Sex, Lies, and Aesthetics

As discussed in the Perren reading, sex, lies, and videotape revolutionized the independent film genre.  Before the movie’s 1989 release, American independent cinema was largely defined by what it wasn’t. It wasn’t concerned with big budget aesthetics, it didn’t conform to narrative convention, and it definitely wasn’t tied to the commercial notions of Hollywood’s studio system. Indie films before the release of sex, lies, and videotape gained critical acclaim and niche audiences, but few, if any, were able to translate this reception into commercial success.

Then sex, lies, and videotape premiered at the 1989 US Film, and captured the attention of Harvey Weinstein, co-founder of Miramax. Weinstein then went on to move the film into a competition at that year’s Cannes Film Festival. Incredibly enough, the film won the Palme d’Or, beating out stiff competition such as Spike Lee’s influential film, Do the Right Thing, making Soderbergh the youngest director to ever receive the prestigious prize. More important, though, is what Soderbergh’s victory meant for the future of independent cinema. (source)

As we discussed in class, economic constraints can have an affect on a film’s aesthetic quality. This is seen in sex, lies, and videotape by the use of home video as a tool to convey different themes and ideas throughout the film. Because of the popularity of home videos and hand held cameras during that time period, the movie was relevant therefore more marketable. “The styles, subjects, and talent that defined the quality indie scene of the early 90s have now been incorporated into the Hollywood system…these films continue the traditions established by Miramax in the late 80s and early 90s: aesthetically and topically challenging films can be commercially successful with skillful marketing.” (Perren 38).

Sex, lies, and videotape inadvertently proved that the gap separating the independent from the mainstream wasn’t quite as large as it once seemed. In fact, it was completely bridgeable. “Indie” was no longer synonymous with “commercial failure,” and “art house” was no longer box office poison. It was a shift that would forever define the future of Miramax, and American cinema itself. “While Miramax led the way in transforming Hollywood aesthetics, economics, and structure during the 90s, the company as now become a crucial part of the system. It remains to be seen what the next sex, lies and videotape will be – and what as yet unidentified company will help drive its success.” (Perren 38).


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