What do a collector of bull semen, a septic tank pumper, and an embalmer have in common? The obvious answer is: they all do the jobs that most of us wouldn’t go near, even for large amounts of money. As such, the three men who perform these tasks are perfectly suited to be the subjects of David Sampliner and Tim Nackashi’s documentary “Dirty Work.”
Russ Page is a “reproductive physiologist,” meaning he goads bulls into trying to mate with cows, then uses an artificial vagina (a device of his own design) to collect the bull’s junk. What kind of man would choose this particular career path? Someone like Page, who started breeding animals at the age of 6, as it turns out. Indeed, the common thread that runs through all three men’s stories is the unorthodox childhood each experienced. Darrell Allen (who cleans septic tanks) and Bernard Holston (the aforementioned embalmer) were both likewise drawn to their particular career paths at a young age. Allen quit school to work full time after the 6th grade, while Holston dug his own cemetery in his backyard at the age of 10 before learning the funeral biz when he was 12.
Each man is an odd duck in his own way, but Holston comes off as the most philosophical about his chosen profession. He realizes most of us don’t want to think about what happens to our loved ones once they’re in the ground, and does his best to be sympathetic while still letting loose with the occasional coarse remark.
Allen, whose company motto is “A Good Flush is Better Than a Full House,” is a cultural anthropologist of sorts. He opines on trends in condom use (down after the introduction of the Pill, up after the appearance of AIDS) and the effectiveness of diet pills, while Page is just weird. He views his job as a necessary one, yet is the only one in the film who doesn’t seem to really enjoy his work. His approach is much more workmanlike than the other two, who joke their way through their jobs.
Someone’s got to fetch the semen, I guess, and “Dirty Work” uses a decent mix of humor and introspection to show us a few of the vital services provided by those who happily lack the squeamishness possessed by most of us.