Film: That’s Sexploitation!

A chat with Mike Vraney, proud curator of vintage smut.

Someday, you’ll explain it this way to your kid: We didn’t always have it like you do. It wasn’t so easy. We couldn’t just sit at a computer keyboard to look at porn.

And your son will say: No way! What did you do, Pops?

And you’ll lace your fingers together and explain: We had our nudie cuties, and our roughies, and our white-coaters …

Or you’ll just show him That’s Sexploitation!, because your kid doesn’t want to listen to you. This new documentary from Seattle’s Something Weird Video is a 136-minute cavalcade of rare, forgotten, and mesmerizing sleaze from the four repressed decades leading up to 1970. In the film, host Frank Henenlotter, the cult director of Frankenhooker and Basket Case, sits us in the lap of exploitation icon David F. Friedman to hear the history of the smut industry. If you’re expecting a polished doc like The Fog of War, video footage of Friedman at home before his 2011 death might seem low-rent. But you’d be focusing on the wrong thing. The vintage clips from SWV’s vast library—arcade loops, sex-hygiene and drug-scare films, and burlesque footage—are eye-opening and often jaw-dropping.

That’s Sexploitation! is currently making the rounds at film festivals and repertory theaters, and is not yet on DVD. I recently put on a raincoat and spoke with Something Weird founder Mike Vraney about his latest archival project.

It’s really uncomfortable watching nudists work with sawmill equipment. Can we agree on that? Absolutely, that’s why it’s there.

Why did you want to make a sexploitation documentary? Over the years, there’s been many different documentaries about exploitation movies or sex movies and whatever. Most of them all got it wrong, or they didn’t dwell on the 1920s, ’30s, ’40s and ’50s very much, because they had nothing to work with or no information. My goal for this project was to start in the late 1920s and end in the 1970s and cover every base—gay culture, nudist culture, birth-of-a-baby—everything to do with sex on film that had nothing to do with Hollywood.

But Internet porn pounded a big, long, thick nail into the coffin of these movies, right? When I first met David Friedman, he said to me, “Why would you even want these movies with the girls with big tits and giant beehive hairdos, and it doesn’t even show anything?” They actually tried to have a story—whereas with porn they would show everything and were just wall-to-wall sex from minute one to the last frame. Those films killed the whole genre of exploitation films.

Yet there’s a charm to old sexploitation movies. They’re campy and retro, and they’re hilarious. The best line in the world is, “Naked people are funny.” When you see a bunch of nudists and they’re sawing logs, that’s funny!

They’re hilarious and a little cringe-inducing. A lot of reasons they look the way they look is financial. The very best of the sexploitation movies were made in four days. I find them very hypnotic, and almost addictive. The fact that the budget is so small, and they have to do it in one take, and there’s so many mistakes, and they’re easy to spot, and they’re so much fun. And I also love the regional accents. I love sexploitation movies made in Texas, just because these girls have these amazing accents. In Bat Pussy, that girl’s accent is hilarious.

One thing I’ve always wondered about nudists: Why are they obsessed with volleyball? It’s really funny. Think about it if you’re the filmmaker. There’s only a couple of things you can show—swimming in the pool, volleyball, nature hikes—but you could only show those from the back. No “pickles and beavers.” You couldn’t show any of that.

My Bare Lady is my favorite of the dirty titles in the documentary. What’s yours? Oh god, there’s so many. I like tag lines even better. “All women are bad. I should know. I’m a man.”

In the good old days, you had to sneak in shame to see what smut you could find. No young person today can identify with resorting to National Geographic for nudity. Oh, no, they have no idea how hard it was to see titillation. And you’re right, National Geographic was about it. In the ’60s, my father belonged to the Playboy club, and he had the magazines around everywhere, but even that was pretty tame when you think about it.

It might be jarring for people to see women who hadn’t been enhanced and didn’t have personal trainers? That’s another thing about this documentary that’s wonderful. All the kids in porn [today] look like aliens. They have no hair. They have breast implants. They really look like they came from another planet. While in the sexploitation movies they’re busty and sexy and they have hips—and there’s such a nostalgia for body hair.

There’s more bush in this documentary than a Republican National Convention. There you go. It’s also showing how much things have changed. I don’t show any beaver here.

What was the old Seattle sexploitation scene like? It was fantastic. Because we’re a seaport town, our First Avenue had amazing arcades. They showed everything. I remember seeing a Linda Lovelace-and-a-dog film. And back then, too, the laws were different. It was amazing what was going on. They say we’re more free all the time. Baloney. When it comes to freedom it pretty much ended sometime in the ’70s.

After seeing this movie, what do you want people to walk away with—other than amusement and mild arousal? Everybody from my mother down the list of people I’ve shown this to, the first thing they say is, “I didn’t know anything about any of this.” I look at it like a history lesson. The other thing I’m very proud of is, it doesn’t feel like a dirty movie.

I don’t think anybody else will ever come along and do the history of sexploitation after this documentary. First off, everybody’s dead, and I have all the clips.

film@seattleweekly.com

 
comments powered by Disqus