Director: Joseph W. Sarno
Film Movement

Just in time for the holidays, Film Movement and Film Media bring the second volume of their proposed eleven-volume Joseph W. Sarno Retrospect Series with a double-bill Blu-ray of ALL THE SINS OF SODOM and VIBRATIONS.

Two of the films making of a trilogy with the rare WALL OF FLESH, ALL THE SINS OF SODOM and VIBRATIONS were mounted upon the return of Joseph and Peggy Sarno to New York from Sweden where they had made INGA – its international and domestic success still a year away – under the aegis of photographic studio owner Morris Kaplan in which the couple took a more "adult" look at newly-liberated women taking charge of their sexuality. In ALL THE SINS OF SODOM, fashion photographer and Midwestern preacher's son Daryl Morton Henning (uncredited) – or just "Henning" as he prefers to be known – has grown up obsessed with capturing wicked women and their corrupt ways to the point that he often does not want to see a woman again after he has slept with her. He seems to find something deeper with model Leslie (Maria Lease, Sarno's VIBRATIONS), but she is ultimately unable to embody "Eve, Salome, the priestesses of Bala, the princesses of Sodom, Gomorrah, and Babylon all rolled up into one." His infatuated agent Paula (Sarno's wife Peggy Steffans) sends him model Joyce (Sue Akers, DAUGHTERS OF LESBOS), but the homeless girl seems too naïve and innocent for him. Instead of photographing her, Henning offers Joyce the use of his backroom until she gets back on her feet with no strings attached. Although Joyce seduces and intimidates his models behind his back, Henning remains blind to Joyce's true nature as he tries to get what he is looking for out of Leslie instead of Joyce who another model (Cherie Winters, PASSION IN HOT HOLLOWS) who has succumbed to her advances is convinced she is "the daughter of Satan." When Henning draws Joyce into a photographic session with Leslie, he realizes that the pair embodies his ideal of wickedness and evil. He pressures Leslie into more sessions with Joyce, unaware of Joyce's own intentions to come in between the couple.

ALL THE SINS OF SODOM is unusual in the Sarno oeuvre in foregrounding a male character's sexual hangups against the usual backdrop of predatory lesbianism and sexual manipulation. Performances are uneven but it is the real sex scenes (shot mostly above the waist) where the men are as robotic as the vibrators but the women are most revealing and uninhibited. Henning's obsession never affects his "performance" and the string of sex scenes make for a listless middle as far as forward momentum in the story goes, but there is still much to appreciate. Apart from a couple out of focus shots, the monochrome photography of Sarno's brother-in-law Steve Silverman has a richness that contributes to the director's reputation as the "Ingmar Bergman of porn." Scenes of lesbian seduction are accompanied by frenetic tribal drums like those that drive the victims to orgasmic distraction in Sarno's later VEIL OF BLOOD/VAMPIRE ECSTASY. Producer Kaplan has a recurring role as an elevator operator mugging for the camera with each appearance (but often outside the static camera's field of focus).

In VIBRATIONS, sexually-repressed would-be writer Barbara (Lease again) living alone in an apartment building and typing manuscripts just to pay the rent. Her outgoing sister Julie (Marianne Prevost, MONIQUE MY LOVE) throws her for a loop. She forbids Julie from inviting a parade of men into her apartment, but is not so much unnerved as horrified when Julie wants to continue some of the sexual exploration they did as children. While Barbara is finding it increasingly difficult to stifle her curiosity about the strange goings-on and lustful sounds emanating from the storeroom next door rented by Georgia (Rita Bennett, DIARY OF A SWINGER), Julie eagerly explores the room where Georgia presides over a small cult in which the most "exquisite torment" is administered to members by vibrator to female initiates who either achieve gratification or punishment by being finished off by the cult's token male member (hairy "Henning" from ALL THE SINS OF SODOM). Barbara forms a tentative attraction to fellow writer Dick Parrish (Dan Machuen, WALL OF FLESH) who pays her to type up his manuscript. When Julie seduces Dick, Barbara is devastated and is soon drawn by her own curiosity and sexual frustration to what is happening on the other side of her apartment wall.

More in keeping with the subsequent basic formula of much of Sarno's sixties work, VIBRATIONS has a promiscuous character upsetting a delicate balance of self-denial and repression, the effects of formative sexual experiences on the present, masturbation as symbolizing women's sexual liberation (and the tools that aide it), cult-like assemblages built around a sexual fetish (suggesting that such liberation still requires secrecy from those who might brand it indecent), broaching the taboo of incest, and the potentially freeing effect of having ones psychological walls bulldozed. As with ALL THE SINS OF SODOM, Sarno frames his actors in expressionistic compositions lit in high contrast by Steve Silverman from single light sources while the New York exteriors hardly open up the film so much as reveal how isolated characters wrapped up in their sexual obsessions are from the rest of the world. Geri Miller (ANDY WARHOL'S FLESH) is one of Georgia's acolytes while Peggy Sarno appears in a character bit as the building's nosy landlady.

