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Steven Soderbergh
Andie MacDowell, James Spader, Laura San Giacomo, Peter Gallagher
Writing Credits:
Steven Soderbergh

A sexually repressed woman's husband has an affair with her sister, but the arrival of a visitor with a rather unusual fetish changes everything. MPAA:
Rated R

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 100 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 7/17/2018

• Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Steven Soderbergh and Filmmaker Neil Labute
• Three Interviews with Writer/Director Steven Soderbergh
• “Something in the Air” Documentary
• 1989 Today Show Excerpt
• Interview with Sound Editor Larry Blake and Composer Cliff Martinez
• Deleted Scene with Optional Commentary
• “Generators, Noise Reduction and Multitrack Audiotape” Featurette
• Trailers
• Booklet


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Sex, Lies and Videotape: Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray] (1989)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 15, 2018)

Back in 1989, Steven Soderbergh made a strong impression with Sex, Lies and Videotape, his debut as a feature film director. He’d go on to even greater glories in subsequent years, but Lies set the table for him. 1989 was a long time ago, so I felt curious to see if it held up after all these years.

John Mullany (Peter Gallagher) works as a junior partner at a law firm, and his spouse Ann (Andie MacDowell) stays at home. She lacks much interest in sex, so John gets his kicks elsewhere – and in this case, “elsewhere” means with Ann’s sister Cynthia (Laura San Giacomo).

Into this dysfunctional picture steps Graham Dalton (James Spader), John’s old college pal. Graham likes to videotape women and get them to open up about their intimate feelings, a fetish that eventually impacts the whole clan.

As noted earlier, 1989 resides long in the rear view, so I find it hard to conjure specific memories of my theatrical screening of Lies. I think I felt somewhat underwhelmed, as all the film didn’t quite live up to all the praise it received.

Nearly 30 years later, I see the movie through a different prism for a number of reasons, and I now can better appreciate it. While not Soderbergh’s best work, Lies does achieve its goals pretty well.

Actually, when you consider youth and inexperience, Lies seems more impressive. The then-25-year-old Soderbergh made a remarkably rich, self-assured piece in his first time behind the chair.

Given the story involved here, it feels astonishing that Soderbergh avoids the usual lurid depiction of events. After all, we find a tale of a frigid woman whose husband screws around with her own sister – and then interjects an oddball who videotapes women as they discuss sex so he can get his jollies.

Soderbergh resists the urge to exploit this material for the usual tawdry melodrama. While I won’t say he approaches the story in a clinical manner, he brings a sense of detachment that suits the film and makes the result more engaging.

That’s because Soderbergh never tells the audience how to think or what to feel. Even when emotions run high, the movie stays subdued and doesn't “overheat” along with its characters, a choice that allows the characters to become more engaging.

All four of the principals do nicely as well. All of the actors benefited from their appearance in the film, and none more than MacDowell, as Lies single-handedly resurrected her dormant career.

MacDowell started as a model, and when she leapt to acting with 1984’s Greystoke, she wound up humiliated when the producers decided to have Glenn Close loop all her lines. After a supporting part in 1985’s St. Elmo’s Fire, MacDowell stayed away from movies for four years.

Lies showed that MacDowell could actually act, and she became a star after it. She deserved this boost, as she does awfully well as Ann. MacDowell manages the character’s intricacies in a natural manner that underplays potentially shrill tendencies and makes Ann a solid lead role.

Possibly the most challenging part goes to Spader, as in the wrong hands, Graham would seem like a creepy perv. Spader walks a fine line, as he allows us to view Graham as “off” but not some kind of dimestore freak. It’s another excellent performance.

Really, I find little about which to criticize with Lies. It avoids both melodrama and pretension, a remarkable feat from a first-time director. Lies remains a fine effort.

The Disc Grades: Picture B+/ Audio C+/ Bonus B

Sex, Lies and Videotape appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The image held up well.

Overall sharpness worked fine, as the majority of the movie offered nice delineation. A few interiors felt a little soft but most of the film seemed accurate and well-defined.

I saw no issues with jagged edges or moiré effects, and the image lacked edge haloes. The movie came with a nice sense of light grain and failed to show any print flaws.

Colors tended toward a mix of reds and ambers, and the Blu-ray replicated them well. This meant the tones appeared full and warm.

Blacks seemed dark and dense, while shadows were largely appealing, though a few low-light shots seemed a bit thick. Overall, the visuals worked nicely, especially given the movie’s low-budget origins.

