Variations on a Theme, No. 4: Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989)

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Cliff Martinez – Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989, dir. Steven Soderbergh)

Winner at the 1990 Academy Awards: Alan Menken, The Little Mermaid (1989, dirs. Ron Clements and John Musker)

I’m a big fan of Steven Soderbergh, whose best films are stylish and exciting (Out of Sight, Magic Mike, to a lesser extent Side Effects) and even the not-so-good stuff is still pretty interesting (Contagion, for one). Soderbergh made a big splash with his first feature, Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989), released when he was only 26 years old. Some of the film’s biggest successes during awards season were at the Oscars, where Soderbergh received a nomination for his original screenplay, and at the Golden Globes, where Soderbergh got the same nomination and there were also nods for Best Actress in a Drama (Andie MacDowell) and Best Supporting Actress (Laura San Giacomo), although arguably the greatest reception was prior to the official US theatrical release, when the film won the prestigious Palme d’Or, the FIPRESCI Prize and the Best Actor award (for James Spader) at the Cannes Film Festival. (Sex, Lies, and Videotape also won a slew of accolades at the Independent Spirit Awards, including Best Feature, but now I’m really piling it on, aren’t I?) Anyway, the point I’m getting to is that Cliff Martinez – a Bronx-born musician who was once the drummer for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, playing on the band’s first two albums in the mid-80s – never got his dues for the film’s minimalist, ambient score. The compositions “Take My Skirt Off” (1), “What Other Men…?” (2) and “Sniff the Jacket” (3) are excellent examples of the atmospheric soundscapes created by Martinez, slow and haunting murmurs made by pianos, organs, keyboards and whatever other electronic devices that would produce those effects. The pieces remind me of music recorded in cathedrals, echoing through the vast space, and the third track has a wonderfully measured incorporation of piano, a nice touch being the higher notes that come in at the 3-minute mark. Other parts of the Sex, Lies, and Videotape score are different in tone depending on the context of the scenes – “Garbage” and “I’m Gonna Drawl,” for example, which include acoustic and electric guitar – but no matter which instruments are used, Sex, Lies, and Videotape’s score is first-rate music that affects the viewer experience as memorably as Soderbergh’s words and the actors’ performances do.

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One thought on “Variations on a Theme, No. 4: Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989)

  1. Pingback: Variations on a Theme, No. 5: Gone Girl (2014) | The Iron Cupcake

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