Archive for the ‘sex, lies, and videotape (1989)’ Category

Spine #938

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Criterion Collection (USA)

Release Date: July 17, 2018

Region: Region A

Length: 01:40:09

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio (96kHz, 24-bit)

Subtitles: English (SDH)

Ratio: 1.85:1

Bitrate: 32.18 Mbps

Note: Sony Pictures gave this title a Blu-ray release in 2009, but this new Criterion edition bests it by offering a superior transfer and a wealth of worthwhile supplemental material.


“Video is a way of distancing ourselves from people and events. We tend to think that we can experience things because we watched them on tape. For Graham this was an aspect of myself taken to an extreme measure. He needs the distance to feel free to react without anybody watching, which, I guess, is the definition of voyeurism, even though I think voyeurism has mostly negative connotations. I guess it should. I don’t know.” –Steven Soderbergh (Truth or Consequences, Film Comment, July/August 1989)

Steven Soderbergh’s sex, lies, and videotape ushered in the golden age of independent filmmaking and proved that there is a market for small esoteric films that are aimed at adults. The then 26-year-old director worked from a script that he wrote in only eight days, and it told a rather simple story about the terror of true intimacy. Housewife Ann (Andie MacDowell) feels distant from her lawyer husband, John (Peter Gallagher), who is sleeping with her sister, Cynthia (Laura San Giacomo). When John’s old friend Graham (a magnetic, Cannes-award-winning James Spader) comes to town, Ann is drawn to the soft-spoken outsider, eventually uncovering his startling private obsession: videotaping women as they confess their deepest desires. The camera is a wall that Graham builds between him and any possibility of true connection. sex, lies, and videotape isn’t merely notable as the independent debut effort of a maverick filmmaker. It is also a film that holds up to repeated viewings.


The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

Steven Soderbergh’s indie classic has been given the Digi-book treatment with a semi-transparent plastic slipcover that makes the cover image look as if it were captured on an old-school television screen. It’s a nice touch, but it is a far cry from Criterion’s best designs as it employs the same image (only slightly off-center and rendered with less contrast) than the one utilized for the 2009 Sony release. When Criterion announced their July releases a few months ago, they illustrated the announcement with very different artwork. We’re not sure that it isn’t actually better than the final result.

Sony Cover

This artwork was used for Sony’s 2009 Blu-ray release.

Alternate Artwork

This artwork illustrated Criterion’s announcement of their release of sex, lies, and videotape a few months ago. Obviously, they didn’t end up using this design.

To be fair, it should be said upfront that Criterion has given the concept much more thought than standard Blu-ray packages typically receive. It’s no secret that I tend to prefer their standard clear-case packaging to their digipacks, but such issues are subjective and divide collectors. Luckily, this release includes a booklet instead of their standard pamphlet. What’s more, the text contained within this little gem is truly substantial.

An appreciative essay by Amy Taubin offers the reader a decent argument as to the film’s merit and place in independent cinema history, but the included excerpts from Soderbergh’s production diary—which includes an interesting self-penned introduction—is where the book really shines.


The animated menus feature footage from the film and are exactly in the style one expects from a Criterion release.


Picture Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

“…For this year’s restoration, we not only transferred from the original camera negative but also maintained 4K resolution throughout the whole process. The transfer was done at Deluxe in Culver City, California, and the final timing was done by Joe Gawler at Harbor Picture Company in New York, New York. The work on the dirt cleanup, etc. was redone again, this time at 4K.” –Larry Blake (Notes on the Remastering and Restorations of sex, lies, and videotape)

Having never seen Sony’s 2009 transfer of the film, it is impossible to state conclusively just how much better Criterion’s 4K restoration looks. However, it comes from a much better source and has been handled with more care. Those involved with the production would prefer that you see this transfer (which is really quite remarkable). The image is pristine with excellent color fidelity and black levels are handled perfectly without crushing any discernable detail—and “detail” is another element that will impress viewers. Density and depth will also impress fans of the film. The transfer maintains a filmic texture that should satisfy purists with its very fine layer of grain.

It can be said that those who own the original DVD edition of this film will be floored. It really feels as if you are discovering the film for the first time. It seems more alive somehow. Criterion earns their reputation with this release.


Sound Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

“When it came time for the 2009 remastering, everyone felt that it was important to step back further to the original 1989 premixes in order to create an updated version of the track. The original 2″ Dolby SR-encoded 24-track analog premixes and the digital multitrack stems were transferred to Broadcast Wave files at the 24-bit/96 kHz standard… Extensive dialog editing was undertaken in Pro Tools to smooth out tone variations among camera angles, and to remove multitudes of snap and pops that we were unable to deal with given our 1989 dialog editing workflow. The music was “up-mixed” to full 5.1 from the original three-track (left-center-right) pre-mixes, although reference was made to the 1989 levels relative to dialog and sound effects…

…As happy as we were with this revision, one problem remained: there were considerable problems with generator noise during production, and we needed to go back to the original edited dialog tracks, before noise reduction and equalization had been applied during the 1989 premixing… The sound restoration took place at my company, Swelltone Labs, in New Orleans.” –Larry Blake (Notes on the Remastering and Restorations of sex, lies, and videotape)

Considering the number of masters this film’s audio has been given, it is difficult to judge how close this 5.1 English DTS-HD master audio mix is to the original theatrical version of the soundtrack, but it does seem like those involved have made every effort to be faithful to the original audio—or at the very least to the filmmaker’s original intentions. Apparently, minor improvements have been made in an effort to eradicate some of the blemishes inherent in the original audio. Technological advances have allowed the filmmakers to offer us a product closer to what they originally wanted in the first place.
It’s certainly superior to the DVD edition’s audio track, and the subtle 5.1 mix adds a bit of extra life to the track. Even stringent purists should find themselves in agreement with the changes made here. We graded this audio transfer with an understanding of the limitations that were inherent in the original source elements, and most should agree that it earns its perfect score if they do the same.


