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‘Sin in the Suburbs’ & other cinematic delights: Joe Sarno’s life in dirty movies
02.09.2015
07:50 am

Topics:
Movies
Sex

Tags:
Joe Sarno
sexploitation

Poster art for
 
There is nothing more inspirational, beautiful and harrowing than an artist who takes true risks. Being an artist, especially an independent filmmaker, is hard enough. It’s not like things like job security, steady paychecks and any sort of proper retirement are going to be a constant. Couple that with being a filmmaker who works within a genre that is often critically maligned and life is suddenly a much more harsh trek to cut through. But none of that ever stopped Joseph Sarno, whose cinematic trail began in the 1960’s, with such arty and dramatic forays like Sin in the Suburbs and Inga, then segueing firmly into being one of the most notable cult directors of the 1970’s and 80’s. His legacy was first covered in print thanks to RE/Search’s seminal Incredibly Strange Films book. However, it was only a matter of time for an enterprising filmmaker to come along and do a documentary on the man and his work.

It took Swedish director Wiktor Ericsson and his film, A Life in Dirty Movies to make this needed venture a vital reality and bless him for it.
 
Great Poster art for Sarno's amazing
 
Ericsson and company had the chance to delve into Sarno’s rich cinematic past, talk with a few of his key artists and associates, as well as portray a slice of life into Joe’s golden years with his former actress, wife/partner, the lithe juggernaut of a woman, Peggy Steffans-Sarno. But A Life in Dirty Movies is about more than just a man who who forged his own path in the worlds of sexploitation and hardcore cinema and even, to some degree, more about one incredible love story of loyalty. It’s about the heart and soul of an artist in his later years who has given so much of himself to something he truly believed in. There are few things more compelling than a creative person with a “damn the torpedoes” approach, especially when it is coming from someone as emotionally forward thinking and sensitive as Joe Sarno.

A Life in Dirty Movies is an interesting title for this film, since early on, it becomes readily apparent that Sarno’s approach to film was anything but dirty. In fact, a couple of commentators joke about how any raincoat crowd going to see one of Sarno’s moodier character studies would have been crippled when it came to having a private hand-party in the theater. (This all invokes one of my favorite film descriptors ever, courtesy of Eddie Muller and Daniel Faris’ book Grindhouse. The term in question is “a no hatter.” This was a term to describe a sexploitation film that failed to arouse the male audience, since they would often attend wearing hats for them to take care of business in.) But that’s the thing. Simple prurience can become boring quick unless there are other layers going on, which was something Joe often incorporated.
 
One of the best film titles ever.
 
With that, we get glimpses of his work, ranging from his exquisitely lit, black and white art-type 60’s films, like Sin in the Suburbs and Vibrations to his 1970’s color character-melodramas such as Laura’s Toys and Abigail Leslie is Back in Town. Former collaborators, ranging from editors to actors (including the fantastic Annie Sprinkle), noted film writers like Jim Morton, as well as admirers in the form of John Waters, are all interviewed and have similar observations of both Sarno the man, as well as the director. One of the biggest ones was Joe’s emphasis on female pleasure. In a world where male orgasm is king, while pleasure is relegated to borderline incidental for women, Sarno was indeed a rare bird in his time and, to a lesser degree, even now. He definitely paved the way for female-centric filmmakers in erotica, which would go on to include Eric Edwards (an actor who was in a number of Sarno’s films in the 70’s) and another ground breaker in the form of Candida Royalle, whose company, Femme, catered specifically to women. These were just two of many who were able to create what they created thanks to filmmakers like Joe. One impressive tidbit that is revealed within the film is that Joe wrote the scripts for every single film he ever directed and given that his filmography, including both his soft and hardcore work, is well over a hundred, that is no mean feat!
 
