June 10, 2023

Film Review – Sex, Lies And Videotape (1989, Criterion Collection)


Over time, they say somethings get better as they age a little and then start to appreciate them a lot more. This is a sentiment you can easily relate to film, sometimes certain films should be left in the decade they came from like Sex, Lies, And Videotape.

The 1989 film marked the directorial feature debut for Steven Soderbergh that took Cannes Film Festival by storm that year. It won awards and accolades wherever it played including The Sundance Film Festival. Now 29 years after its cinematic release, The Criterion Collection is giving its Blu-Ray TLC, does the much-loved indie deserve it?

The film was seen as a landmark release in American Independent Cinema. Highly regarded by many critics for opening the doors for the likes of Quentin Tarantino. All largely thanks to the low budget and a filmmaking style that didn’t need a big budget, overpaid big names or snazzy special effects to tell a good story.

Sex, Lies, And Videotape is a tale of complexities of human intimacies in a modern age. Ann (Andie MacDowell) is an ordinary housewife, bored, feeling very distant from her lawyer husband John (Peter Gallagher). John is cheating on Ann, sleeping around with her sister Cynthia (Laura San Giacomo). When one of John’s old friends Graham (James Spader)comes to town Ann becomes transfixed on the softly spoken friend.

Graham is an outsider, he comes into the fold with a lot of mystery and a slightly dark private obsession. Ann uncovers that obsession, video tapping women who confess their sexual desires. Graham gets a kick off these videos and his sexual problems, frustrations awaken Ann sexually by sitting in front of the camera for Graham.

When Sex, Lies, And Videotape came out originally I was a naive 14 year old. I was becoming more sexually aware and anything that had ‘Sex’ in the title or synopsis I was eager to watch. How disappointed I was. 29 years later, I’m all grown up with my expectations for film has changed. I understand film better and I’m a firm believer of second chances, my attitudes towards the film haven’t changed.

As for the film itself, it’s a simple uncomplicated plot which will test your wit and patience despite only having a running time of just over 90 minutes long. The film does resonate with sexual relationships and infidelity nowadays, just don’t expect much happening. No sex or profanity, just manipulation through Voyeurism, repressed by endless dialogue and silence. No complaints on the cast’s performance strong, solid despite the lacklustre story.

Nearly 30 years on, you wonder what Anna, John, Graham, and Cynthia would think how video is now comfortably part of many couples relationships. The ordinary video camera revolutionised couples, now all you need is a mobile phone and uploaded to the internet. They can be anything from couples filming each other, another partner filming the half with a stranger, even worse cheating.

No longer the housewives have to be bored anymore nor do same-sex relationships have to be closed or considered taboo. We are now more open to sexuality which makes Sex, Lies, And Videotape very dated.

Whilst many critics or cinephiles love to engage with certain years or decades with nostalgia and enthusiasm. There are certain things that should stay in the decade they originated from and Sex, Lies, And Videotape are one of those films. If your looking for a dialogue driven film you will be in heaven. However, if you’re thinking you’re about to watch a sex-fuelled drama, you’re looking in the wrong place.


Drama | USA, 1989 | 15 | 6th August 2018 (UK) | Blu-Ray | The Criterion Collection | Sony Pictures Releasing | Dir. Steven Soderbergh | Andie MacDowell, James Spader, Peter Gallagher, Laura San Giacomo

Picture & Sound | ★★★

The film aspect ratio of 1.85:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer in an overall 4K restoration, supervised by director Steven Soderbergh. When you purchase a Criterion release The restoration and the quality of the picture and audio plays a big part in if you but the film or not. Sadly overall quality if the picture is a big let down but may be down to the guerilla style of filmmaking. It’s grainy presentation and though it still captures that graininess there is a tad improvement. Much of the dirt, scratches have been removed.

The sound is a tad better coming with 5.1 surround DTS‑HD Master Audio soundtrack. Cliff Martinez’s soft ambient soundtrack has vastly improved through its deliberately limited to give the tension an extra edge. At times its muffled, dialogue a little jarring. too.

Extras | ★★

When it comes to The Criterion Collection release the extras that come with your film make the purchase extra special. They are usually extra special, sadly for this one, it feels very tired uninspiring. There isn’t anything new that stands out, with a number of documentaries including a new making of one which lasts 30 minutes. It has Peter Gallagher, Andie MacDowell, Laura San Giacomo chatting about the film and it’s production. Steven Soderbergh has made an new introduction.

  • Audio commentary from 1998 featuring director Steven Soderbergh in conversation with filmmaker Neil LaBute
    -New programme by Soderbergh, featuring responses to questions sent in by fans
    -Interviews with Soderbergh from 1990 and 1992
    -New documentary about the making of the film featuring actors Peter Gallagher, Andie MacDowell and Laura San Giacomo
    -New conversation with composer Cliff Martinez and supervising sound editor Larry Blake
    -Deleted scene with commentary by Soderbergh
    PLUS: An essay by critic Amy Taubin and excerpts from Soderbergh’s diaries written at the time of the film’s production
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