From the early 1930s through the mid-1960s, the American motion picture industry was governed by detailed censorship restrictions that determined the content and character of Hollywood’s output. While the major studios were forced to abide by these censorship standards, a parallel cinema existed which thrived in creating a seemingly endless skein of independently and cheaply produced exploitation films that dared to offer subjects dripping with sleaze, violence and immorality. “Mau Mau Sex Sex” is a buoyant new documentary from first-time filmmaker Ted Bonnitt which lovingly recalls the twin careers of Don Sonney and David Friedman, two of the most prolific masters of the vintage exploitation cinema.
Today, it is hard to imagine that the grandfatherly duo of 84-year-old Sonney and 76-year-old Friedman were once responsible for churning out scores of films which filled the screens of grindhouse fleapits and isolated drive-ins with burlesque strippers, nudist camp frolics, maniacal drug fiends and sexual sadists. “Mau Mau Sex Sex” provides generous clips from the classic and not-so-classic efforts of this genre, offering a wild time capsule on what previous generations considered scandalous.
Clearly the most amusing offerings here are scenes from the “nudie” films of the late 1950s and early 1960s, which offered bare-breasted ladies in endlessly silly poses and situations. Despite the promise of clothing-free flesh, the nudie films were completely free of vaginal exposure and sexual intercourse…clearly a celluloid equivalent of the old marketing adage which advises the sale of the sizzle and not the steak. The nudie films were the innocent forerunners of X-rated flicks, which leave nothing to tease the imagination. Hard-core porno, which took root in the 1970s, put both men into self-enforced retirement when they realized that even they had limits to what they wanted to put on screen.
Intelligence and coherence were not basic tenets of these exploitation films. One 1930s effort, which claimed to be shot around the ruins of Angkor Wat, presented a plotline where bare-breasted Cambodian women engaged in mating ceremonies with gorillas. Another film from the early 1960s had a man who could change into domestic animals (including a goldfish) so he could spy on topless cuties shaking their stuff. Not surprisingly, few of these films ever broke through into the mainstream; the one certified classic of this genre, “Blood Feast,” is presented here with its celebrated tongue-ripping sequence but curiously without any credit given to director Herschell Gordon Lewis.
“Mau Mau Sex Sex” was filmed over a five-day period, which actually mirrors the shooting schedule typical of many old-time exploitation films. Director Bonnitt wisely prevents the film from turning into a dull talking heads documentary, keeping his elderly raconteur subjects front-and-center as they offer amazing tales on the various characters, dilemmas, trends and opportunities which they encountered. The result is a diverting and delightful visit with two unheralded indie cinema veterans with a surplus amount of anecdotes and zany film clips.
In case you are wondering, “Mau Mau Sex Sex” takes its title from one of the rare financial bombs of the genre: the 1954 documentary “Mau Mau,” which detailed the gruesome pro-independence uprising in Kenya. Sonney picked up the distribution rights to this serious film and tried to sleaze it up with a new sequence shot in a Los Angeles studio (complete with painted pseudo-African backdrops) of topless black women being attacked by Mau Mau “warriors.” Sonney now looks back ruefully on the film’s inability to find an audience or a profit, adding belatedly it might have done better if he marketed the topless aspects of the production under a new title “Mau Mau Sex Sex”!