Sex, Lies, and Videotape (the film's publicity materials always display the title in lowercase letters) is a 1989 independent film that brought director Steven Soderbergh to prominence. It tells the story of a man who films women discussing their sexuality, and his impact on the relationship of a troubled married couple.
Sex, Lies, and Videotape was influential in revolutionizing the independent film movement in the early 1990s. In 2006, Sex, Lies, and Videotape was added to the United States National Film Registry as being deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."
John is committing adultery. John rationalizes it by blaming Ann's sexual repression and frigidity. He frequently leaves his law office mid-day for a tryst, instructing his secretary to reschedule clients who are already in the lobby waiting to see him. He lies to cover himself. Of all the women he could choose as a sex partner, his adulterous relationship is with Ann's sister, Cynthia (Laura San Giacomo). She is not devious, like John, but merely a "free spirit."
Ann makes an impromptu visit to Graham's apartment, where she notices stacks of camcorder tapes around the television and will not take Graham's hint to ignore them. When pressed, Graham explains that he interviews women about their sexual experiences and fantasies, on videotape. Ann is overcome with shock and confusion, and flees his apartment. Within a day, Cynthia appears at Graham's apartment and introduces herself. In conversation, they learn that neither thinks very highly of John. Cynthia presses Graham to explain what "spooked" Ann the preceding day. Graham explains the 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 a tape. He assures her that no other soul is allowed to see any of the tapes. She believes him, and agrees. Cynthia reports back to Ann, who is horrified. Cynthia also tells John.
Ann discovers Cynthia's pearl earring in her bedroom, and realizes that John is not only cheating on her, but that the other woman is her own sister. As a method of coping, she returns to Graham's apartment with the intent of making a videotape. Graham objects, telling her it is something she would not do in a normal frame of mind. She asks, "What would you know about a normal frame of mind?", thus convincing him to participate.
Afterward, Ann returns home and, rather than addressing John's adultery, simply states, "I want out of this marriage." In the ensuing argument, John gleans that Ann has been to Graham's, and that she made a video. He breaks into Graham's apartment, locks Graham out, and watches Ann's tape. In it, Ann paints a very unflattering portrait of John as a lover. She admits to fantasizing about other men, most notably and recently, Graham. When Graham's response is geared toward the interview and not toward her feelings for him, Ann turns the camera on Graham. She teases from him a confession that he is haunted by Elizabeth, and that his motivation in returning to Baton Rouge is a vague notion of reconnecting with her. He explains that he was a pathological liar, which destroyed an otherwise loving and rewarding relationship with Elizabeth. There is an implication that his friendship with John originated from a kinship in this affliction. He explains that he has since gone to great lengths to keep people at a distance, and avoid relationships, such that he might learn to overcome the condition. Their souls bared, Ann moves toward Graham. He reaches to turn off the camera. It is implied that the two have sex.
John joins Graham on the front patio and, with obvious pleasure, John confesses to having sex with Elizabeth while she and Graham were a couple. As he walks away, John says, "She was no saint. She was good in bed and she could keep a secret. That's all I can say about her." Violated, Graham goes into a rage and destroys all of the tapes.
In the end, John meets with a prospective client, to whom John tells lies about the circumstances of his pending divorce. He attempts to impress the prospective client by calling an existing VIP client, and transacting the call on speakerphone. The call is rejected and John is informed that the VIP has forsaken him in favor of another lawyer. Next, via intercom, John is summoned to his boss's office (It’s implied that he is about to be fired due to his frequent cancellations of meetings with important clients to have sexual trysts with Cynthia). In the next scene Ann and Cynthia reconcile at the bar Cynthia tends, before Ann returns home and joins Graham on the front porch, as they appear to be a couple.
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 Timothy Daly, but delays in completing the financing for the film led to Peter Gallagher getting the role instead.
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