Anybody who cares about the indie film world should hold the 1989 movie Sex, Lies and Videotape in high esteem. During the 80s when the Diller-Esiner-Katzenberg regime at Paramount instituted severe top down control of the filmmaking process, emulated at other studios resulting in… well… 80s movies, along came writer-director Steven Soderbergh with a little $2M film about interesting characters doing interesting things in interesting ways. The movie was a hit, grossing $24M, winning the Palme D’Or Award at the Cannes Film Festival, and ushered in a great run of independent filmmaking.
Setup: Ann, a sexually repressed wife, goes to visit Graham, a long-time friend of Ann’s husband who has drifted into their lives, carrying his own sexual baggage.
21 INT. GRAHAM'S APARTMENT -- DAY On a television monitor we see images originating from an 8mm Video deck. Graham sits naked in a sheet-covered chair facing the screen. He watches the tape, which is footage of himself interviewing a girl about her sexual preferences. The photography on the tape is handheld, relentless. As the questions get more detailed, Graham becomes more aroused. There is a knock on Graham's door. He calmly shuts off the videotape player and stands, wrapping the sheet around himself. GRAHAM It's open. Graham walks into the bedroom to put on some clothes. Ann opens the door and walks into the apartment. ANN Hi! GRAHAM (off) Ann. Hello. ANN Are you in the middle of something? GRAHAM (off) Nothing I can't finish later. ANN (looks) I just wanted to see how the place looked furnished. GRAHAM (Off) Not much to see, I'm afraid. I'm sort of cultivating a minimalist vibe. ANN Somehow I imagined books. I thought you would have like a whole lot of books and be reading all the time. Graham enters. GRAHAM I do read a lot. But I check everything out of the library. Graham picks up an Anais Nin diary and opens it to show Ann the library sleeve inside. GRAHAM Cheaper that way. And cuts down on the clutter. Ann walks to the table where the video gear is set up. Graham watches her closely. She looks into a large box of 8mm videotapes. On the side of each tape is a label. The labels look like this: DONNA / 11 DEC 86 / 1:07:36 And so on. There are thirty or forty tapes, total. ANN What are these? GRAHAM Videotapes. ANN (smiles) I can see that. What are they? Graham exhales. GRAHAM It's a personal project I'm working on. ANN What kind of personal project? GRAHAM Oh, just a personal project like anyone else's personal project. Mine's just a little more personal. ANN Who's Donna? GRAHAM Donna? ANN Donna. On this tape it says "Donna". GRAHAM (thinking) Donna was a girl I knew in Florida. ANN You went out with her? GRAHAM Not really. Ann looks in the box again. ANN How come all these are girl's names? Graham thinks for a moment. GRAHAM Because I enjoy interviewing women more than men. ANN All of these are interviews? GRAHAM Yes. ANN Can we look at one? GRAHAM No. ANN Why not? GRAHAM Because I promised each subject that no one would look at the tape except me. Ann looks at Graham for a long moment, then back at the tapes. ANN What...what are these interviews about? GRAHAM The...interviews are about sex, Ann. ANN About sex? GRAHAM Yes. ANN What about sex? GRAHAM Everything about sex. ANN Like what? GRAHAM Like what they've done, what they do, what they don't do, what they want to do but are afraid to ask for, what they won't do even if asked. Anything I can think of. ANN You just ask them questions? GRAHAM Yes. ANN And they just answer them? GRAHAM Mostly. Sometimes they do things. ANN To you? GRAHAM No, not to me, for me, for the camera. ANN (stunned) I don't ...why...why do you do this? GRAHAM I'm sorry this came up. ANN This is just...so... GRAHAM Maybe you want to go. ANN Yes, I do. Ann nods and absently heads for the door. She gives Graham a puzzled look before leaving.
Here is the scene in the movie:
I’ve always looked at the band Nirvana as the music version of Sex, Lies, and Videotape. They emerged from the bland, prepackaged mess that was 80s music, recording their first album in 1989, the same year SLV was released.
It’s an item of faith for me: Whenever movies, TV, and music become too routinized, too formulaic, too pablum because of dictates coming from corporate overlords, artists will rise up from the masses and rattle our culture’s cage.
If you haven’t seen Sex, Lies and Videotape, you should.
And just because I can: