Script To Screen: “Sex, Lies & Videotape”

April 18th, 2012 by

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:

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