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Sex, Lies, and Videotape

Sex, Lies, and Videotape is a 1989 American independent drama film that brought director Steven Soderbergh to prominence. The plot tells the story of a troubled man who videotapes women discussing their lives and sexuality, and his impact on the relationships of a troubled married couple and the wife's younger sister.

sex, lies, and videotape
Sex Lies and Videotape.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed bySteven Soderbergh
Produced byJohn Hardy
Robert Newmyer
Written bySteven Soderbergh
Music byCliff Martinez
CinematographyWalt Lloyd
Edited bySteven Soderbergh
Outlaw Productions
Distributed byMiramax Films
Release date
  • September 22, 1989 (1989-09-22)
Running time
100 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$1.2 million
Box office$36.7 million[2]

The film won the Palme d'Or at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival, and was influential in revolutionizing the independent film movement in the early 1990s. In 2006, Sex, Lies, and Videotape was added to the United States Library of Congress' National Film Registry, deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".


Ann Bishop Mullany lives in Baton Rouge. She is unhappily married to John, a successful lawyer, and they live in a comfortable home. Ann has a personal complaint about intimacy she expresses to her sister: she has never experienced an orgasm. She is in therapy. Graham Dalton is an old close college friend of John. He is now a seeming drifter with some money saved up. Nine years after college Graham returns to visit and perhaps live in Baton Rouge. Graham arrives at John's to meet Ann. Later she learns that John has invited Graham to stay with them until he finds an apartment. When John arrives home, Graham's demeanor becomes remarkably more guarded, due in large part to John's subtle disapproval of Graham's bohemian persona. The men discuss the fact that Graham's college girlfriend, Elizabeth, is still living in Baton Rouge.

John is cheating on Ann with her sister, Cynthia, a free-spirited and friendly bartender. He rationalizes it by blaming Ann's frigidity. John frequently leaves his law office mid-day to meet for trysts with Cynthia, instructing his secretary to reschedule clients, even when they are already in the lobby waiting to see him. Ann ends up helping Graham look for an apartment. After Graham finds a place, Ann makes an impromptu visit to Graham's apartment. While visiting she notices stacks of camcorder videotapes, all with women's names on them around the television. When pressed, Graham explains that he interviews women about their lives, sexual experiences, and fantasies, and records them on videotape. After hearing Graham, Ann is suddenly overcome with shock and confusion, and quickly leaves his apartment.

Within a day, Ann's outgoing sister Cynthia appears uninvited at Graham's apartment and introduces herself. Cynthia presses Graham to explain what incident "spooked" Ann the preceding day. Graham briefly and reluctantly explains the sexual interview videotapes, and admits to Cynthia his sexual dysfunction: that he is impotent when in the presence of another person, and that he achieves gratification by watching these videos in private. Graham propositions Cynthia to make an interview tape, assuring her that no other person is allowed to see the tapes. She believes him, and agrees. Cynthia reports doing a videotape with Graham back to Ann, who is horrified. Later Cynthia also tells John about her videotape and he also reacts very negatively (though more than a little possessively).

Cleaning her home the next day, Ann discovers Cynthia's pearl earring in her bedroom (she knows the earring belongs to her sister, since she had mentioned that she had lost it) while vacuuming. Ann is then furious. She heads over to Graham's apartment with the intention of making a videotape. Graham objects, telling her making a videotape is something she would not do in a normal frame of mind. Ann insists on making a videotape, and Graham relents.

Afterward at home, Ann then angrily demands a divorce from John. In the ensuing shouting argument, John quickly learns that Ann has been to Graham's, and that she made a sexual video. John rushes to Graham's apartment, suddenly hits him and then locks him out of the house. John then watches Ann's tape. In the video, Ann says she has never felt any kind of 'satisfaction' from sex. After Graham asks if she ever thinks of having sex with other men, she admits she has thought of Graham. Ann later turns the camera on Graham, who resists but she persists. Graham confesses that he is haunted by Elizabeth, and that his motivation in returning to Baton Rouge is an attempt to achieve some closure. Graham explains that he was a pathological liar, which destroyed an otherwise rewarding relationship with Elizabeth. He explains that he has since gone to great lengths to keep people at a distance and avoid relationships. Ann starts touching and kissing Graham; Graham turns off the camera; it is implied that the two have sex.

