Once upon a time there was a little boy called Ingmar who lived with his father a clergyman and his mother a nurse in a snow-capped land in the north of Europe.
When he was five, Ingmar would hide under the dinner table and listen to his parents and their friends talk to each other as they ate their food. It was warm under the table and he dreamed about the conversations he overheard.
Having a pastor as a father taught Ingmar to look behind “the scenes of life and death.” He listened to his sermons and made the acquaintance of the devil. The devil was everywhere—“palpable and elusive”—in his father’s sermons and the fairy stories his mother read him a night, and “on the flowered wallpaper of the nursery.”
Ingmar was an imaginative little boy and he dreamt up adventure stories about his life to tell his friends. But his friends did not believe his stories and that hurt Ingmar. So, he withdrew from the world and kept his dreams to himself, only sometimes he would act out his stories with toys, and sometimes he would put them on in a little toy theater to amuse himself and his parents.
When Ingmar grew up he turned his memories of childhood into films, plays and stories.
More on Bergman and the rest of the interview, after the jump…
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.
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.
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!
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.
BAFTA is the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, and every year there is a BAFTA award ceremony held in London, which is kind of the British equivalent of the Oscars. For the 1974 awards, hosted by the always suave David Niven at the Royal Albert Hall, a few of the important winners had to pre-record their acceptance speeches due to filming commitments. One of the deserving winners that night was Jack Nicholson, who won the BAFTA for Best Actor for Chinatown and The Last Detail. As Nicholson was on a set in Salem, Oregon filming Miloš Forman celebrated adaptation of Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, he sent over what is probably the best ever in absentia acceptance speech in BAFTA history with a little help from Danny DeVito, Louise Fletcher and some of the other inmates.
In 1962, an insanely violent trading card series called “Mars Attacks” was painted by the noted pulp novel cover artist Norman Saunders. In sequence, the cards depicted the invasion of Earth (a pretty obvious Cold War allegory) by some just really atrociously violent Martians, who did a lot of shamelessly violent things to our fair planet’s inhabitants both human and animal, and the violent retribution visited upon Mars in violent retaliation.
They were pretty violent.
Even by today’s standards some of these are a little much, but in 1962 parents were freaking the hell out. And children were buying them in droves in response to the parental freakout because somehow parents never figure out how that works. From an informative article on the set’s history on pascard.com:
Cards depicting burning flesh, buxom women and dogs being zapped by aliens are bound to create an uproar, even today. The brainchild of Len Brown and Woody Gelman, this 55-card set conveyed the story of ruthless Martians attacking Earth.
At one point, Topps reportedly made efforts to tone down 13 of the most controversial cards, but after a complaint from a Connecticut district attorney, production was stopped completely. The commotion created by this set must have been somewhat surprising for Brown and Gelman, who previously collaborated on the equally gory 1962 Civil War News set.
Brown wrote the story on the backs of the Mars Attacks cards. Wally Wood and Bob Powell were enlisted to work on the sketches and renowned artist Norman Saunders painted the cards.
Sorting out who is and who isn’t in the 1971 “comedy” movie Dynamite Chicken, written and directed by Ernest Pintoff, is no easy matter. The montage-heavy movie relies so much on found footage that it’s accurate to say that John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Lenny Bruce, Malcolm X, Humphrey Bogart, and Richard Nixon “appear” in the movie even if they were scarcely aware of it or, in some cases, were long since deceased at the time. Not to put too fine a point on it, the makers of the movie were verging pretty close to fraud here.
Richard Pryor they definitely had, as well as a lot of countercultural figures like Paul Krassner, Tuli Kupferberg, Joan Baez, Sha-Na-Na, Peter Max, and a comedy troupe called Ace Trucking Co. that featured a young Fred Willard. The movie’s a bit like Kentucky Fried Movie, only far more political in intent; it’s chock-a-block with skits, snippets of musical performance, political debate, a strip-tease or two, and whatever else popped into the noggins of the filmmakers at the time. There’s tons of quick-cutting montage of newspaper clippings and just a ton of random footage.
