Friday, October 1, 2010

Review: Sex, Lies and Videotape (1989)

I can't imagine someone making a debut this way nowadays. It would either be a schlocky horror film with lots of tits or an abrasive, hard-to-see Dogme 95 film. Not many left would throw all of their budget into making a low-budget drama looking as understated as possible, the mantra "cast over equipment, cast over equipment!"

Peter Gallagher (John) is cheating on his wife Andy McDowell (Anne) with her sister Laura San Giacomo (Cynthia, and mmmm… mmhmmhmm…), when James Spader (Graham) comes along and disrupts their lives with his unusual method of masturbating. He is to marriage what Visitor Q is to family without that goddamn brick.

And that's pretty much it for the duration. It’s a thin premise that by appearance, only offers up future opportunities for sex-fucking. How else would you explain it to an investor? A man who films women merely talking about sex, not engaging in it, and this has the power to wake people out of an unhappy relationship. No sooner does Graham arrive than the affair falls apart and Anne finds out the truth without direct involvement on his part.

I suppose this isn’t entirely inaccurate in terms of how people actually operate within these situations. Sometimes the simple act of verbally confronting a habit is enough to spin people out of it. And Graham demonstrates an ease about sexuality that makes the other characters envious; even Cynthia, who is the movie’s slut. It’s only at the climax when Anne hijacks the moral high ground against Graham, just in case anyone thinks the film is saying that women should allow men to film them.

The climax, speaking of, is cumbersome. It sort of debases the truth manifest in the camera lens. Graham is made an actual person again. With a literal interpretation, it all seems too easy. The variant complexities of the characters fit into one another like a jigsaw. Cynthia goes and does art shit, John is left without a hole to fuck/cheat on and possibly declining status at work, which leaves Graham and Anne with each other.

It’s not an entirely satisfactory ending, but… it’s adequate, we’ll say. In spite of it, the story works. It doesn’t betray its internal logic and the filmmaking style doesn’t overtly attempt pretense with over-stylized bullshit, which one could argue permeates Soderbergh’s later work to a distracting degree.


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