A chastened John joins Graham on the front porch and, with obvious pleasure, confesses to having sex with Elizabeth while she and Graham were a couple. But John also helps Graham see his ex Elizabeth in a more realistic way. He states, "She was no saint. She was good in bed, and she could keep a secret. That's all I can say about her." and then leaves. This statement makes Graham furious and he goes into a rage and destroys all of the videotapes, as well as his video camera.

The next day, John is summoned to his boss's legal office, where it’s implied that he is about to be fired due to his frequent cancellations of meetings with important clients of the firm to have sexual trysts with Cynthia. In the next scene, Ann and Cynthia reconcile at the bar Cynthia tends. Ann then goes to Graham's place and joins Graham on the front porch, as they appear to be a couple.



The film was written by Steven Soderbergh in eight days on a yellow legal pad during a cross country trip (although, as Soderbergh points out in his DVD commentary track, he had been thinking about the film for a year).

Soderbergh's commentary also reveals that he had written Andie MacDowell's role with Elizabeth McGovern in mind, but McGovern's agent disliked the script so much that McGovern never even got to read it. Laura San Giacomo, who was represented by the same agency, had to threaten to leave that agency in order to be able to play Cynthia. Soderbergh was reluctant to audition MacDowell but she surprised him, getting the role after two extremely successful auditions. The role of John would have been played by Tim Daly, but delays in completing the financing for the film led to Peter Gallagher's getting the role instead.

With a budget of only $1.2 million, a week of rehearsal and a month-long shoot in August 1988 was all Soderbergh could afford. He would later call it “the only movie I’ve ever made where I felt like I had all the money and all the time I needed.”[3] Principal photography took place in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.[4]


Box officeEdit

Sex, Lies, and Videotape opened in a limited release on August 4, 1989, in 4 theaters and grossed $155,982, with an average of $38,995 per theater. The widest release for the film was 534 theaters and it ended up earning $24,741,667 in the United States,[5] and around $36.74 million worldwide.[2]

Critical responseEdit

Sex, Lies, and Videotape was well received in its initial release in 1989 and holds a "certified fresh" rating of 96% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 47 reviews with an average score of 7.92/10. The consensus states "In his feature directorial debut, Steven Soderbergh demonstrates a mastery of his craft well beyond his years, pulling together an outstanding cast and an intelligent script for a nuanced, mature film about neurosis and human sexuality."[6] The film also has a score of 86 out of 100 on Metacritic based on 17 reviews indicating 'universal acclaim'.[7]

In 2006, Sex, Lies, and Videotape was selected and preserved by the United States National Film Registry as being deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."


At the 1989 Cannes Film Festival, the film won the Palme d'Or and the FIPRESCI Prize, with Spader getting the Best Actor Award.[8] It also won an Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival. Soderbergh was nominated for an Academy Award for his screenplay.

Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient(s) Result Ref(s)
Academy Awards March 26, 1990 Best Original Screenplay Steven Soderbergh Nominated [9]
British Academy Film Awards March 11, 1990 Best Original Screenplay Nominated [10]
Best Supporting Actress Laura San Giacomo Nominated
Cannes Film Festival May 11 - 23, 1989 Palme d'Or Steven Soderbergh Won [8]
Best Actor James Spader Won
César Awards March 4, 1990 Best Foreign Film Steven Soderbergh Nominated [11]
Golden Globe Awards January 20, 1990 Best Screenplay Nominated [12]
Best Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama Andie MacDowell Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Laura San Giacomo Nominated
Los Angeles Film Critics Association December 16, 1989 Best Actress Andie MacDowell Won [13]
New Generation Award Laura San Giacomo Won
National Board of Review December 13, 1989 Top Ten Films Won [14]
Sundance Film Festival 1989 Audience Award Steven Soderbergh Won [15]
Writers Guild of America 1989 Best Screenplay Nominated [16]