The full title, “Dynamite Chicken: A Contemporary Probe and Commentary of the Mores and Maladies of Our Age … with Schtick, Bits, Pieces, Girls, Some Hamburger, a Little Hair, a Lady, Some Fellas, Some Religious Stuff, and a Lot of Other Things,” is an accurate reflection of what the movie is like. The emphasis here is squarely on free expression; the movie starts with a scroll explaining, in a way we today associate more with Lenny Bruce, that Richard Pryor had been witnessed “in the late ‘60’s” by a policewoman saying the words “bullshit, shit, motherfucker, penis, asshole” during a public performance. The distance between “free expression” and “annoying the audience for the sake of it” is pretty small, and in addition to some salubrious footage of women in various states of disrobe, we also get a pointless and somewhat sickening exegesis of a comic book about slicing women in two with a buzzsaw. Early on, I had been thinking that Chicken Dynamite is an almost perfect cinematic equivalent of SCREW Magazine, when who should materialize on the screen but Al Goldstein and Jim Buckley themselves.
Andy Warhol was one of the few luminaries who apparently did consent to be filmed, for a short sequence in which Ondine reads aloud from Warhol’s book a: A Novel while Warhol looks on. John and Yoko weren’t involved; their bit is just a statement about peace from the Montreal Bed-In a couple years earlier. The link to National Lampoon, mostly a spiritual one, is made explicit with a clip of Michael O’Donoghue, then one of the chief writers at the magazine, in a spoof of a cigarette commercial. There’s a bit towards the end in which Ron Carey (known to me primarily as a bit player on Barney Miller) dresses up as a priest and does some soft-shoe in front of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral on 5th Ave., scored to Lionel Goldbart’s “God Loves Rock and Roll” that is pretty delightful.
The footage with Pryor was shot outdoors in a single day; Pryor riffs on a bunch of raunchy material while messing with a basketball somewhere in the projects. At this point in Pryor’s career, the similarities with Dave Chappelle were (in hindsight) particularly strong. After Pryor became a big movie star in the early 1980s, he apparently became annoyed with his association with Chicken Dynamite, as he successfully sued to bar “the distributors of the film ... from emphasizing his role in the film,” according to an issue of Jet from December 1982.
In the end, Chicken Dynamite was probably a little bit dated even when it came out. It’s a movie made by people who are waaaaay too “serious” to be funny, for the most part. It’s the kind of movie that even if you are “enjoying” it, you might choose to turn it off before reach the end of its 75-minute running time, just because it wears you out. Still, some parts are pretty entertaining, and it’s worth a look for those who missed the era and those who didn’t.
Because so much ink and so many pixels have been committed to the ongoing and breathtakingly stupid culture war over childhood immunizations, I’ll keep my comments brief: anti-vaxers? You are destructive fucking morons and if you die of something easily preventable I will laugh about it.
But though the numbers of anti-vax jackasses have grown dangerously out of control in the recent years since the likes of Jack Wolfson, Jenny McCarthy, and Andrew Wakefield started spewing the criminally irresponsible shit they should all be in goddamn jail for, there have always been people ignorant of the necessity for childhood vaccinations. In the late ‘70s, when Star Wars mania was at its height, the CDC obtained permission to use C-3PO and R2-D2 for an immunization education campaign. From the Nov/Dec 1979 issue of Public Health Reports:
In a continuing effort to focus public awareness on childhood immunization, the Center for Disease control has distributed to State and local health departments copies of a poster featuring the “droids” R2D2 and C3PO from the movie “Star Wars.” Special permission to print the posters was granted to CDC by Twentieth Century Fox as a public service.
The poster has proved to be so popular that it has entered its second printing. The posters have been used as a reward to individual children who complete the basic immunization series, as reminders to parents in doctors’ offices, hospitals, and pharmacies, and as attention grabbers in announcing mass immunization clinics at schools and shopping centers. The poster is also drawing increased attention to child health in conjunction with projects sponsored as part of the International Year of the Child celebration.
This television commercial from the campaign has an unusual role reversal—R2 is freaking out over bullshit and 3PO serves as the voice of reason. It seems to actually be voiced by actor Anthony Daniels, who played the droid in all six Star Wars movies, and indeed, the typically reliable Wookieepedia claims that both Daniels and R2-D2 actor Kenny Baker did in fact appear in this PSA.
