BR: That’s Sexploitation! (2016)

August 28, 2016 | By

ThatsSexploitationFilm: Excellent

Transfer: Excellent

Extras: Excellent

Label:  Severin Films

Region: A, B, C

Released:  April 26, 2016

Genre:  Documentary / Sexploitation

Synopsis: Epic chronicle of the sexploitation industry, vivified by rare footage from the Something Weird archives.

Special Features: Audio Commentary with director Frank Henenlotter and Something Weird’s Lisa Petrucci / 3.5 hours of sexploitation shorts from the Something Weird Archives / Trailer.




The release of Frank Henenlotter’s documentary on the sexploitation business on home video is very bittersweet, because two of its three key participants – legendary sexploitation producer-director David F. Friedman, and co-producer and Something Weird founder Mike Vraney – passed away not longer after principle photography and the film’s completion, respectively.

Apparently the documentary concept had been spinning around Henenlotter and Vraney’s heads for a while, and the pair finally put their considerable resources together and weeded through volumes of rare materials in the SW archives, structuring a narrative that pretty much hinges on the interview segments and recollections of Friedman, who penned A Youth in Babylon: Confessions of a Trash-Film King, one of the funniest autobiographies and perhaps the definitive chronicle of the sexploitation business.

The downside for readers of that 1990 book is that most of what Friedman recalls is better said in his prose and rich anecdotes, but the upside is that Vraney’s collection of rare silent adult films, loops, publicity art, and subsequent ephemera ensure whatever is mentioned by Friedman is supported by actual examples.

TS features a remarkable collage of material that categorizes the commercial waves of smut which sometimes resulted in wafer-thin waves of sub-sub-genres that even Henenlotter classifies as outright dumb. Never mind sleazy porn; there’s monkey sex movies (actors in cheap gorilla suits grabbing & groping heroines), nudies, nudie-cuties, and roughies (precursors to Eurosleaze shockers in which women are manhandled, snatched, abused, and tormented). Psychedelic pothead trip-fests, naked badminton matches, naked underwater swimming, being ‘nude on the moon’, a range of burlesque shorts, classily photographed colour loops, and more. Henenlotter is spot-on when he (often) barks ‘Who thought this was a good idea?’ after a particularly ludicrous clip.

He’s the master of outraged, perplexed deadpan, which makes his commentary with SW’s current bigwig and Vraney’s widow, Lisa Petrucci, so swell. It’s a lively and often direct discussion on the amazing history of sex on film as produced, marketed, and sold to clients and suckers while navigating through the regional rules of America and the shifting snooty morals which sexploitation undoubtedly tempered (or smacked in the face).

Severin’s Blu-ray sports a fine transfer of the doc which itself makes use of beautifully transferred rare materials: some are archival in quality (sole prints) while others stem from the incredible batch of prints and negatives Henenloteter and Vraney were able to wrangle from Movie Lab as it was liquidating the last of its assets. Henenlotter was and remains a ‘quiet partner’ in SW, hence his vivid recollections of the goodies that basically built the house of SW.

When Image Entertainment took on the role as SW’s DVD distributor, they were initially dumbfounded by the strange material Vraney and Henenlotter would pack into their dual-layer, double-bill DVDs; in most cases each release (which at its peak averaged two a month) was a double-feature with additional shorts, sometimes filmmaker commentaries, and stills galleries collating vintage graphic promo art.

The sets became instant cult items and SW’s output during its peak years was extraordinary, but in time Vraney found that less people seemed to care about the rarities he’d just discovered and restored, which may explain the company’s gradual reduction of DVD’s via Image. Burnt out if not frustrated by the lack of love from the connoisseurs that once snapped up each release, Vraney seemed ready to take his knowledge and archives and find a way to make them relevant as historical supporting materials. Ergo, That’s Sexploitation!

At 136 mins., Henenlotter’s doc is a monster: it’s tightly edited into elliptical sequences, but proper time is given to contextualize Friedman’s words with vivid recollections. A great moment has Henenlotter placing hot and cold versions of sexploitation films side by side to compare the variations in script, shots, and levels of décolletage among the women, or the bits that could be easily snipped from southern states not hip to tales of bare-breasted African babes running from gorilla-suited boneheads.

Friedman, whose vision was very weak and overall health was extremely fragile during filming, passed away less than a year after filming wrapped, while Vraney was stricken with lung cancer and passed away at the young age of 56 in 2014.

Reportedly a manic collector of many things, his legacy includes an extraordinary archive of human sexuality in its weirdest form in film and campaign art that allows us to laugh at the conventions, behaviour, and odd ways modern society has tried unsuccessfully to quash the need to be naughty. You can’t take smut seriously when it involves a naked woman admiring toy western figures frozen in ‘battle zones’ on her breasts, the circular pit of a belly-button, and the verdant fjords of a thatched vagina; nor some Italian hottie peeling off her spacesuit and stripping down to her silver moon panties to tease green nematode moon creatures with her boobies and halt any carnivorous actions in the must-have-on-Blu-ray idiocy Sexy Proibitissimo (1963).

Severin’s Blu-ray comes with many of the shorts seen in the doc (some of which were synced and colour timed by Henenlotter), so there’s 3.5 hours of more nonsense to relish. It is an overabundance that might need to be devoured in stages, but as an adjunct to Friendman’s must-read autobiography, That’s Sexploitation! is a natural.

Note: in the commentary track, Henenlotter notes another That’s Sexploitation (1973) documentary listed on the IMDB, with an existing rating by people alleging to have seen it. This is bogus, as the material was shot on 16mm by Friedman for a promotional doc on sexploitation, but what survives are just silent raw film clips. With no audio, the footage proved pointless for Henenlotter and Vraney’s project, so while the 1973 doc is listed, it’s also not finished, silent, and unseen by the general public.

As for the SW label, it endures as an on-demand label with (primarily) digital downloads and DVD-Rs. Both the OOP Image DVDs and Vraney’s early VHS tapes with tinted collage cover art are now unique collectibles, often featuring material for which rights have lapsed, and the films themselves have once again vanished, like Albert Zugsmith’s On Her bed of Roses / aka Psychedelic Sexualis (1966).

I’m still waiting for that film and its score to make a Blu-ray release, as well as Sexy (1962), Renzo Russo’s reported mondo film whose music by Armando Sciascia (“Ba Dah-Bah!”) makes an appearance in the doc’s sonic collage.

Hint-hint. Nudge-wink. Twirl-twirl.



© 2016 Mark R. Hasan



External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB
Vendor Search Links: — —

Tags: , , , , , ,

Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

Comments are closed.