Soap Opera meets Sexy Art: Abigail Leslie is Back in Town
 
Sarno’s love and respect for women can also be summed up by his decades long marriage to Peggy. Well educated and born from a wealthy family in New York, Peggy’s an absolute lioness to her lion in twilight. Dark haired with piercing eyes and a throaty, yet feminine voice, Peggy’s most striking feature is her absolute fierce loyalty and belief in her mate. Especially given that it is not the blind, Hollywood-variety of faith. She talks candidly about the harsh realities of their financial situation and past deals that did zero to line their pockets. (Talk about the sad, blues-song reality of too many talented and notable artists in their later years.) Their relationship is, in many ways, even more notable than Joe’s impressive filmography because it is so intensely rare.

More sweetness that is captured is getting to see Joe enjoy the beginnings of the revival of his art while he was still here. (He passed away on April 26, 2010.) It is hard to not feel some tremors of heart ache when you hear him say, “I thought everyone had forgotten me,” which makes moments like seeing him enjoy his very own tribute at the British Film Institute all the more resonant.

Speaking of tributes, A Life in Dirty Movies is an honest and loving one to an American filmmaker whose craft was, to quote Peggy, “...in his blood.” It’s a great documentary for fringe film fans and the curious alike. You don’t have to be into adult-themed films to appreciate the real-life story of a director who truly worked hard and cared about his craft and people in general.
 

Posted by Heather Drain | Discussion
Watch Nirvana sabotage Buenos Aires stadium show, opening with (still) unreleased song, 1992
01.28.2015
07:39 am

Topics:
Music

Tags:
Kurt Cobain
Nirvana

Nirvana
 
On October 30th, 1992, Nirvana were booked to play a major show in Buenos Aires, Argentina. They were so big at that point in time that they just about sold-out José Amalfitani Stadium, which can hold nearly fifty thousand people. Prior to their set, Kurt Cobain witnessed the negative reception their hand picked opening act received, and was so incensed that he considered canceling the gig. Nirvana ultimately did perform that night, but they were sloppy and their set-list was more than a little unusual, as they purposely incorporated rare songs from their catalogue that they knew most of the audience wouldn’t be familiar with, including a couple of unreleased numbers. It ended up being one of their oddest shows, and it was all captured on videotape by a professional film crew.

Kurt later shared his memories of the gig:

“When we played Buenos Aires, we brought this all-girl band over from Portland called Calamity Jane,” Kurt recalled. “During their entire set, the whole audience—it was a huge show with like sixty thousand people—was throwing money and everything out of their pockets, mud and rocks, just pelting them. Eventually the girls stormed off crying. It was terrible, one of the worst things I’ve ever seen, such a mass of sexism all at once. Krist, knowing my attitude about things like that, tried to talk me out of at least setting myself on fire or refusing to play. We ended up having fun, laughing at them (the audience). Before every song, I’d play the intro to ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ and then stop. They didn’t realize that we were protesting against what they’d done. We played for about forty minutes, and most of the songs were off Incesticide, so they didn’t recognize anything. We wound up playing the secret noise song (‘Endless, Nameless’) that’s at the end of Nevermind, and because we were so in a rage and were just so pissed off about this whole situation, that song and whole set were one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had.” (from Nirvana: The Chosen Rejects)

 
Kurt Cobain in Buenos Aires
Kurt in Buenos Aires

If you watch the show (which is embedded below), you’ll realize that Kurt was misremembering or embellishing a bit here and there. While they did unearth a handful of rarities from their odds-n-ends collection Incesticide (which hadn’t been released yet), as well as “All Apologies” (it later turned up on In Utero), they also played most of Nevermind (but not “Teen Spirit,” which they teased before two songs), and a few of the highlights from Bleach. One thing Kurt failed to mention that they most certainly did do to annoy the crowd, was open with a strange, jam-like number that those in attendance had definitely never heard before.