UPDATE, Thu Feb 5, 2015, 8:17 A.M. EST: This post as originally published contained a significant error, which I deeply regret and have corrected in the text. I misspelled ‘Wookieepedia.’ My sincerest apologies to anyone who was misled by my negligent inaccuracy. See how that’s done, science-deniers? It’s not so difficult.
Bela Lugosi was perhaps the first Hollywood star to openly admit to his drug addiction. Lugosi had become dependent on drugs after being prescribed opiates for relief of painful sciatica in the late 1940s. As his habit grew, his career slid into shitsville Z-list movies and his dope fiend reputation kept producers from hiring the legendary actor. Lugosi was forced into making his money through repertory tours in the US and England and special guest appearances on late-nite TV and double bills at the local movie theater.
Living the junkie life in direst poverty, Lugosi was given the chance of a comeback by the infamous Ed Wood, who offered the actor work on Glen or Glenda and Bride of the Monster. Grateful for the chance to turn his life around, Lugosi checked himself into a rehab clinic, before moving onto the local hospital. Lugosi went “cold turkey” and spent three months (90 days was the state minimum) getting straight. When he left the hospital in 1955, he gave what is thought to be his last filmed interview, where he talked about his drug treatment, his plans for a new film with Ed Wood and how he felt like a million dollars. The feeling wasn’t to last, by August 1956, the legendary Bela Lugosi was dead.
Jeff Bridges has recently made available one of those inexpressibly peculiar albums that only a very famous and beloved movie star could release, a double album on the theme of the land of dreams and slumber called The Sleeping Tapes. Proceeds from the album will go to the charity No Kid Hungry; Bridges has partnered with Squarespace to set up an appropriate web presence for the album, where you can listen to it for free or purchase the album in a variety of formats in prices ranging from “pay what you like” for the digital files to $200 for an LP with a “180-gram golden vinyl plate” as well as a “debossed gold leaf pressed album cover.” There’s also an auction in which you can win 1 of 5 signed copies of the album.
By the way, be on the lookout for a Squarespace commercial featuring Bridges during this Sunday’s Super Bowl.
Track titles include “Sleep, Dream, Wakeup,” “Hummmmmm,” “Ikea,” “My Keys,” “Seeing With My Eyes Closed,” and “Feeling Good.” “I hope you dig the sleep tapes ... hope they, uh, inspire you do some good cool sleeping, some cool dreaming, some cool waking-up,” Bridges purrs in the opening track. Bridges recorded the album with composer Keefus Ciancia.
The album is rather easy to poke fun of, as evidenced by this not overly nasty thread on Metafilter. It’s a defiantly leisurely and lazy piece of work that nevertheless works on its own terms and fits within some kind of ambient lineage. I enjoyed listening to it, and I have some respect for the thought that went into it, but I suspect it won’t soon become a mainstay of my listening regimen.
In the summer of 1945, Stanley Kubrick, many years before he was the acclaimed director of Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and A Clockwork Orange, had a series of photographs published in LOOK magazine, a competitor to LIFE. He was just 16 years old. Thus would begin a relationship with the magazine that would last several years, until he began making movies in earnest around the age of 23, in the early 1950s.
Kubrick took this self-portrait in 1949 with his Leica III while working as a staff photographer for LOOK Magazine
Not much to say about this one. If you’ve ever wanted a reason to picture Maj. Charles Emerson Winchester III doing the Hustle, here’s your chance.
In Tom Moulton’s “Disco Mix” column in Billboard of March 5, 1977, he wrote, “The strongest [of three recent singles from FARR Records] is ‘Song From M*A*S*H’ by the New Marketts. Here is a beautiful and well-orchestrated melody featuring guitar and synthesizer playing the melody line and pleasing synthesizer solo in the vamp. The record was produced by Joe Saraceno.”
It’s well known bit of movie-making lore that the lyrics of the song were written by Mike Altman, the son of Robert Altman, director of the original movie. Appearing on Carson in the 1980s, Altman stated that his son had earned more than a million dollars for his part in writing the song, while Altman himself made just $70,000 for directing the movie.