VIBRATIONS was previously released on VHS by Something Weird Video and DVD in 2005 by Image Entertainment as an SWV triple feature with Joel Landwehr's FLUCTUATIONS, and Allen Savage's SUBMISSION in a fullscreen transfer while ALL THE SINS OF SODOM was not released on DVD until 2009 by Alternative Cinema in an anamorphic transfer with commentary by Peggy Sarno. Newly copyrighted 2016 by Pop Cinema, Film Movement's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 widescreen transfer of VIBRATIONS is lightly restored, with deep blacks and luminous highlights while faint damage remains throughout from thin vertical scratches to a bit more at the reel changes. Vinegar Syndrome pre-empted Film Movement's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen presentation of ALL THE SINS OF SODOM with a limited edition Blu-ray/DVD combo last November. Both are derived from different 2K scans of the original negative, with the Vinegar Syndrome transfer seeming finer grained and revealing more picture information on the left of the frame. Film Movement's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 widescreen transfer is not opened up, not just losing information on the left side of the frame but also looking tighter on the top and bottom as a result. Some faint archival damage is more visible but the transfer is more than satisfactory in the absence of the Vinegar Syndrome edition which is out of print and long sold out. Both films have been given lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 mono tracks but they adequately convey the sparse soundtrack (mostly live audio including noise that can be heard from outside the locations), the spare scores, dialogue, and the genuinely heated moaning and groaning. No subtitles or captions are provided.

Extras start off with a new commentary by Video Watchdog's Tim Lucas for VIBRATIONS in which he provides context for the trio of films following the filming of INGA in Stockholm, the scantest of available information on WALL OF FLESH (the only one which was credited to actual producer K. David Dietz while Kaplan was credited for the other two), notes the inaccuracy of IMDb in assigning actors to roles in the film, and points out the introduction of character types and themes that would inform Sarno's subsequent oeuvre, and the likely influence of Mark Rydell's adaptation of D.H. Lawrence's THE FOX which introduced lesbianism and masturbation to the theatrical mainstream. A mini-commentary (running roughly forty-one minutes on a third audio track) by Peggy Steffens Sarno, conducted by Film Media's Paige Davis, finds the actress/producer discussing her relationship with Sarno – including being advised by Polly Platt (PRETTY BABY) to choose her relationship over Hollywood and an acting role in Peter Bogdanovich's TARGETS – through the Swedish, New York, and Florida productions as well as the later hardcore works. She also briefly discusses how working with Sarno as an actress differed from her work for Michael and Roberta Findlay and Doris Wishman, and her behind the scenes work on the Sarno films as make-up artist, costume and set dresser, and later more actively as a producer, as well as the creative partnership between Sarno and her brother Steven Silverman as cinematographer. She points out the simple lighting design, Sarno's choice of compositions for the sex scenes, and the preponderance of the classic Sarno two-shot of one character looming over the shoulder of another, while also noting that compositions from VIBRATIONS inspired an article in Art magazine. She also provides some more information on Dietz and the eccentric Kaplan – so pale because he never left his studio/apartment, the windows of which were blocked by a giant billboard, apart from visits to his mother which were the only use of his expensive sports car – along with the freedom Sarno felt working with shoestring budgets and hands-off producers (whose interferences elsewhere came in the form of adding music to the sex scenes which were meant to play with only the sounds emitted by the performers).

While the Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray of ALLTHE SINS OF SODOM was barebones, Film Movement carries over the Peggy Steffens Sarno commentary conducted by Michael Bowen. Viewers who have already listened to the two VIBRATIONS tracks will find a lot of the same information and anecdotes repeated since Steffens is unsure of which film came first but offers up some more information including the film's comparatively greater number of camera moves and focus shifts, Sarno's nervous habits (chewing splice tape or jingling keys in his pocket), his greater emphasis over other softcore filmmakers on blocking and focus, her lack of knowledge as to who recommended performers for Sarno other than Kaplan's headshot clients but noting that he would write subsequent roles for actors when he thought they were good, as well as her own interpretation of the recurring theme of a dominant female wreaking sexual havoc on repressed characters. Unfortunately, she is no more able than Lucas or IMDb to identify certain performers. Sarno's interview from the DVD (8:08) is also carried over in which he discusses his "limbo shots" in which actors are lit while the background is allowed to fall off into darkness, his emphasis on faces during sex scenes, letting their hands, sometimes mouths, and other body parts do the work below the frame while focusing on how these actions are reflected in the faces of the performers. He also speaks warmly of his wife as an actress as well as Lease. Lucas also provides a short booklet covering Sarno's association with Kaplan and the trio of films. (Eric Cotenas)