May 24

This Day in History

Hollywood

May 24, 1989:

sex, lies and videotape wins top prize at Cannes

Sex, lies and videotape, the debut feature from the 26-year-old writer-director Steven Soderbergh, wins the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival on this day in 1989.

Born in Georgia on January 14, 1963, and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Soderbergh took university-level film courses and began making short films while still in high school. He got his first big break directing a full-length concert video for the band Yes, which earned him a Grammy nomination. He would expand his short film Winston, made in 1987, into sex, lies and videotape, which he reportedly wrote in a little more than a week. The film focused on the repressed Ann (Andie MacDowell) and her lawyer husband John (Peter Gallagher), who is having a steamy affair with Ann’s sister Cynthia (Laura San Giacomo). John’s old college friend Graham (James Spader) returns to town and reveals his penchant for videotaping women talking about their sexual experience, further complicating the situation when he becomes involved with Ann.

In addition to the coveted Golden Palm, sex, lies and videotape garnered Cannes’ top acting honors for Spader. Released in August 1989, the $1.2 million film was aggressively marketed by its distributor, Miramax Films, and went on to gross some $26 million. With an Academy Award nomination for his original screenplay, Soderbergh was anointed as one of the darlings of the burgeoning 1990s independent film movement.

After a series of low-budget commercial failures (including 1991’s Kafka, 1993’s King of the Hill and 1996’s Schizopolis, in which he also starred), Soderbergh ended his slump with the stylish, funny Out of Sight (1998), an adaptation of one of Elmore Leonard’s best-selling crime novels that starred George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez. After enjoying moderate success with another crime film, The Limey (1999), Soderbergh had a banner year in 2000, releasing two acclaimed hits: Erin Brockovich and Traffic. The first film earned Julia Roberts her first Oscar for Best Actress, while the second, a complex drug-war drama and Soderbergh’s most ambitious effort to date, won him the Academy Award for Best Director.

Now one of Hollywood’s most acclaimed filmmakers, Soderbergh scored his biggest commercial success ever with Ocean’s Eleven (2001), headlined by frequent Soderbergh collaborator Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Roberts, among other big names. Two sequels, released in 2004 and 2007, were also box-office hits. The director’s more ambitious films during this period, including Solaris (2002), Full Frontal (2003) and The Good German (2006), were less successful. In late 2008, Soderbergh returned with Che, a biopic of the Argentine guerrilla Ernesto “Che” Guevara, starring Benicio Del Toro in the title role.

 

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