The Sarnos: A Life in Dirty Movies
Sexploitation films— the awkward teenage years of adult entertainment. Older than its humble stag film beginnings, but not quite mature enough as its 70’s grindhouse and 80’s VHS counterparts, they are an oft forgotten precursor to the endless amount of smut we have today.
A Life in Dirty Movies, is a retrospective documentary about sexploitation auteur, Joe Sarno. It was during these early years that directors were establishing the stereotype of utilizing a paper thin plot to show as much skin as possible without the actual sex (ie Soft-core). Sarno separated himself from his peers with by his focus on the female experience mixed with a heavy influence from Swedish cinema, particularly Ingmar Bergman. The end result was a subversive experience that left viewers hot and equally bothered.
The other half of the documentary shows us the director and his wife in the present day. We see them reminisce about how they got together when his career was taking off. We see them reflect on struggles faced when Sarno’s artistic films were overlooked to the burgeoning market of hardcore and home video in the later decades. Finally we see them today as other fans, performers, and directors relay accolades on how influential and different Sarno’s films were. Centered among all of this is the very visible love between the couple that is genuinely heartfelt. These poignant moments of the documentary that will likely stick with people as much as, if not more than the brief clips of salacious material. Tissues may be required depending on the viewer’s sensitivity.
I initially thought this documentary was going to be a history of a one dimensional genre. While the film certainly informs the view of the genre, it is also displays how a loving relationship, was the bedrock of a director’s dedication to creating the type of art he connected with, no matter how lucrative it was through out the years.