Unavailable on any of Nirvana’s archival releases and believed to have been performed at just this show, the track has come to be known by the most-excellent of titles, “Nobody Knows I’m New Wave”—though there is no documentation available to confirm its validity. The go-to source for Nirvana bootleg info, Live Nirvana, believes it is just a jam, largely due to official biographer Michael Azerrad’s assessment in his book, Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana:

“The first thing they played was an improvised jam, which deteriorated into a fifteen minute fest from Kurt, with breaks when he would stop to glare at the crowd.”

The circulating video of the show begins with “Nobody Knows I’m New Wave,” but lasts less than three minutes, so it’s difficult to know what Azerrad is referring to. Does the tape begin twelve-plus minutes after their set started? Or has Azerrad himself embellished or misremembered the event?

Though the majority of the lyrics were probably made up on the spot (including “I promise to shit on your head”; “I’m new wave/I’m old school”) and the racket they’re generating collapses after just a couple of minutes, structurally it does have a chorus, which makes me think it was somewhat worked out beforehand. Either way, this isn’t the sort of track most groups would start a stadium concert with.

In Come As You Are, Azerrad also notes that the band “had hardly practiced, their enthusiasm was low, and they played badly.” Regardless, there are some great moments, like the especially heavy version of “In Bloom” (though Kurt messes up a lot); when Dave Grohl brings a toy drum kit to the front of the stage for “Polly” (and Kurt cracks a smile); the aforementioned catharsis that is “Endless, Nameless”; and the intriguing opener. Is it a song or just a jam to piss-off the Argentineans? You decide.
 

Posted by Bart Bealmear | Discussion
‘How to Undress in Front of Your Husband’: The exact opposite of a feminist film
01.19.2015
07:10 am

Topics:
Feminism
Movies
Sex

Tags:
John Barrymore
Dwain Esper

How to Undress in Front of Your Husband
 
The short film you’re about to take a look at is more than just a cheap, extraordinarily sexist exploitation film from 1937. Indeed, How to Undress in Front of Your Husband is most certainly that, but if you can put the stupidity of the attitudes expressed in the film aside momentarily, you’ll notice that it also happens to be surrounded by a bunch of weird, perhaps even interesting facts. Case it point: It involves the huckster distributer of Reefer Madness and his salacious screen writing wife, the film bears a mysterious similarity to a LIFE magazine article featuring photos of ex-burlesque stripper, June St. Clair made in the same year, one of the lead characters (such as there are characters) is the fourth wife of John Barrymore and the other lead character was an ahead-of-her-time suffragette.

I’m not a big fan of Internet lists, but I’m presenting the following one as a matter of expediency. Believe it or not, there’s a lot to cover here for a smutty little fourteen minute film.

1. How to Undress in Front of Your Husband is an exploitation film: To cut right to the chase, this movie is about a lecherous, camera-wielding Peeping Tom and two different women taking their clothes off in preparation for bed. According to the film’s male narrator, there is a right way and a wrong way for a woman to do this if she wants to properly entice her husband, and each woman demonstrates her pre-bed ritual as the narrator looks on through a key-hole. It’s really an awful flick, but notable if you’re interested in this particular fringe nook of filmmaking, truly the bottom of the creative barrel.
 
Reefer Madness Poster
A reproduction of an original Reefer Madness poster.
 
2. The Reefer Madness connection: How to Undress in Front of Your Husband was directed by Dwain Esper, the same fiendish mind who brought us everybody’s favorite joint-sploitation film, Reefer Madness along with Maniac, Sex Madness and Marihuana. Esper was a sleazy but fascinating persona. A serious snake-oil-salesman-type, he traveled around the country “four walling” his racy films in rented tents and theaters in order to work his way around the 1934 Production Code that wouldn’t allow his work to be distributed through conventional channels. In fact, the very title of the film may very well have been part of what was a typical strategy for Esper to get around movie censorship. By billing his screenings as “educational,” as in WE’RE HERE TO EDUCATE YOU ABOUT THE HORRORS OF OPIUM!!!!, he and others like him could attempt to pass off their salacious materials as important public service announcements. After taunting entire towns with tantalizing “Adults Only” promotions, Esper would screen whatever piece of smut he was pitching for a few days, count his money, pack up his gear and get himself the hell out of Dodge, preferably before the town’s morality police could do it for him.

