DENNIS SCHWARTZ Movie Reviews

A LIFE IN DIRTY MOVIES (director/writer: Wiktor Ericsson; cinematographers: Dino Harambasic/Sophie Winqvist /Martin Thorbjörnsson; editors: Dino Harambasic /Steen Johannessen /Erik Bäfving; music:  Bugge Wesseltoft ; cast: Joe Sarno,  Peggy Steffans, John Waters; Runtime: 80; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Erik Magnusson; Film Movement; 2013-Sweden/USA)

"The pic is most engaging when showing the sweet marriage."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Swedish documentary filmmaker Wiktor Ericsson pays tribute to legendary sexploitation American writer-director Joe Sarno, known affectionately by some in the soft-core porn trade as "The Ingmar Bergman of 42nd Street." I'm not familiar with his films, but that comparison, at first glance, seems off-base since Sarno's films are smut and intended for commercial success. Though it's fair to say that Sarno was inspired by the great Swedish director, and tried to be an artist in a genre that called just  for the 'money shot.'

Ericsson reviews a bunch of Sarno's sex films, saying besides the required sex scenes he added arty touches in the hopes of  making them into art films. His heyday for theater releases was in the 1960s, with such cult films that played on 42nd Street as Sins in the Suburbs, Confessions of a Young American Housewife and Inga, depicting sex life in small towns. In the 1970s hardcore porn dominated and he had to conform or starve, and his principles went down the drain. It took the home video era to recognize that his soft-core porn films were more about the human experience than sex. Through the release of his films by more specialized video companies, he received a more substantial fan base and a second chance to be called an artist.  At 88 Sarno is still anxious to do films, as he hopes against all odds for backers to emerge for one of his scripts.

The doc follows Joe around for about a year, as it shows the easy-going nice guy at work writing scripts at home and cared for by his long-time loving wife, the actress Peggy Steffans, now in her seventies. The happy couple, who have a strong bond, are shown in their NYC apartment and on their annual visit to their second apartment in Stockholm. They have been going to Sweden for once a year since 1970.

It turns out the pic is most engaging when showing their sweet marriage, and only so-so when going reverential on Joe and interviewing assorted colleagues, film historians and critics.

Of note, the Brooklyn born Joe, a former World War II bomber pilot, died in 2010 after attending in London a belated festival dedicated to his films. 

REVIEWED ON 1/24/2015       GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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