Joseph W Sarno is one of America’s great lost cinematic auteurs: part soft-porn peddler, part social satirist, part hippie-era envelope pusher, his thoughtful, Bergman-inspired sexploitation films explore the nature of human relationships while still showing enough bare flesh to lure in the Times Square ‘raincoat crowd’. This documentary follows the then 88-year-old filmmaker as he tries to secure funding for a new script, under the watchful eye of his adoring, supportive wife Peggy.
It’s a sweet, inspiring story, from Joe and Peggy’s first meetings, through Joe’s mid-’60s filmmaking heyday to the post-‘Deep Throat’ hardcore boom, to which this old-fashioned sensualist was vehemently opposed. Breaking out on his own, Joe instead crafted a series of movies exploring female sexuality which flopped at the box office but showcased a director ploughing a truly unique furrow: one clip from a film titled ‘Abigail Leslie is Back in Town’ fuses porn and melodrama to quite startling effect.
But the filmmakers never dig quite as deeply into Joe and Peggy’s emotional lives as one might hope: there’s no real insight into why Joe was so comfortable making erotica, or what effect his work may have had on his marriage. The film ends in tragedy, but it also cuts off rather abruptly, leaving us eager to know more about this strange, passionate, intensely creative pair.