Esper’s wife Hildegarde Stadie, herself an ex-carnival performer who in her younger years often posed nude with a python around her neck to entice people into buying her Uncle’s cure-all tonics, wrote How to Undress in Front of Your Husband as she did many others in the Esper repertoire. Neither of them actually wrote Reefer Madness, by the way. Esper simply bought the film, originally funded by a church group with the intention of legitimately steering people away from the deadly smoke. Esper realized how much of exploitative payday would come from screening the very bad but very “shocking” movie. You can read three Esper screenplays in Marihuana, Motherhood & Madness from 1998.
 
Dwain Esper
Cinemaniac Dwain Esper
 
3. The LIFE article: Interestingly, an article, also from 1937, appeared in the February 17th issue of LIFE magazine depicting almost the exact scenario of the Dwain Esper film and pictures from the article have circulated around the internet over the past few years. Promoting one Allen Gilbert who was ostensibly trying to get the word out about his “Manhattan School of Undressing,” the article shows two different women in the act of preparing for bed, one clumsily, the other, ex-burlesque stripper June St. Clair, gracefully. The conceit of the article is that because of rising divorce rates, women needed to place to go where they could learn to be more sensual when getting ready to slip into bed with their husbands. No mention is made of the husband’s role in the pre-bed ritual, although, due to reader demand and, in some cases, outrage, a subsequent issue of LIFE included an article with men in the same scenario. It seems almost impossible to imagine that the article and the film below weren’t somehow related, although I can find no evidence to substantiate that claim.
 
How to Undress
The right way for a woman to undress in front of her husband according to a 1937 article in LIFE magazine.
 
How not to undress
The wrong way for a woman to undress in front of her husband according to a 1937 article in LIFE magazine.
 
4. John Barrymore’s fourth wife: Yes, the lead role the film went to Elaine Barrie, alcoholic actor John Barrymore’s fourth wife at the time. Famously, a youthful Barrie (she had the last name of Jacobs at this point) kindled her relationship with Barrymore through a letter asking for an interview with the aging Svengali actor who was in the hospital attempting to dry up at the age of 53. Barrie continued to “interview” Barrymore, and the two eventually married in 1936. Their relationship was a press free-for-all (Barrie was 30 years younger than Barrymore and their relationship began when Barrymore was still married to his third wife) and the Espers were almost certainly capitalizing on her new-found national attention when they cast Barrie in the roll of the ideal wife in How to Undress in Front of Your Husband. The film’s narrator vocally ogles and hubba-hubbas his way through Barrie’s downright scandalous-for-1937 appearances in the film as she sensually quaffs her hair, applies pre-bed perfume, rolls down her stockings and shimmies out of her clothing while strategically never becoming completely nude. The purveyor of the pervy voiceover is of course pleased. “She not only knows how to get a husband, but how to keep him,” he says.

5. The suffragette: Last but not least, one of the most interesting things about this weird little piece is the appearance of former stage and vaudeville actress, Trixie Friganza. She plays the role of the not-so-sensual clothes remover; the representative of “how not to undress in front of your husband,” and the narrator says some truly vile things about her while she goes through her supposed pre-bed ritual. Really, it’s cringe–inducing and mean-spirited. Friganza, a large woman, seems to have made career out of poking fun at her own size, but she was also an outspoken women’s rights activist often using her public notoriety to speak about the arts and for economically downtrodden. She was progressive for the time, even keeping her maiden name and continuing to work after marrying in her early life, a fairly bold statement in the early 1900’s. Friganza’s on screen appearance in How to Undress in Front of Your Husband was one of her last, as she ended her film career in 1940 due to complications with arthritis. After a long career she died in relative obscurity in 1955.

