If any home video company could qualify as the patron saint of sexploitation cinema, it would have to be Something Weird Video. For a few decades, they unleashed countless pre-porn examples of skin and sin that enlivened the collections of countless exploitation film buffs. Fittingly, Something Weird was the driving force behind That’s Sexploitation, a documentary that aims to be the definitive testament of pre-porn erotica on celluloid.
As the title suggests, That’s Sexploitation uses the model of the That’s Entertainment musical compilation series, offsetting interviews with plentiful footage of sexploitation flicks ranging from the silent era to the early ‘70s. However, there is just one interview participant here in David Friedman, a legendary exploitation flick producer. Thankfully, he’s all you really need: not only did he produce several sexploitation films, he’s also an expert on exploitation film production who worked with all the early legends of the business.
Friedman appeared here near the end of his life and though he is clearly ailing in the footage we see, he’s possessed of a sharp memory. He tells wonderful tales of the “Forty Thieves” who created the sexploitation film business outside of the big studios. There are a string of fun vignettes, complete with plentiful film clips, for infamous producers and distributors like Dwain Esper, Louis Sonney and H. Kroger Babb. Friedman is as witty as he is smart, reflecting on the history of pre-porn erotica with the wit and gleefulness of a man who exploited sin on film and got paid well for it (he really lights up when he talks about his favorite decade as a filmmaker, the ‘60s).
Director/co-writer Frank Henenlotter also appears on screen to help stitch the clips and interview footage into a fast-moving docu-narrative. A lifelong student of all things of exploitation, Henenlotter was also a key player at Something Weird so he’s able to draw on the countless hours of footage in the company’s vault to illustrate the genre’s development. Like Friedman, he is both knowledgeable and witty but he cuts a different figure onscreen, with his New Yorker’s gift for machine-gun patter giving him the verbal verve of a stand-up comedian.
Together, Henenlotter and Friedman show how sexploitation moved through a variety of trends as it rode the razor’s edge of what exhibitors could defend in the courtroom: subgenres like V.D. exposes, the nudist film, the nudie-cutie, the roughie and the marriage manual are explored here and illustrated with plentiful clips from the Something Weird archives. Henenlotter also handled the editing of the film and his filmmaking gifts show in the period montages he does of skinful and sinful moments he uses to punctuate the historical talk. Simply put, you’ve never seen this many bare breasts and behinds in a single film in your life.
In short, That’s Sexploitation is a delight for exploitation cinema students that covers a wide array of history — and several acres of bare flesh — in just over two hours. By the time the credits roll, you may find yourself wishing it had a been a miniseries.
Blu-Ray Notes: Severin Films just issued this title via a new content-packed blu-ray. The transfer looks pretty good: there are a few moments of interlacing but the digital interview footage looks colorful and sharp. The quality of the vintage clips depends on how well they’ve been preserved but most of them look surprisingly good. The track is an LPCM mix that handles the different levels of recording quality pretty well.
This disc also maxes out on the extras. The first is a feature-length commentary track with Henenlotter and Something Weird co-owner Lisa Petrucci. The two are old friends so their patter has an ease and a depth to it. They cover a lot of ground, including the final years of Friedman and Something Weird founder Mike Vraney, the challenge of selecting and editing clips for the documentary and plentiful factoids about the films.
There’s also a whopping three and a half hours’ worth of sexploitation shorts from the Something Weird vault presented in SD form. Several shorts included here were used for clips in the main feature and it’s worth noting that a lot of famous sexploitation feature directors are represented here like Joe Sarno, Barry Mahon and Mike Findlay. This generous selection essentially doubles the value of this set for exploitation fans.