Some people collect vinyl. Some people collect art. Ian Sundahl collects films, and many of them feature a whole lot of sex.
But not like what you would see if you happened to venture into the darkest recesses of today's internet. During the 1970s, films like Andy Warhol's Blue Movie and Gerard Damiano's Deep Throat ushered in a new wave of mainstream and critical acceptance of films that just so happened to include full penetration. Today, that period from the '70s through the early '80s is considered the Golden Age of Porn.
Sundahl hosts the Hollywood Theatre's monthly Repressed Cinema series, an ode to the bare-bones B movies of an earlier age in Hollywood when with $10,000 you could make a feature-length film. Sundahl screens on film, but he is always on the lookout for new, local shorts on film or video to screen before his features.Alongside his screenings, Sundahl is a film trader and artist, publishing the quarterly Vision Quest comic book with Portland artist Tim Goodyear.
To bid farewell to Erotica Awareness Month in the Movies pages—look for an erotica story on our Books page next week—Sundahl and Willamette Week teamed up with the Clinton Street Theater for an hourlong screening of rare trailers, on 35 mm, from the Golden Age of Porn: ultra-cult classics that'll plunge you into the deep end of a seedier era of film whose artistic merits are mostly forgotten. We're calling it Erotica Awareness Month: The Climax.
Ahead of our screening, we spoke to Sundahl about his massive film collection, Bettie Page and other people's' home movies.
Ian Sundahl: I started collecting films when I was in high school, when you'd have to go to antique stores and hope to find something. There was this magazine called The Big Reel [now defunct], which had advertisements for film collectors. They'd play films in school and I thought 'wouldn't it be cool to have some of these at my house?' That got me interested in trying to find my own collection.
My first movie was Abbot & Costello short Oysters and Muscles on 16mm. I started collecting TV shows from my childhood, features I liked, and one of my favorite things was people's strange home movies: vacation movies, skits they've made, things like that. I even found some stuff with drug use, nudity and drunken parties, pretty interesting stuff.
I had a yearning to find grindhouse and exploitation films but just didn't know where to look for them on film. I would find all sorts of great grindhouse movies at the video store, but when I was just starting out getting in 8mm and 16mm, it was all Abbott and Costello, Chaplin, etc. Finally I found a publication that had mail order ads for used films, and that changed everything. I was now able to find 16mm films that I had loved on video: Roger Corman's A Bucket of Blood, The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant and later obscure adult features.
How did you get started collecting vintage adult films? What about the Golden Age movies appeals to you?
At first I would come across an occasional listing for 8mm stag [pre-Golden age adult shorts] loops and risque adult stuff. One of the first ones I remember was a condensation of a nudie film from the 60's called Freakout. I took a chance on a mail order listing of the film from a vague description and it turned out great. The women were beautiful, and it was full of interesting scenes like people driving around Hollywood in a hippy ambulance, people hanging out in a dumpster, and pot parties in the park.
I like the obscure movies, porn shot on film came from a time when it was cheap to shoot these movies, and, there were a bunch of very creative filmmakers given a lot of freedom in what they could do, as long as it included some sex. So there are a lot of unique, strange wonderful films from this period; the underside of Hollywood. The films had their own stars of the time, and many prolific directors who put out tons of material. They are also time capsules. In outdoor shots you can see the town and cityscapes of mainly of New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco, often shot cinema verite style. It's interesting to see how the cities have changed in these rare shots. I also like finding films so obscure there's no mention of them anywhere. There were so many produced rarities such as that still pop up.
WW: How big is your entire collection, and how big is your collection of adult films?
I think I have about 1,500 spools of film, that's shorts and features. Adult and sexploitation are probably around 25% of that.
Is there a "scene" or community of grindhouse/exploitation/adult movie collectors in the Portland area? If so, how big is it? What do you do?
I've got two friends in town who are really into the vintage adult, oftentimes we'll get together and run films, and swap memorabilia and films. One of these friends is really into the movie posters from adult theaters, and the other is into the 8mm loops. I guess I'm the 16 and 35mm film specialist. Occasionally we used to run porn films, on film, at a DJ night in a bar that has long since disappeared. The dancers loved it.
WW: What do you look for when acquiring a new film?
IS: I like getting films that are unique, where I may have the only copy, such as cool amateur shot home movies. Home movies are fun to collect of places I like, and oddball subject matter. As far as adult films, I have favorite stars I liked going for: Lisa Deleeuw, Rhonda Jo Petty, Candy Samples and the always magnificent Jamie Gillis.
WW: Is there one particular film that you've always been trying to find but haven't been able to track down?
IS: There is. I'm a big fan of Bettie Page, and in the mid fifties Irving Klaw made four burlesque features with Bettie: Varietease, Striporama, Teaserama and allegedly Bettie appears in Stripper's Parade, which is lost. Some people say it was never released in theaters, but I have a copy of the pressbook, so there is hope a print may be out there waiting to be discovered.
What is the crown jewel of your collection?
IS: I found an ametuer shot, 85 second clip of Bettie Page posing at a photo club shoot in black and white. It's gotta be one of a kind. I released some footage of that to the guys making the film Betty Page Reveals All. It's definitely my best film.
WW: Do you have a favorite director, movement, or school from the golden age of porn?
IS: I have a spot in my heart for the 16mm "One Day Wonders," films made so cheaply, they would be shot in one day. If they are of the boring variety, that is, made with little creativity, oftentimes they are fascinating in a strange hypnotic meditative sense. On the other hand, many of these films fast paced and have a great sense of humor. An interesting thing about these films was that there was no regard for copyright on the music usage. You will hear various pop tunes of the day. Even the Beatles and Doors pop up once in awhile.
WW: Adult film is still fairly taboo. How do people react when you tell them that you have a huge collection of these movies?
IS: I haven't really had this as a problem, but I suppose mentioning it to some people could ruffle their feathers. I guess most of the people I hang out with are pretty easy going.
SEE IT: Erotica Awareness Month: The Climax screens at Clinton Street Theater. 10 pm Friday, March 31. $6 in advance, $8 day of show. Tickets are available at cstpdx.com.