So there you have it, everything I know about the oddball film. For better or for worse, here’s How to Undress in Front of Your Husband in all its schlocky glory.  It skips just a tad at the beginning, but extensive Internet searching yielded this as the best copy. 
 

Posted by Jason Schafer | Discussion
Leonard Nimoy Wants You To Live Long And Prosper: The ‘Y2K Family Survival Guide,’ 1999
12.30.2014
06:56 am

Topics:
History
Hysteria

Tags:
Leonard Nimoy
Y2K

The Y2K Family Survival Guide
 
On New Year’s Eve, 1999, the world was preparing for the worst. The Y2K problem had just about everyone on the edge of their seats—will there be power outages? Will water stop flowing from our taps?? Will planes fall from the sky?!? Will nuclear power plants malfunction and kill us all?!?! Will I have to poop outside? ‘Cause I ain’t poopin’ outside.

No one knew what was going to happen.

To address (or simply cash-in on) the concerns, a number of books and videos were issued on the subject, including the Y2K Family Survival Guide VHS, which was hosted by Leonard Nimoy (he also wrote the introduction for the book version). Here’s how the video was pitched:

The Y2K Family Survival Guide video is specifically designed to help you get ready for the local, national and international effects that may significantly impact the lives of your family, your community and your nation. All essentials are covered in this video, from how the Y2K dilemma began to what may happen after December 31, 1999, to what the average person can do now to survive short inconveniences or a long catastrophe.

The first half of the video features interviews with a variety of “experts,” from dudes that ran Y2K websites to the U.S. Y2K czar (yes, there actually was such a government position). Nimoy is shown telling us all the terrible things that might—or might not—happen, while images of fast-moving dark clouds and an assortment of dated graphics appear behind him.
 
Leonard Nimoy
 
The second half is dominated by a man by the name of Ted Wright, who explains all we’ll need to do to prepare for Y2K, including how we’ll use toilets without access to running water (I’m listening!). Wright has some good tips (and hey, we all should be somewhat prepared to go temporarily off the grid), but ends up coming off like a bit of a kook (he thinks the worst-case scenario will definitely happen). Naturally, he has his own guides to sell.
 
Ted Wright
 
As we know now, nothing major occurred when the clock struck midnight on January 1, 2000. Thankfully, the Y2K Family Survival Guide remains as a reminder of the hysteria. We Americans are especially prone to panic over the possibility of catastrophic events, so perhaps Mr. Nimoy’s video can serve as a tool for us. Maybe we won’t get so riled up the next time a potential disaster looms in the distance…Wait, we’ll have to go through this all over again in 2038?!?
 
How to Live Without Electricity
 
So, how much did you want for that chemical toilet?
 

Posted by Bart Bealmear | Discussion
Sparks, Christian girls, drugs & lemon meringue pie: Meet obscure new wavers Gleaming Spires
11.24.2014
06:10 pm

Topics:
Music

Tags:
Sparks
Gleaming Spires

Re-Dux album art work for
 
As much as the mainstream clamors for something truly unique and edgy, the minute they get it is the minute that they typically do not want it. It’s this cultural miasma where cult artists are born and a perfect example of this is the early 1980’s band, Gleaming Spires. The seeds of the Spires were first planted in a Los Angeles new wave rock band called Bates Motel, but it took the fertile ground of joining Sparks in 1981 to help sprout one of the better—albeit obscure—cult bands to have emerged out of the post-punk musical landscape.

While they were together for only handful of years, ending with 1985’s Welcoming a New Ice Age, new label Futurismo have been working with the two brilliant minds behind Gleaming Spires, vocalist and bassist Les Bohem and drummer David Kendrick on a re-release and remastering of their first album originally released on the legendary Posh Boy label, Songs of the Spires. Available as both a digital download, as well as 180 gram vinyl album (colored either lemon meringue or blue movie, depending on your preference), Songs of the Spires has never looked or sounded this good. It’s a pitch-perfect debut album with that mix of quirky humor, emotional angst and sonic layers that could have only come from the dynamic duo of Bohem and Kendrick.

