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Life in Dirty Movies, A
In Paul Thomas Anderson's great Boogie Nights, renowned porn director Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) has a dream of one day making a "real" movie, one with story and characters that are so compelling, that the patrons stay in the theatre to find out how it ends even after they finish masturbating. If Horner was a real person, he should have definitely asked Sex Film maestro Joe Sarnos on how to achieve that dream.
Sarnos, known as "The Ingmar Bergman of Porn", made a name for himself in the 60s and 70s as the director of artful soft-core adult films that focus on the characters as much as the graphic sex scenes. When almost all other directors in his field put all of their attention on the male orgasm, Sarno was interested primarily in the many ways women could enjoy sex.
He was a revolutionary in his field in the way that he used close-ups of female orgasm a lot more than the traditional male money shot. Perhaps that's why when hardcore pornography became all the rage in the mid-70s, he practically disappeared because he didn't like the misogynistic approach of those films.
A Life In Dirty Movies is an excellent and surprisingly touching documentary that follows Sarno during the later years of his life. At 88-years-old, he's still passionate about his craft and wants to make at least one more film. Unfortunately, there isn't much money in scripted and artful soft-core sex films in the age of Internet porn, where carnal gratification is delivered instantly. As far as Joe's expertise in Internet media is concerned, forget about it. He still writes his screenplays on a typewriter.
Director Wiktor Ericsson does a great job balancing his film between fly-on-the-wall footage of Joe's life and a lecture on the effect Sarnos' brand of cinema had on adult film and even film history as a whole. The lecture parts are full of talking heads that range from Sarnos' crewmembers, film historians, and of course John Waters, since it's illegal to not include Waters in any documentary that deals with underground cinema in the 60s and 70s.
However, the most important part of the documentary, as well as Sarnos' life, is his wife Peggy. Technically, the documentary is about Joe, but Peggy represents the film's heart and soul. Forever dedicated to and supporting of his husband's dreams, Peggy singlehandedly turns what could have been a cheeky doc about pornography into a shockingly emotional and tender love story.
While the film was being shot, Peggy and Joe had already been married for almost fifty years. During those decades, Peggy was with him through thick and thin, even borrowing money from her wealthy parents so Joe could keep following his passion. She talks Joe up wherever she goes, never stops believing in him, leading to a passionate speech she gives at the end that will more than likely make you cry. Yes, it's highly possible that you will cry during a documentary about porn.
Most of A Life In Dirty Movies consists of footage from Joe's films, which are understandably scratchy and full of various types of video noise. However, it's not hard to conclude that this is the best available footage that the filmmakers could utilize. The scenes dealing with Sarno, as well as the interviews, contain expertly shot digital photography and works really well on the 16:9 standard definition transfer.
For some reason, Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 tracks are offered, even though the 5.1 track barely has any surround presence. The scenes from Sarnos' films are obviously in mono, and the rest of the documentary is full of dry interviews. You wouldn't miss much if you watch it with the 2.0 track.
Young Playthings: An extended scene showing how a "creative" saddle was used on film.
Fabodjantan: A deleted scene that shows Joe and Peggy discussing Joe's importance in film history with a Swedish film historian.
Extended Interviews: Five interviews, around four minutes each, where the subjects give some opinions not presented in the finished film.
A Life In Dirty Movies is a thoughtful, loving and respectful tribute to a perhaps misunderstood filmmaker of genuine talent. If you still believe in clichéd images of coked-up pornographers who are all sleazeballs looking to take advantage of innocent and impressionable young girls, this is the film to watch.
Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com