Home mediaEdit

The DVD includes a "director's dialogue" between Soderbergh and playwright/director Neil LaBute, recorded in 1998. LaBute's presence leads to conversational tangents unrelated to the film, although most of the tangents are related to the question of what it means to be a director, and are intended, as Soderbergh summarizes at the end, to "demystify" the process of making a film. LaBute's presence prompts Soderbergh to talk about reverse zooms, dolly shots, how actors have varying expectations of their director, the difference between stealing from a film you admire and paying tribute to it, shooting out of sequence, how the role of a director changes as their success (and their budgets) grow, and other filmmaking topics.


The movie was presented as a staged play in Hollywood at the Next Stage from December 13, 2003 to January 17, 2004. Directed by Seth Wiley and a cast that featured Amanda Bauman (Ann), Emily Williams (Therapist), Shauna Slade (Cynthia), Justin Christenson (Graham), and Jack Sundmacher (John).[17]


A sequel was announced in 2001 and Catherine Keener was the first actor attached to the project, named How to Survive a Hotel Room Fire. It was billed by Miramax as "an unofficial sequel of sorts."[18] In October it was announced the movie would star Julia Roberts, David Hyde Pierce, and David Duchovny, and after the September 11 attacks, the film title was changed to The Art of Negotiating a Turn.[19] After a phone call with Harvey Weinstein because he did not like the new movie title, Soderbergh suggested the title Full Frontal[20]


  1. ^ "Sex, Lies, and Videotape (18)". British Board of Film Classification. 1989-08-07. Retrieved 2013-06-01.
  2. ^ a b "Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989) - Financial Information". The Numbers. Retrieved 16 February 2018.
  3. ^ "How 'sex, lies, and videotape' Changed Indie Filmmaking Forever". 18 August 2014.
  4. ^ "'Sex, Lies, and Videotape': Steven Soderbergh's Groundbreaking Debut that Shook the Indie Filmmaking Scene • Cinephilia & Beyond". 23 April 2017.
  5. ^ "sex, lies and videotape (1989)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved July 29, 2017.
  6. ^ "Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 9 November 2019.
  7. ^ "sex, lies, and videotape Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved 9 November 2019.
  8. ^ a b "Festival de Cannes: Sex, Lies, and Videotape". Retrieved 19 June 2017.
  9. ^ "The 62nd Academy Awards". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 19 June 2017.
  10. ^ "Film in 1990". British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Retrieved 19 June 2017.
  11. ^ "Palmarès 1990 - 15 Ème Cérémonie Des César". Académie des Arts et Techniques du Cinéma. Retrieved 19 June 2017.
  12. ^ "Sex, Lies, and Videotape". Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Retrieved 19 June 2017.
  13. ^ "15th Annual Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards". Los Angeles Film Critics Association. Retrieved 19 June 2017.
  14. ^ "1989 Award Winners". National Board of Review. Retrieved 19 June 2017.
  15. ^ "How Steven Soderbergh's 'sex, lies and videotape' Still Influences Sundance After 25 Years". IndieWire. 15 January 2014. Retrieved 19 June 2017.
  16. ^ Canby, Vincent (25 February 1990). "Oscar Is Sometimes a Grouch". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 June 2017.
  17. ^ Kendt, Rob (2003-01-08). "Sex, Lies, And Videotape". Backstage. Retrieved 2017-11-07.
  18. ^ "Casting under way for sex, lies and videotape sequel | Film". The Guardian. Retrieved 2017-11-07.
  19. ^ "Film Entitled How To Survive A Hotel Room Fire May Be Changed - Hotel Business". 3 October 2001. Retrieved 7 November 2017.
  20. ^ Elvis Mitchell (2002-07-28). "FILM; Sketching, For a Change, On Screen - The New York Times". Retrieved 2017-11-07.

External linksEdit