So in honor of this release, here is an exclusive interview with the Spires themselves, the first since their final album in 1985.

What was the big inspiration early on to get into music? Was it anything encouraged or discouraged by your family?

Les Bohem: Well, I took guitar lessons when I was a kid – my mom’s family was deep into Pete Seeger and I saw him at a Unitarian church when I was maybe seven. I had a subscription to Sing Out and an older cousin who was very cool and knew about Bob Dylan. In fact, I can remember that we thought it was lame that Peter, Paul and Mary covered “Blowin In the Wind.” My first performance was said “Wind” at my grammar school graduation. Aldous Huxley was in the audience. He told my Mom I had a nice voice. This either means he was old and deaf, not paying attention, or was on Psilocybin.

The Beatles during my first year of Junior High and that was it. The Kinks, Them, the Stones, the Who – We did “Substitute” in my first band at the 8th grade talent show – American lyrics ‘cause we didn’t know any better. Then my folkie roots began to show and I wore striped T-shirts and a vest and glasses, which I didn’t need, so I could look like the Lovin’ Spoonful.

My mom was always forgiving and she tried hard to like what I was doing. My dad never really got it. I broke his heart a bit when I left college to become a rock star. Having both worked as writers in the movie business, they had a healthy suspicion of any career in the arts.

David Kendrick: Both of us had artistic families. My father was a sculptor. I won’t say I was “forced into music” but was definitely encouraged. I mean, I had a very loud drum set in my bedroom. I was in bands outside of school.

How did you two meet? What events led to the formation of Bates Motel?

Les Bohem: I formed Bates Motel with Bob Haag and Alan Slater somewhere around 77-78, and we added Bob Beland somewhere right after that. We had a drummer who was a friend of Alan and Bob Haag’s. He left to join another band and then Bob Beland left. We were playing around L.A. and I don’t remember how we put the word out for drummers. I feel like I’d met David once at the Troubadour before that. He wore funny shoes. He was the first really good drummer and still far and away the best that I have ever played with. I remember how good the songs sounded the first time we practiced with him. Alan was gone by now, by the way, since he formed another band, and we had added another guitar player, Dave “the Rave” Draves. He and Bob Haag were from Lancaster, a town about 60 miles into the desert from L.A. We practiced there in a studio space that was in an arcade, which had been owned by Judy Garland’s father. On the long drives up and back, David and I become friends quickly. We’d bring tapes of favorite songs. We’d talk about books, music. We were still young. We’d get heavy.

David Kendrick: Bates already existed. I joined after they fell for my lamppost drummer propaganda. I liked the film reference name too
 
Les Bohem playing behind the Mael Brothers. Note Ron's smile.
 
It’s been written that the Mael Brothers discovered you after becoming familiar with Bates Motel. Where you fans of Sparks beforehand?

Les Bohem: It all begins with a screenwriter named Bill Kerby. I liked their album covers but had only heard a few songs. David, I believe, was the bigger fan. In those days, there was no place to get espresso in Los Angeles and the thing that David and I really bonded over was espresso. I had been going to the Belgian Waffle stand at the Farmer’s Market on Fairfax for years to have coffee with Bill, a writer who I’d met through my friend Miranda when they were dating. So this actually all begins with Miranda. Anyways, I would meet Bill for coffee mornings. Then, in the Bates days, a whole bunch of us would go in the afternoons and we would see Ron and Russell, who hung out there most afternoons. It was a celebrity sighting. “Look, it’s those guys from Sparks.” After a while, we developed one of those nodding relationships. One day, I went over to their table. We were trying everything to get signed and I thought that maybe they’d produce us. I said, “You guys are supposed to be the fathers of New Wave, how about you come see your kids,” or something equally lame and gave them a flyer to a show we were doing at Blackies, a club in Santa Monica. They came. They did not want to produce us. They asked us to be their band.
 

 
More after the jump…

Posted by Heather Drain | Discussion
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