Yup, it's time to get dirty once again. This time, I really mean it. Once last year, the theme for an installment of The Quick and Dirties was "Dirty Docs," or documentaries that were about some form of adult entertainment. Why not do it again? Let's get started.
Bettie Page Reveals All
(2012)One day back in the early/mid 90s, I was browsing the shelves in a book store when I wandered into the section containing books on entertainment. There were books written by Roger Ebert and Leonard Maltin, others about the making of famous TV shows like Star Trek, and lots of books about musicians. The spine of the biggest book in sight had a name I never heard before in big bright letters: Bettie Page. Intrigued, I pulled it off the shelf and gazed at the cover. A rather curvaceous brunette in a bikini smiled back at me. Since I love a woman with curves and the size of the book promised lots of pictures I started to flip through it. Wow. There were indeed pictures on practically every page. Many of them showed ALL of Bettie Page, if you know what I mean. I must have stood in this one spot for damn near an hour. After looking at just about every picture, I actually read some of the words. I gathered she was the most famous nudie/fetish model of the 1950s. In the years since, I’ve come across her pictures and various parts of her story thousands of times. This includes the 2005 movie, The Notorious Bettie Page in which she was played wonderfully by Gretchen Mol. Part of this story, part of her mystique, is that she suddenly stopped modeling and disappeared without being heard from ever again. So when I heard the people who made the documentary Bettie Page Reveals All had found her I was intrigued, naturally.
The film chronicles her life up to her disappearance. Much of it is narrated by Ms. Page, herself, who tells some interesting stories. A couple of them are hard to believe. Still, much of what she says is corroborated by other interviewees. These include historians, as well as photographers and models she worked with. One of these people tells us where a number of her pictures originated. Photos of naked women were a lot harder to come by back then. Horny hopefuls formed photography clubs and would hire several girls for an afternoon, take them out to the woods or some semi-secluded beach, have them get nekkid and snap pictures. Imagine twenty or thirty guys, each equipped with those old cameras with the giant flash bulbs, snapping away while surrounding a couple women, screaming their names and suggesting poses. As expected, we’re told that when the shoots were over there were propositions for “other things.” By all accounts of everyone participating in this doc, Bettie never took anyone up on those. As I said, this film is about much more, but this stands out as particularly sleazy. It’s not the sleaziest thing in the movie, mind you. A sexual assault/narrowly escaped gang-rape covers that. You’ll have to hear her tell the story. Like a lot of people who gained fame through the adult industry in the twentieth century, there was the obligatory obscenity trial for her, too. In this case, it’s because her nude pictures and bondage videos were mailed across state lines, all over the country, in fact. She is such an interesting figure, occupying such an odd corner of pop culture history, it’s hard to tear your eyes away from. The shame of it all is that Ms. Page doesn’t say much about her life after she vanished from the limelight.
A Life in Dirty Movies
(2013)We examine the life, times, and career of Joe Sarno, one of the forefathers of sexploitation cinema. He made his name in the 1950s and 60s as a man who really did make art films that just so happened to be about sex. During the 70s, he was pushed out of the way as hardcore porn became all the rage after the success of films like Deep Throat and Behind the Green Door. Over the last decade or so, a new generation has discovered his work and he begins being honored and recognized all over the world. Naturally, this leads him to try and get back in the game to make one more movie…at age 88. We see him work on a script and work with a few people who try to help make it happen. Lots of talking heads as well as Joe, himself, talk about a number of his films. Just as importantly, we also dive into the loving relationship between he and his wife Peggy, whom he met when he hired her as an actress. It starts as what we think will be a rollicking ride through the history of softcore porn and becomes this tender, sweet documentary about a man who took pride in his craft, earned respect as a serious auteur, and the devotion to one another shared by he and his wife. It just so happens there is a lot of nudity along the way.
Live Nude Girls Unite!
(2000)One of the great things about America is that laborers have a real chance to improve unacceptable working conditions if they make some sort of concerted effort. Even if they aren’t always successful, the opportunity is there in any legitimate industry. By legitimate, I mean legal. Whether you like it or not, this applies to strippers and peep show workers. Yup, this is a documentary about ladies who work in these two professions and their attempts to form a union. No, this isn’t some frivolous wink and nod look at their industry. This is a serious examination of the way these women are treated and mistreated by their employers. We deal with issues of fair wages (including tip sharing), unsanitary conditions, and discriminatory scheduling and hiring practices. It’s a fascinating look at a business of which most of us know nothing about beyond the naked bodies.
(2013)We take a look at the world of human trafficking, or prostitution in simpler terms. Mostly, we hear from women who have escaped the life and from law enforcement trying to crack down on it. Periodically, we hear from actual pimps who enlighten us with a few pearls of sleazedom. This is a tough watch for a variety of reasons. There’s nothing new here, but it’s still rough terrain to navigate. For starters, the women interviewed tell some harrowing tales. We hear about physical, sexual, and mental abuse in some despicably creative ways. Following that, the police relay some more brutal information. Next, the pimpnology sprinkled on us by the pimps who decided to take part is just plain hard to hear. They spit sexism in its rawest and most destructive form. Finally, hovering over the entire thing is a racist vibe. This may or may not be intentional, but there’s a clear delineation between one race and the others. It feels very much like a movie about a bunch of white girls who were snatched from their idyllic lives by predatory black men. The pimps are all black. The girls who do almost all the talking are all white. The white women shown still walking the streets are sad-faced, seemingly begging to be rescued. The black women shown, and on rare occasion allowed to speak, are all happily complicit in their own enslavement. To be completely fair, one of the cops who gets the most screen time is of African-American descent. However, one would be forgiven for taking a minute to figure that out after looking at him. It plays into the bigoted idea that the less “ethnic” a person looks, the better they are. Again, I’ve no way of saying with any certainty that the filmmakers are pushing a racist agenda or that they are even aware of that which I’m implying. I just know that it felt that way.