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The Sarnos: A Life in Dirty Movies (2013)

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A documentary shot at the end of pornographer Joe Sarnos's life, which reveals his attempt to make one last film, as well as his relationship with his wife, Peggy.


Wiktor Ericsson


Wiktor Ericsson
1 win & 1 nomination. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Joseph W. Sarno ... Himself
Peggy Steffans Peggy Steffans ... Herself
Michael J. Bowen Michael J. Bowen ... Himself (as Michael Bowen)
John Waters ... Himself
Giulia D'Agnolo Vallan Giulia D'Agnolo Vallan ... Herself
Annie Sprinkle ... Herself
Michael Raso ... Himself
Arthur Morowitz Arthur Morowitz ... Himself
Kemper Peacock Kemper Peacock ... Himself
Jim Morton Jim Morton ... Himself, film historian
Myron Odegaard Myron Odegaard ... Himself
Adolfas Mekas Adolfas Mekas ... Himself
Ed Grant Ed Grant ... Himself, film historian
Linda Williams Linda Williams ... Herself
Jamie Gillis ... Himself


THE SARNOS - A LIFE IN DIRTY MOVIES is a love story about legendary sexploitation director Joe Sarno, "The Ingmar Bergman of 42nd Street", and his loyal wife and collaborator Peggy - their place in sex film history, life between New York and Sweden, and their struggle to make one last erotic film. A funny and touching portrait of a unique couple who has followed their passion in life - no matter the cost! Written by Wiktor Ericsson

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis



Parents Guide:

View content advisory »


Official Sites:

Official site





Release Date:

19 September 2014 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

A Life in Dirty Movies See more »

Filming Locations:

Stockholm, Sweden See more »


Box Office


SEK 2,700,000 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Anagram See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Aspect Ratio:

1.78 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Features Flesh and Lace (1965) See more »

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User Reviews

Typical example of what's wrong with "documentaries"
22 January 2016 | by lor_See all my reviews

I have a long-standing issue with the entire category of "documentary films", of which this portrait of director Joe Sarno and his actress wife Peggy qualifies under standard definitions. It is filled with interviews, cinema verite recording of the movements and conversation of the two principals, lots of film clips to illustrate (quite incompletely) a career, and talking heads interjections of so-called experts. But the result is sentimental slop, apologia, fawning and slavish fandom, and a completely misleading look at both the artist and the larger issues stemming from his choice of pornography as creative outlet.

To begin with, this is no more objective than any random screenplay concocted and directed by a "fiction" filmmaker. That is because we do not see the real people, only a representation of them according to the whims of the principals themselves but more significantly according to all the choices made by the director & his team. Even when scenes are not staged as in a play or a "screen" play in the cinematic version of theater, the decision as to which found footage to include or in this case interview footage has zero objectivity. What we see is what the makers want us to see, and what we think about it is heavily slanted by what's in and what's out.

I say this because one would believe from watching this film, along with other sycophantic defenses of Sarno's latter-day status as a great film pioneer (SEE: wife Peggy's pride at the very end of the film pointing to the NY Times lionizing of her husband in its obituary for him, as if the Times actually stood for anything other than hype and self-promotion), that Sarno was a great artist who gave up his career when hardcore pornography drove his beloved soft-core "sexploitation" genre out of the marketplace.

This is patently untrue; without relying on other sources you will note that I have watched and reviewed in IMDb over 50 of Joe's XXX hardcore videos and films that he made in the late '70s and 1980s that are completely swept under the rug by this documentary. The so-called film historians shown on screen help to perpetrate this cover-up. Admittedly, his early work before explicit sex was permitted (pre-1970) includes many excellent films, but they do not give a complete picture of his oeuvre, and the dozens of emphasized references to his refusal to go along with the new commercial XXX content are all false.

So an accurate documentary would mention and perhaps summarize this vast output of pornography directed under dozens of pseudonyms by Sarno, and perhaps mention several quality moments contained therein (notably a couple of '70s explicit Swedish titles that are well worth rediscovery, never having been subtitled in English for wide distribution). A balanced picture could be provided.

But no, we have mindless and misleading platitudes from the likes of John Waters, Ed Grant, Michael Bowen and a quite untrustworthy scholar Linda Williams, whose remarks on DVDs by gay pornographer Wakefield Poole are flat-out idiotic. As with so many (now into the thousands) "Bonus" featurettes usually by British self-appointed historians of exploitation and genre films, a whole new generation or two of fans are being consistently misled on both the conditions of these films when first released as well as their relative importance in cinema history.

At the end of this movie I certainly was persuaded to have extreme sympathy for Peggy taking care of poor Joe, but his quest to make a new movie according to his oddball, antiquated standards (which of course never came to pass) is merely pathetic in the extreme.

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