A chatty character piece like Lies doesn’t seem like a project ripe for dazzling audio, and the film’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack appeared appropriately low-key. Effects remained subdued and in the background, while music only occasionally appeared.

This meant a soundscape without much scope. Those periodic instances of music used the front sides well enough, and effects fleshed out the forward channels in a mild way, but much of the mix felt monaural, and surround usage became essentially non-existent.

Audio quality seemed fine, with speech that appeared natural and concise. Music showed nice range and fidelity as well.

As noted, effects didn’t bring much to the table, but they seemed accurate within their low-key development. Given its modest goals, the soundtrack became satisfactory.

How did the 2018 Criterion release compare to the original Blu-ray from 2009? Audio felt virtually identical, as I discerned no obvious differences between the prior disc’s TrueHD mix and this one’s DTS-HD – not in terms of scope or quality, that is. As detailed elsewhere on this disc, the 2018 version underwent some changes, so don’t expect the two to be exact replicas, but the 2018 version didn’t offer a broader soundscape or higher quality audio.

As for the visuals, the Criterion seemed a smidgen stronger. It lost the smattering of print flaws from the 2009 release and felt a little tighter and more organic. Though the 2009 disc looked fine, the Criterion set worked just a bit better.

The Criterion set mixes old and new extras, and we open with an audio commentary from writer/director Steven Soderbergh and filmmaker Neil Labute. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific look at story/character areas, cast and performances, influences, sets and locations, editing, music, cinematography and connected domains.

Recorded in 1998 for a DVD, this becomes an engaging chat. Soderbergh seems willing to criticize his own work and he shows a nice sense of openness. We learn a lot about the film in this strong track.

Next we get three separate Interviews with Writer/Director Steven Soderbergh. These come from 1990 (9:05), 1992 (13:31) and 2018 (6:17). The 1990 clip finds him on the streets of Washington, DC – sporting a Senators cap! – while 1992 presents Soderbergh on the Dick Cavett Show.

Across these, Soderbergh discusses aspects of the Lies production and its title, his original trailer, cast, characters and performances, success at a relatively young age. He also chats about his affection for Jaws and skipping college.

Of the three clips, the Cavett discussion probably works best, though the 1990 reel also adds some good thoughts. The 2018 seems positive as well, but it feels a bit more “rehearsed” and not as insightful.

A new documentary, Something in the Air runs 28 minutes, 55 seconds and features actors Laura San Giacomo, Andie MacDowell and Peter Gallagher. They cover their characters and performances, working with Soderbergh, costume choices, and retrospective thoughts about the film.

The obvious negative here stems from the absence of James Spader. Still, even without him, “Air” offers a nice collection of thoughts and becomes an informative show.

Speaking of Spader, we hear from him via a five-minute, 13-second excerpt from the Today show. Taped in September 1989, Spader chats with Gene Shalit about winning an award at Cannes, what attracted him to Lies and the film’s impact on his career. While it’s good to hear from Spader, this clip lacks a lot of substance.

A new piece, we get an Interview with Sound Editor/Re-Recording Mixer Larry Blake and Composer Cliff Martinez. This fills 19 minutes, 38 seconds and presents notes about Soderbergh and the movie’s development as well as their work on the film. I like the interaction between the two and they cover the material nicely.

One Deleted Scene occupies three minutes, 20 seconds. It shows a conversation between Ann and her therapist about Graham’s impact. It feels somewhat redundant and not especially valuable.

We can view the scene with or without commentary from Soderbergh. He tells us a little about the sequence and why he cut it. Soderbergh brings some good notes – hey, he agrees it’s redundant as well!

In addition to two trailers for Lies, we get a featurette called Generators, Noise Reduction and Multitrack Audiotape. Narrated by Blake, the 11-minute, 58-second piece shows photos from the production and movie as we learn about a mix of technical challenges encountered along the way. It’s a bit dry but still informative.

Finally, we get a booklet. It includes an essay from critic Amy Taubin as well as a “Director’s Diary” from Soderbergh. This text concludes the package well.

Steven Soderbergh’s directorial debut, 1989’s Sex, Lies and Videotape holds up well after almost 30 years. Deep, involving and self-assured, the movie gives us a strong character drama. The Blu-ray brings good picture along with adequate audio and supplements highlighted by an informative commentary. Criterion gives us a solid release for a compelling film.

To rate this film, visit the prior review of SEX LIES AND VIDEOTAPE

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