Faced with the rather daunting task of compiling a (quote) “visual history of over 40 years of sexploitation cinema”, BASKET CASE (1982) and BRAIN DAMAGE (1988) director Frank Henenlotter – along with ‘The Mighty Monarch of Exploitation’, David F. Friedman (1923-2011) – have, thanks to the massive archives of Mike Vraney (1958-2014), the late producer/owner-operator of Something Weird Video (SWV), created one of the most thorough and definitive documentaries on this fascinating subject.
The doc is hosted by both Friedman (from his home in Anniston, Alabama) and Henenlotter, who were long-time associates of Vraney and helped propel SWV into the company it is today. Just a couple of years prior to his death, Friedman was in poor health at the time his interview herein was shot, but, as always, his memory was still sharp as ever and, despite his health problems, nonetheless remained one of the finest raconteurs, which certainly helps as he guides us through this once-forgotten, at times outlandish – if incredibly diverse – genre from film history.
Covering everything from silent films – including footage from WHY THE GIRLS WALK HOME (192?) and UNCLE SI AND THE SIRENS (192?) – and early talkies, Mr. Friedman charts the inception of the (quote) “very stupid and very rigid” Hays Code during this time, which was put into place by that morally-conscious organization, the Legion of Decency, which in effect helped in creating an entire market for (s)exploitation cinema, because the “sexploiteers” weren’t bound by any code. Sex hygiene films, “Goona-Goona” films (featuring topless natives), “monkey sex” (Gorillas chasing topless natives), smokers (early stag films), Sinerama cuties (early loops that played in Arcades), burlesque; the colourful nudist camp films and nudie-cuties – which Henenlotter freely and gleefully admits are “the stupidest films on the planet” – are just some of the subgenres covered before things move onward into the (quote) “prime time” of sexploitation: the Sexy ’Sixties. Nudies, roughies (“…more violence than sex, but the sex has got to be the raison d’être for the violence”), lesbian flicks, acid pictures and, finally, the death knell of the sexploitation era: the so-called “white-coaters”, the first hardcore “blue movies” disguised as “sex hygiene” films.
Even at 136 minutes, Henenlotter’s THAT’S SEXPLOITATION never even comes close to outstaying its welcome as it moves from one subgenre to another with ease and perfect clarity, and thankfully, both Friedman and Henenlotter not only add a ton of historical context, but at the same time, they never take the films they love too seriously, providing an amusing, enlightening and completely engrossing experience for both fans and newcomers alike. The runtime is filled with tons of rather unbelievable anecdotes, including one about a feisty and bigoted city censor in Memphis, Tennessee who, at the time, was particularly incensed about racial integration in film – he actually censored the Little Rascals’ “Our Gang” due to Buckwheat! – which sort of led to the strangely-titled “Goona-Goona” pictures featuring topless natives only. Other interesting tidbits include one about the cutting of various films due to the differing state censor boards, whose official jurisdictions varied, which resulted in a number of differently-edited/censored film prints circulating around the various regions, and in some cases, the actual shooting of two distinctly different versions, as is highlighted in TS by a fascinating scene-by-scene comparison of Eddie Kaye’s ESCORT GIRL (1943), featuring scenes from both the “cool” and “hot” version. Later, Mr. Friedman also discusses Walter Bibo’s GARDEN OF EDEN (1954), the first nudist camp film, which ran into problems with the NY censor board. After a prodigious court ruling where “nudity” in and of itself wasn’t deemed obscene, the floodgates opened, whereupon Times Square was inundated with nudist camp films. However, as for the new nudist genre’s poor pioneer Bibo, who spent all his time fighting in court, he ended up missing the boat himself, although, according to Friedman, “…he opened A LOT of doors!” His recollections from the set of some of these rather innocuous films are also quite priceless, which he equates to, “a cold storage room of a meat-packing plant”, so they had to (quote), “salt the mines” and hire models to help make these films a little more digestible to the paying public. Although always the consummate storyteller, Mr. Friedman really gets into his groove when discussing most of his films from the ’60s, a section which includes discussions about Stacey Walker (of A SMELL OF HONEY, A SWALLOW OF BRINE  fame), Marsha Jordan, roughies (“The anti-nudie cuties”) and acid (LSD/psychedelia-themed) pictures. He also discusses the formation of the Adult Film Association of America (AFAA) in 1968, which largely assisted distributors and filmmakers with their legal issues, sometimes providing them with readymade “kits” to help with their defense in court.
Of course, being a “visual history”, this doc is highlighted by an absolute treasure trove of film clips culled from the SWV archives, which includes the usual staples like Doris Wishman’s NUDE ON THE MOON (1961) and BLAZE STARR GOES NUDIST (1962), Lee Frost’s HOUSE ON BARE MOUNTAIN (1962) and The DEFILERS (1965), Jonathan Lucas’ TRADER HORNEE (1970, “This is a show for the broad-mined. I know you all got broads on the mind!”), Michael Findlay’s FLESH trilogy, the OLGA films, a great selection from their massive collection of nudie cutie loops and many, many, many more goodies besides, which are best left as a surprise for both the uninitiated and the seasoned SWV collector. As usual, the doc also incorporates loads of great footage depicting old theatres and great marquees, including some for many of the seedier Storefront Theaters that began to appear in the early ’70s.
Released theatrically in 2013, THAT’S SEXPLOITATION finally made its bow this year on both Blu-ray and 2-disc DVD courtesy of Severin, and considering the clips are of varying image quality due to the vintage source materials, it all looks pretty damn amazing. Of course, the newly-shot footage is razor-sharp, and even though many of the film clips were sourced in SD, many of them are in HD as well, so the picture quality varies from clip to clip, but to be truly honest, it doesn’t matter one bit. The biggest extra is a very relaxed but highly informative commentary from director Henenlotter and Mike Vraney’s wife Lisa Petrucci, who discuss all sorts of great tidbits, including Henenlotter’s first meeting with Vraney; the project’s genesis, which was begun by Friedman in 1973, but was later aborted; the pilfering of Movielab, which resulted in a number of amazing finds, including such SWV staples such as Emilio Vieyra’s The CURIOUS DR. HUMPP (1969), and lots more. It’s a great listen (and watch). Like many of the ‘official’ SWV DVDs from Image, Severin has also decked-out their release with over three-and-a-half hours of short films and condensed versions of stuff like Michael Findlay’s The SIN SYNDICATE (1965) and Joe Sarno’s MOONLIGHTING WIVES (1966). The documentary’s official trailer rounds out the plethora of extras. Exceptional in every way, THAT’S SEXPLOITATION comes highly recommended, and warrants many repeat viewings, especially via Severin’s handsome, extras-laden release. Order it from Severin films here or from Amazon here and remember, “You’re all dirty!”