10 August 2018



'You've had an effect on my life.'

'Is this what you wanna do for the rest of your life?'

'Everyone who walks in that door becomes part of your problem.'

'I read somewhere that men learn to love the person they're attracted to, and women become more and more attracted to the person they love.'

This film, the astonishingly good directorial debut of one Stephen Soderbergh, does exactly what it says on the tin. It's got sex in it, a truckload of lies and a whole lotta videotapes, the latter of which seem obsolete to us now, of course, in this age of stupid smartphones with cameras in-built and so on.

Even the content of the film, which shocked folks and made them uncomfortable, made 'em squirm in their cinema seats back in the day, probably seems tame to today's viewers, any one of whom, myself included (I won't though, don't worry!), could whip off their clothes right now and make an embarrassing sex-tape in the comfort of their home.

A few clicks of your phone later and the whole sorry mess is uploaded to social media, your friends all slag you mercilessly behind your back and your boss now knows what your tits look like under your clothes. Back then though, it was all different. Back then, we still had a little thing called mystery attached to the whole sexual act...

I normally hate Andie FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL MacDowell, with her silly name (Andie is a boy's name!), her masses of annoyingly well-behaved dark Julia Roberts curls and her big Julia Roberts teeth, and of course this film is no exception. I still hate her and find her irritating, but I do sympathise with her character, an American housewife called Ann Millaney-Bishop.

On the surface of it, Ann would appear to have it all. She's good-looking, if you like that kind of curly-haired, big-toothed naïve virginal thing she's got going on. She's got a handsome, if oily, husband called John, who's just been made a junior partner in his fancy, high-priced law firm and has now gotten himself a fabulous corner office with a view of the river and surrounding greenery to die for.

They have a fabulous house and no kids. John made Ann give up her job so she has nothing to do all day but look after John and the house. Oh, and gab to her therapist about how obsessive she's becoming about things she can't control, like world hunger, and what happens to the families of air fatalities, and what the hell we'll do when there's no more room for all the garbage we produce. If she had a job or kids to look after, she wouldn't have time for this kind of expensive, self-indulgent introspective naval-gazing. Humph.

They aren't likely to be having kids any time soon because they've stopped having sex. That's mostly down to Ann. She seems kinda frigid, kinda hung-up, when it comes to sex. It doesn't seem like she likes it much, although that could just be down to the life-partner she's chosen. She might like it perfectly fine with someone a little less selfish and self-obsessed than her John.

Ann's husband John is a total bastard who's fucking- that's the film's word for it, don't blame me!- a woman who seems like the polar opposite of Ann. This woman Cynthia (played by Laura San Giacomo, Julia Roberts's prostitute pal in PRETTY WOMAN) is sexy, sensual, adventurous, risk-taking and nearly always up for it. Even on the days she's not up for it just serve to tantalise John all the more.

Cynthia is as horny as Ann seems frigid, as experienced as Ann appears virginal. She even wears black while the mopey Ann dresses in white so that we're left in no doubt as to who's the whore and who's the saint. Good job they did that, otherwise we mightn't have known... 

John meanwhile does not give one single solitary shit about what his actions are doing to his marriage. He's a born liar and no doubt his utter lack of scruples or moral fibre have come in handy and served him well while he's been barging his way up the corporate ladder.

Then one day, Ann finds out that John has invited an old school friend of his, a chap called Graham (played by James Spader: SECRETARY, WHITE PALACE), to stay at their house while he finds himself a place. 

It's obvious that Ann is oddly attracted to the quietly-spoken Graham who, with his casual jeans and shirt and his actual liking for living out of the back of his car make him seem like the polar opposite of Ann's asshole husband John, who wears those poncy braces to work just 'cause he's a big, fancy high-flying businessman.

No doubt that the odious John would subscribe to the Gordon Gekko- Wall Street- Greed is Good motto for life, whereas Graham doesn't appear to give a shit about material goods. The only ones he seems to possess himself are his car, his TV and his collection of much-watched and carefully cherished old videotapes...

Graham and Ann are having a getting-to-know-you conversation in a restaurant and out of the blue he suddenly announces that he's impotent. Say whaaaaaaaat? That's right, impotent. He can't get an erection in the presence of another person.

He can only get turned on by watching his little precious videotapes, but what's on them? That's what Ann is positively bursting to find out and, when she does, will she want to stick around or will she run away screaming, back to that cheating asshole John...?

You know what I think about Graham? I think he's emotionally stunted, hiding behind his videotapes because they keep him at a safe remove from women. I think he travels light because he travels a lot, never staying too long in one place in case someone starts wanting a commitment of some kind, perish the thought.

He can't even commit to a job. He has none, and what money he has got he hides under the mattress like an old lady. Maybe he can't commit to a bank either. What way is that for a grown man to live? When he finds an apartment, it looks like no-one lives there. What kind of way is that for anyone to live? Emotionally stunted, just like I said. What he's doing isn't healthy.

I think he tells women he fancies that he's impotent so that they'll bend over backwards trying to turn him on, all trying to be the one woman who can reach him, touch his heart, unfreeze him sexually. It's cruel, really, what he's doing, lying to women and taking advantage of them like that. In his own way, he's nearly as bad as John the Big Lying Cheating Bastard.

He's like the Tony Curtis phoney billionaire character in SOME LIKE IT HOT, pretending to Marilyn Monroe's girl-in-the-band character that he can't be turned on either, just so she'll bust her hump trying to give his frozen nether regions the kiss of life.

What a complete and utter shit. I pity the woman who gets stuck with him, good-looking and all as he is. And it looks like Ann might be looking to Graham to provide her with what John isn't giving her and, not only that, but Ann's pushy sister Cynthia is now starting to take an interest in this mysterious guy with the video-camera as well. Oh, did I say Cynthia? Sorry, I totally meant to say Cynthia. That's right, I said Cynthia...

SEX, LIES AND VIDEOTAPE is available to buy now on Blu-Ray from the CRITERION COLLECTION.


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:


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