At this point of the bleak midwinter, you’ve made your way through the entire Netflix catalogue (there’s only so many ‘Witty Films with a Strong Female Lead Based on a Book’ you can handle) and are looking for a different, more varied streaming experience. With that in mind, let me guide you through some lesser known movie streaming sites, taking you through what you can watch in your free 30 day trial membership and beyond. We start with Mubi, the curated art and classic film site.
As a film writer, I am really fascinated by the idea of what I like to call the Self-Study Film School. Can you teach yourself a large part of what you need to know about film simply by guiding yourself through movies you can find online at your local rep cinema? It is something that definitely informs the sort of films I watch, and was the reason that I became interested with Mubi in the first place. I hoped that it would broaden my knowledge by introducing me to films outside of my knowledge sphere that I would not get to on my own.
If there can be such a thing as a Self-Study Film School (and if there can be, bagsy all book rights), then Soderbergh’s Sex, Lies and Videotape (or the uncapitalised sex, lies and videotape if you’re nasty) would be an integral part of that. As well as beginning James Spader’s reign as the king of playing oddly compelling creeps, it made us think that Andie MacDowell could be a thing much longer than good sense dictated, and almost singlehandedly revitalised independent cinema. Without this film and Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs three years later (which must be coming up on Mubi’s debut film season), modern films looks completely different.
It is, after all, the first Miramax hit, bringing the Weinstein Brothers a level of success they have filtered into Oscar bait and occasionally interesting films ever since. Without it, the ’90s are a wasteland of Titanics, Independence Days of Twisters rather than the decade that brought us Pulp Fiction, Fight Club and Being John Malkovich.
The story of a prudish wife (MacDowell) who experiences a awakening of sorts as she opens up to Graham (Spader), a friend of her husband (Peter Gallagher, a character actor of prime ‘where do I know that face’-ability) who records women discussing their sexual history on that aforementioned videotape.
Nearly thirty years on, it is hard to look at the film past its status as ‘the film that made Sundance a thing’, but rewatching it (I had seen it on Netflix earlier in the year) it is amazing that despite it making history, people just do not make films like this any more, basically bottle films about adult emotions and stakes that are relatively low but incredibly high with the insular lives of the characters. The videotapes are much less of a gimmick than you might expect them to be, with Soderbergh wisely choosing to focus on the vulnerability and emotional rawness rather than banking on some headline-generating explicitness. All of the performances are strong, one you get past the mental conditioning that makes you expect MacDowell to start talking about anti-ageing cream at any moment.
Although I had seen it before, it is the highlight of my three Mubi days so far, a film that definitely stood up to a rewatch even when I had seen it fairly recently. But who knows what tomorrow may bring – it may be sex, lies, or a film done on videotape.
And on that awkward wordplay callback to the title, I leave you for another day.
Read the Rest of the ’30 Days of Mubi’ Series so Far: