Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Get to know this dear exploitation couple in Wiktor Ericsson's A LIFE IN DIRTY MOVIES

TrustMovies has long known (and somewhat appreciated) the oeuvre of sexploitation filmmakers Russ Meyer and Radley Metzger, but the name and work of one, Joe Sarno, had somehow escaped him. No more. Thanks to one of my favorite distributors, Film Movement, together with its new genre division, RAM Releasing, and a young Swedish filmmaker, Wiktor Ericsson, a new documentary about Mr. Sarno -- his life, wife and work -- is about to open here in New York City. And it is one pip of a movie.

What Mr. Ericsson, shown at right, has given us is a  lovely portrait of a man and his time and especially his obsession with filmmaking and sexuality from -- of all things -- the woman's point of view. If you haven't seen many sexploitations films, trust me: This is very unusual. As attuned to women and their needs as was Sarno in his films, Ericsson proves equally so where Sarno's wife. Peggy, is concerned. This woman, a young actress when she met the filmmaker (who was 17 years her senior), worked with him, married him (against the wishes of her family) and then devoted her life to her husband and his movies.

Peggy (above, left, dancing with Joe) is a pip, too -- beautiful in her youth and almost equally so now. She seems to have been the glue that held it all together, and Ericsson makes full use of her. The movie finds the couple working on what is to be Joe's comeback -- his first film in decades -- which he is writing on an old word processor, and which Peggy proofreads and gives suggestions for. The two (mostly she) talk about their life together and past endeavors, and the reminiscing is filled with archival footage (below, with the younger Sarno shown center, left), much of it from Joe's films.

Sarno greatly admired the work of Ingmar Bergman and when he was asked to come to Sweden to make a movie, the couple leaped at the oppor-tunity. They loved that country and have spent time there every year since. (That's they below, in Sweden, back in the day.) It soon becomes clear that Peggy is currently more necessary to Joe's well-being than ever before: emotionally, physically, even artistically. (We watch as she proofs and then explains to him why he'll have to change a scene in which a girl makes a phone call from a telephone booth into one in which she uses a cell phone.)

Ericsson has chosen to only slowly reveal points from the couple's personal life. Do they have children? Eventually we learn the answer to this and other questions, while meeting Peggy's aged mother in the process. The filmmaker seems to have become a kind of protecting presence in his subjects' lives; he certainly make us viewers feel protective of this endearing pair.

We get some surprises--both lovely and sad--in the film's final 20 minutes, as we learn of the couple's financial struggles ("Don't ask!") and the story of Joe's teen years. The movie is also full of interesting talk and opinions via everyone from film historians to Sarno aficionado John Waters.

Finally, we grow to, yes, love the Sarnos, I think, and certainly appreciate them. Yet, Ericsson never pushes. Simply by his choice of what to show and tell, he allows us to come to care for this couple on our own. The film lasts only 80 minutes; in that time you'll laugh, learn and, I suspect, be very moved. Best of all, as with the recent doc Art and Craft, you'll come to care for people whom you would very probably never have expected to.

Another thing that A Life in Dirty Movies should do is gear you up to watch one or more of Joe's films. Fortunately, along with the debut of the documentary -- this Friday, September 19, here in New York City at Anthology Film Archives where it will see a one-week run -- a selection of Sarno's movies will also be shown, screening for eight days through September 26.

Click here to see the entire program listed, here for directions to AFA, and here to buy tickets.. 

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