The Sweet Smell of Sex

Andrew Lampert curator Anthology Film Archives

As an Archivist I spend much time hunting through cans, unearthing reels lost in the annals of Anthology Film Archives. I also somehow tend to get contacted when wide-eyed folks discover films and don’t know what to do with them. Time and again I am reminded that there are innumerable milestones and mysteries yet to be discovered, cans still sitting in closets, warehouses and flea markets. And somewhere out there in the sea of lost films is the feature THE SWEET SMELL OF SEX (1965, 72 minutes) directed by Robert Downey Sr. who, by the way, does not particularly care about the fate of this odd exploitation quickie. It was an assignment he picked up to pay the hospital bills for the birth of his son, Iron Man. Downey already had a name for himself in the burgeoning New York independent film scene thanks to an early short, BALLS BLUFF, and the featurette BABO 73 featuring soon-to-be Warhol superstar Taylor Mead.

All that said, underground film notoriety didn’t exactly pay the bills, and Downey desperately needed a gig. Luckily (or not) writer/producer Barnard L Sackett appeared with a script about Bebe, a “bumptious girl from back home in Indiana” who comes to seedy, sordid New York City only to find herself molested by a long line of local perverts. Ad copy and press notes discovered in the Downey file at Anthology claim that the film “takes you one step beyond reality” and “provokes torture in the chamber of the mind”.

Further paperwork and correspondence reveals that the film played at The Film-makers’ Cinematheque, a screening organization directed by Jonas Mekas. A few years ago I had the great pleasure to preserve BABO 73 and Downey’s other 1960s comedies CHAFED ELBOWS and NO MORE EXCUSES, so I suppose my interest in finding this particular film is more about being a completist than anything else.

Do I think that the movie, disavowed by its maker, will be any good?  To that I ask can an over-the-top no-budget low-brow drama about “people who claw their way to the bottom” be disappointing?

If we never locate this film than my second wish would be to dig up the second reel of Downey’s other lost (potential) masterpiece TWO TONS OF TURQUOISE TO TAOS TONIGHT. While this film was later cut down, re-titled and sort of seen as MOMENT TO MOMENT, the hilariously demented, wonderfully disjointed first reel that was recently recovered shows a lot of promise for the earlier edit.