Under the Influence

The Movie Miranda July Knows by Heart

Visual Analysis — Sep 24, 2020

Certain movies have such a profound impact on us in our formative years that they go on to resonate in unexpected ways throughout our lives. For Miranda July, one such film is Steven Soderbergh’s sex, lies, and videotape (1989), which she remembers first watching with her parents as a teenager. Widely regarded as a major breakthrough for American independent cinema, this provocative chamber drama about a couple (Andie MacDowell and Peter Gallagher) whose relationship is complicated by forbidden, extramarital passions struck the young July as an unusually nonjudgmental exploration of sexuality and shame. The movie’s depiction of how people use technology to navigate their desires paved the way for the artist’s own uncompromising work, including her debut feature, Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005), whose characters also satisfy their longing for human connection through electronic media.

In the latest installment of Under the Influence, an ongoing series in which filmmakers talk about the movies that have inspired them, July examines what continues to draw her to sex, lies, despite how different its worldview and aesthetic sensibility are from her own. What the movie revealed to her was that filmmaking could have private, idiosyncratic applications that have nothing to do with the conventions of commercial cinema—a lesson that anticipated the emergence of the iPhone and has informed her own deeply personal, boundary-blurring approach to the art form. “Anyone who picks up a camera,” she concludes, “could be a filmmaker, if we change how we think about it a little bit. The medium is useful in a more intimate way than the industry that created it would have us believe.”

Watch the above video for more of July’s insights, then check out her acclaimed new film, Kajillionaire, which opens in theaters this weekend.

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