Special Features:

5 of 5 Stars

In addition to a feature length commentary track (and a commentary for an additional deleted scene), Criterion offers over 1 hour and 41 minute of video based supplemental material for fans to devour.

Feature Length Audio Commentary featuring Steven Soderbergh & Neil LaBute

Those who have owned the film on DVD will recognize this 1998 commentary track, which finds LaBute leading a conversation with Steven Soderbergh that covers the writing of the script, production stories, stylistic decisions and intentions, the casting, various challenges of working on one’s first feature the film’s unexpected and overwhelming success after Cannes, and more. It’s a pretty decent track and does add to one’s appreciation of the film.

Deleted Scene (w. Optional Commentary by Steven Soderbergh) – (03:20)

The rough quality of this video-sourced footage should not dissuade viewers from checking out this deleted scene which finds Ann confessing to her therapist that she is considering not continuing her therapy after Graham makes a comment about not trusting anyone who he doesn’t know intimately with his problems. The therapist seems annoyed and counters that Graham may have had an agenda and she ends up deciding not to discontinue her therapy sessions. In the included optional commentary track for the scene, Soderbergh claims that the scene was cut because it made Ann appear too “pliable” and due to the fact that it wasn’t needed since the audience was already aware that she had been thinking quite a lot about Graham.

Something in the Air: The Making of sex, lies, and videotape – (28:55)

Andie McDowell, Laura San Giacomo, and Peter Gallagher offer viewers much more than the usual generic navel-gazing comments that one expects from many of the more “making of” programs—but then this one was produced by Criterion. This retrospective look at the film’s production suffers only from the conspicuous absence of James Spader. The remaining three actors give candid accounts of how they were cast in their roles and then discuss their characters in some depth. MacDowell is an especially articulate and thoughtful subject and her presence is probably the highlight. They discuss the boost that the film gave to their careers and what it was like working with Steven Soderbergh on his first feature. This may very well be the crown jewel in this disc’s supplemental package.

1990 Steven Soderbergh Interview – (09:05)

It isn’t clear why this interesting archival footage was originally produced, but it finds a slightly awkward Soderbergh in Washington D.C. discussing sex, lies, and videotape shortly after the film’s enormous success. Topics discussed include the performances of each of the four primary actors, his inspiration for the film, his original trailer and the one eventually used by Miramax, the title, and more.

1992 Steven Soderbergh Interview – (13:31)

This interesting publicity interview is originally from an episode of The Dick Cavett Show and was meant to promote the release of Kafka (even though this film is only mentioned twice). However, Cavett is obviously more interested in sex, lies, and videotape and focuses on this film throughout the entirety of the interview. Fans will be happy to see it here. It adds enormous value to the disc despite the relatively short duration.

2018 Steven Soderbergh Interview – (06:17)

This “interview” or “introduction” is somewhat different from the fan Q&A that Criterion had originally planned. Apparently, Soderbergh was allowed to film this short piece on his own time, and this has resulted in a somewhat rambling fashion. The black and white footage is contains interesting information but is made less palatable by simply jumping topics without notice. The themes and structure of the film is discussed and he offers a comparison of his methodology during the production of this film and his more recent movies.

The Today Show: Interview with James Spader – (05:13)

This archival segment from a 1989 episode of The Today Show finds Gene Shalit and James Spader discussing the film’s enormous success. It is too bad that the interview couldn’t have been a bit longer since it is the only supplement that features Spader.

Cliff and Larry: Beginnings – (19:38)

Larry Blake (sound editor/re-recording mixer) and Cliff Martinez (composer) discuss the film’s music and sound design but get into detail about working with Steven Soderbergh and what they perceive to be unique about him as a filmmaker. It’s a light but revealing conversation that fans of the director and sex, lies, and videotape will appreciate.

Generators, Noise Reduction, and Multitrack Audiotape – (11:58)

Larry Blake’s video essay tackles the interesting subject of the film’s troubled sound mixes throughout the ages. Comparisons between the original Park City festival mix, the re-mix for Miramax’s eventual theatrical release, and this new 2018 mix illuminate just how rough the original location sound actually was before it was cleaned up for distribution and how Criterion’s new audio restoration improves upon the theatrical mix.


Trailer: Soderbergh’s Cut – (01:33)

Miramax’s Final Theatrical Trailer – (01:37)

Interestingly, there are two versions of the trailer included on the disc. The first is the unused Soderbergh cut which was too unique and indirect for marketing purposes. The second is Miramax’s final trailer for the film, which is noticeably more exploitive of the film’s sexual themes.

A Note on the Picture and Sound Restorations

This is a textual supplement that explains the differences in the various home video masters of the film and how each one was created. It is worth reading for anyone who wants to understand why Criterion’s transfer is so special and the ultimate version of this movie on home video.

Final Words:

“One never says never with restoring films, but this time, we think it’s for real. Steven [Soderbergh] asks that you destroy all previous copies.” –Larry Blake (Notes on the Remastering and Restorations of sex, lies, and videotape)

We feel that this quote says everything. Criterion offers the definitive home video transfer of the film with this release. It has been approved by the director and comes with an overwhelming amount of supplemental material that will add to one’s appreciation of the film. It comes highly recommended.