Sex, Lies, and Videotape Saves the Day

Sex, Lies, and Videotape is a cornerstone film for Miramax and propelled it to what it is today.  It debuted at the 1989 Sundance film festival and became a sensation captivating audiences, winning the Audience Award and signing with MIramax summing to about the amount of the budget.  It only budgeted around $1.2 million.  Sex, Lies, and Videotape went on to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival, spreading its reputation internationally.  The film did well grossing nearly $100 million worldwide.  Who would have thought Sundance would provide a goldmine?  Steven Soderbergh‘s film revolutionized if not saved a dying, undefined Independent Film industry and springboarded Miramax.

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In class, we have talked about economic constraints and the impact they can have on the film itself.  Sex, Lies, and Videotape had an all-star cast of James Spader, Andie MacDowell, Peter Gallagher, and Laura San Giacomo.  There was obviously some draw to the film from that.  The title itself was enough to intrigue an audience for attention.  The american public has always been wanted to know bedroom secrets of peoples lives, whether celebrities or small town populations.  Its the scandalous nature of people, its almost second nature.  J. J. Murphy mentions John Pierson’s thoughts:

Sex, lies, and videotape caught the popular imagination with its unerring delineation of the moment’s zeitgeist. The veneer of the eighties was cracking; the devastation of AIDS discouraged promiscuous coupling. The film presented a rare portrayal of a sensitive, vulnerable male, along with a beautiful, neurotic wife, a sexpot sister, and a crass, cheating husband. It was serious, thoughtful, funny and it pushed the edge of what was allowable on screen. Early on, Soderbergh admitted a strong autobiographical element, but he soon played this down since the film spoke very directly to its viewers’ own relationships – a kind of yuppie Rorschach test.”

Other aesthetic qualities from low budget were the clothes, setting locations, and audio qualities.  The clothing selected looked like clothes they pulled out of their closets.  The locations selected took place mostly in 4 different locations(3 houses and the bar) and the graffiti alley and the office.  The audio was interesting in use to me.  The phone conversations sounded like they were talking right from each other.  Throughout the movie the audio is sub-par I felt, but that is kind of a stereotype for Indie films.  The aesthetic quality I noticed is the plot was character driven.  The plot itself was very predictable and seemed very Hollywoodish and blah-ish.  The characters were the focus of the plot and the evolution and development of each character is what kept the audience engaged.

Sex, Lies, and Videotape definitely narrowed the gap between mainstream and independent.  It showed that Indie films they could be commercial successes.  Indie films scared off many potential box offices because of its niche audiences and not making any huge profits.  “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).

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4 thoughts on “Sex, Lies, and Videotape Saves the Day

  1. While I agree with both you and Perren on the fact that sex and lies was a phenomenal success, I do still have some reservations about how this was necessarily a good thing for indie film. True, it did catapult the indie name back onto the scene in the late 90s, but it also drew the attention of big, bad Hollywood in the process. While success stories such as Miramax are refreshing to hear about, essentially what happened after sex and lies was that the old guard of indie distribution died out and was replaced by the mini-majors we know today. So while it was deemed a success by many, I feel as though its major ramifications for indie film were negative, as we would see the art house become co-opted by big business.

    • Yeah, I can for sure see that! I never thought about the ramifications that would hurt the art houses being bought out. Big business did alienate the indie industry a bit. I was trying to figure out how to describe the impact that Sex and Lies had on indie, but “the changing from the guard” seems to fit that.

  2. I agree with you that the aesthetic choices had a very indie feel. I did not catch on that their clothing was so symbolic of their mood/personalities until today’s discussion in class, but it’s cool you caught all of the small details that made the movie indie and set the stage for independent movies to come. But I also agree that though it was a big success of that time in propelling the indie movie market, it has had a negative impact on making the art house movie market become absorbed by bigger businesses.

    • Yeah I didn’t know if that really mattered or not, but it was something that caught my eye. haha. But like you, I never caught the clothes portraying the characters moods/transformations. I also found it interesting of the strategies that Miramax/Soderbergh had in mind and clashed on a little. Great class sesh.

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