergh wrote this script in a mere eight days. Anyone who has ever laboured over a feature film screenplay for months or even years will no doubt be weeping into their well-thumbed copy of Save the Cat after watching this. For it is a beautiful screenplay – devastatingly perceptive, and laced with humour and sadness, it is the kind of script that reminds you that even though film is a visual medium, there is something truly thrilling in seeing great actors speaking wonderful dialogue. That he achieved this in eight days, is nothing short of remarkable.
But of course it counts for nothing if the people you entrust your words to aren’t up to scratch. Soderbergh had no such worries, as each member of the cast delivers a memorable performance. Andie MacDowell was never better than she was here, and James Spader’s award winning turn is deliciously ambiguous. But the standout is Laura San Giacomo who is brilliant as Cynthia. Trapped in an ever escalating game of sexual one-upmanship with John, she is cool and seemingly in control of her life, unlike the others in her orbit, but you can sense the damage it is dong to her.
The disc comes with a commentary recorded in 1998, which is a conversation between Soderbergh and Neil LaBute, as they discuss all aspects of sex, lies, and videotape. There are also three interviews with Soderbergh from 1990, 1992, and 2018 respectively, and an interview with James Spader from The Today Show in 1989.
Elsewhere on the disc, there is a terrific brand new documentary produced for this release, going behind the scenes of the making of the film, with all new interviews with Andie MacDowell, Peter Gallagher, and Laura San Giacomo. For those of you interested in the score and sound design, there is a fascinating conversation between sound editor Larry Blake and composer Cliff Martinez, who discuss working with Steven Soderbergh throughout his career.
There is also a deleted scene with optional audio commentary. The booklet with the disc comes with an essay by critic Amy Taubin and excerpts from Soderbergh’s diaries, written at the time of the film’s production. All in all a very handsome release for this ground-breaking drama.