Alfred Sole has loved films all his life and has made a career in it. At the age of 75, he is still working as a production designer at major studios. In a highly entertaining article, Ashley and April Spicer describe how he got his start in films.
As I approach him, Alfred smiles broadly and extends his hand. He has a boyish face and a soft-spoken, warm manner. He’s of average height with salt-and-pepper hair. He’s like your friendly uncle, or your favorite person to sit next to at the neighborhood bar.
But looks can be deceiving, so I have to ask myself: Is this really the man who in the early 1970s was at the center of a national scandal about a pornographic film titled Deep Sleep? A film he was rumored to have shot in his parents’ home in Paterson, New Jersey using a cast and crew made up of family and friends? And it wasn’t just those close to him who participated in the movie—it was alleged that many in his suburban town had taken part, including a local lawyer, banker, police officer and funeral home director. Hell, even the mayor’s wife, high-school teachers, and Alfred’s mother were said to have been part of the erotic production.
What followed was one of the most notorious national prosecutions of adult film in American history.
Is this the man once described by the government as ‘Public Enemy Number One’?
As a young man, Sole used his design skills to start a clothing boutique that did quite well but his boyhood dream was to make his own film. The problem was getting money to do it and that is where the story gets weird and wacky.
[W]hile Alfred’s clothing boutique was doing well, it wasn’t doing fund-a-feature-film well. So during a regular card game he hosted at his Paterson home, Alfred turned to his friends for advice. He explained how he wanted to make a movie—specifically a Western—but he didn’t know how to fund it. The guys around the table began teasing him, spouting less-than-helpful ideas to raise the desired funds. Then one friend put forward a fateful suggestion: if you make a porno, I’ll give you five grand right now.
Alfred dismissed the offer, laughing it off as a joke. But soon others around the table piled on. And before he knew it, he’d raised $25,000.
“You want an X-rated movie? Alright, I’ll make one if you’re serious about the money,” Alfred said.
They all replied yeah. Hell, yeah.
“The guys who threw in the money… one was a judge, one was president of a bank, and there was an accountant. These were all guys in their thirties. Playboy-reading, horny guys from New Jersey. But thanks to them, I now had the budget to make a film.”
Many investors in early porn films were motivated by the chance to turn a healthy profit. Gerard Damiano’s Deep Throat had just come out and the papers were filled with tales of the film’s earnings. With its simple story, accessible humor, and famous party trick, Deep Throat helped expand the audience for adult films from raincoat-clad middle-aged men to mainstream couples curious about—and titillated by—the hoopla.
The promise of profit was a motivating factor for Alfred’s card buddies, but Alfred remembers that they were spurred on by more prurient interests too. “They wanted to come to the casting sessions. They wanted to be on the set. It was that time period, you know? It was the sexual revolution. These were suburban guys with a little bit of cash, hearing about wife swapping and open relationships—and they wanted in. It was in the air in the 1970s.”
While there was no doubt that Deep Sleep would be marketed as an adult film, Alfred didn’t give much thought to the fact that he was making a pornographic movie. For him, Deep Sleep was simply a chance to be involved in making a real film.
Along with those offering their support was Alfred’s then-wife—the same woman now warning Alfred not to speak about Deep Sleep. She worked with Alfred’s mother to organize the production, prepare meals for the crew and generally help out any way she could. The one area she and Alfred avoided discussing was the hardcore sex. When asked why, Alfred answered “The sex stuff wasn’t the fun of it. The fun was making the movie.”
The article says that many big-name actors, producers, and directors like Barry Sonnenfeld, Wes Craven and Francis Ford Coppola got their start and honed their skills working in adult films. Many cinematographers and sound and light engineers also learned their craft in these films and continued to work on them to makes some money while working on more mainstream films.
Everyone involved in the film hoped that that it would make some money but assumed that it would be quickly forgotten and their role in it remain undisclosed. But an ambitious local prosecutor, egged on by the local Catholic church, decided to make it into an obscenity case and, to the dismay of the people involved in it who had hoped to remain anonymous, the resulting puritanical witch hunt became big national news, and they couldn’t stay in the shadows.
The article describes the mechanics of making a low-budget film, somewhat complicated by the fact that it was an adult film. How they shot the scene in a funeral home is particularly memorable. It struck me that this whole story could form the basis for a comedy film.