New To Blu: Joseph W. Sarno Retrospect Series: Volume 2 All The Sins Of Sodom (1968) / Vibrations (1968) - Reviewed

Joseph W. Sarno has been referred to as “the Chekov of Softcore,” a pioneer of the sexploitation film subgenre who was delivering adults only cinema to audiences since the early ‘60s. He would direct a great deal of hardcore sex films under various pseudonyms during the ‘70s and ‘80s, but is best known for his early ‘60s pre-pornographic films that include Inga and Sin in the Suburbs. Along with Russ Meyer and Radley Metzger, he is one of the few sexploitation filmmakers to receive critical attention and recognition. Most of the ‘60s softcore films focused on nudist camps, Sarno chose to explore “the sexual dimension of adult relationships” way before many mainstream films were able to do so. Film restoration and preservation organization Film Media has been restoring his films, collecting them in its critically acclaimed Joseph W. Sarno Retrospect series. Newly restored from the original film elements and presented for the first time to home entertainment in high definition is All the Sins of Sodom (1968) and Vibrations (1968), compiled in Volume 2 of the Sarno Series.

After filming Inga in Sweden in 1967, Sarno returned To New York excited with what he had achieved and quickly wrote three scripts, stories that could be filmed in rapid succession. These films would be All the Sins of Sodom (1968), Vibrations (1968), and The Wall of Flesh (1968), which shared the same filming locations, the same core actors, and much of the same themes that dealt with female sexual autonomy and the female orgasm. All the Sins of Sodom is a gripping tale that deals with a photographer’s struggle between choosing the love of a model over his artistic desire of producing an amazing collection of erotic photos.

A professional photographer is working on a book of erotic photos that deal with the theme of the corruptive, evil power of Sodom. Upon first meeting the new model Leslie (Maria Lease), he believes that he has found his muse and the face that will perfectly capture the power of Sodom. Unfortunately, Leslie is too nice of a woman and he isn’t able to capture what he initially had captures in the first photo session. Thus enters Joyce (Sue Akers), a homeless and extremely sexual woman whom he allows to stay in his studio. Joyce inserts herself into his photography sessions and he discovers that Joyce’s sexual charged interactions with Leslie are exactly what he was looking for. In what ends up as a Faustian dilemma, he must choose between love or art. The film deals with themes of evil, innocence and responsibility. It also features one of Sarno’s recurring themes, the disruptive influence of an intruder.

The direction from Sarno and cinematography from Steve Silverman are particularly striking. Even though it’s basically a stage play shot in one location, it is a stunning piece of black and white cinema that use minimal lighting in dark rooms to produce some evocative shadows and imagery. 

The acting is really good for what would have been considered an extremely low budget film of that era, with most of them being relatively unknown. This was the first Sarno production to feature standout actress Lease, who is featured in all three of the 1968 New York films. In each of the films, she plays a realistic female character who is dealing with some form of sexual dysfunction. Akers is great as the overly sexual deviant Joyce, who ends up assuming the role of dark muse to the photographer.

All the Sins of Sodom is highly graphic for the time that it was released and features a great deal of nudity, explicit sexual encounters, lesbian scenes, masturbation, and the use of a vibrator.

Vibrations goes even further with its exploration of sex and sexual taboos, delivering even more graphic sex scenes and themes, including incest between two sisters.

Barbara (Maria Lease) is a sexually repressed writer whose overly sexual sister Julia (Marianne Provost) comes to live with her. Julia becomes obsessed with the neighbor’s sexual on-goings and eventually becomes involved with what could be described as a deadly sex cult, where the pleasures are “so intense, it’s akin to torment, exquisite torment.” Barbara’s interest in her neighbor and her activities is piqued and she finally acquiesces to her sister’s demands.

Mirroring All the Sins of Sodom, the cinematography is striking and there are several excellent shots of New York City. The use of lighting is terrific and lends to some beautiful looking scenes. The acting is great, with an outstanding performance from Lease as the timid sister.

Vibrations really pushes the excess when it comes to its use of nudity and graphic sexual scenes, featuring incest, masturbation, sexual accessories, and group sex. It’s both lewd and erotic and contains some dark sexual themes.

Overall, the Joseph W. Sarno Retrospect Series Volume 2 is an excellent continuation into the director’s filmography that features two early and defining pieces of cinema from Sarno. 

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