The film director and production designer Alfred Sole passed away this past Tuesday at the age of 78.
I first became aware of Alfred about 15 years ago when I was looking through the New York Times archives. I came across a 1973 article about a controversial adult film called Deep Sleep. The article caught my eye because the Times almost never covered porn movies and because the story started out pretty folksy. A young guy in a small New Jersey suburb with a love of cinema had made an adult film. He’d never seen one before but he desperately wanted to make a movie and porn was the only type he could get backing for. With money from members of the local community, he enlisted his family, friends and some local actors to shoot the picture. Even the mayor’s wife was in it, though like many of Alfred’s family and friends, she performed in a non-sex role.
But then the tone of the article took a turn: it said Alfred and the film’s lead performers were now under investigation by the FBI and facing significant jail time.
Eager to learn more, I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for the FBI files. I eventually got back about a hundred pages of field reports and interviews detailing a robust investigation. What wasn’t included was any hint of how the case ended.
So I called adult performer Kim Pope, an early sexploitation actress who’d made the transition to hardcore films. She had been the female star of Deep Sleep and shared her memories of making the movie and the prosecution that followed. I asked if she’d kept in touch with Alfred and she said no – but that if I found him to please send her best wishes. Despite the controversy, she had only fond memories of him.
Lucky for me Alfred wasn’t hard to find. After Deep Sleep he directed a few horror films, including the cult favorite Alice, Sweet Alice from 1976 which featured a young Brooke Shields. He then went on to a prolific career in Hollywood as a production designer, working on popular TV shows like Veronica Mars, Castle and MacGuyver.
Alfred generously shared the story of Deep Sleep with me. I was fascinated by the tale, I decided to make a short film about it – something that tickled Alfred to no end. You can watch that early film below.
Our coverage of Deep Sleep was picked up by the Daily Beast. And that coverage led to a major documentary company deal to produce the story.
Over the past months, as a producer on the documentary project, I spoke with Alfred often. We were in pre-production and there were lots of details to work through. Alfred worried about the fact that we all wanted to make him the heart of the story. He was concerned that his memory wasn’t as good as it used to be. That in recent months he’d found himself searching for words much more than he used to. He said he didn’t want to let us down. I reassured him that there was no way that he could. In the end though, Alfred was just so excited about the project.
Then, like everyone else, I learned the news of Alfred’s death this past week. I’m so saddened by the loss of someone I was fortunate enough to call my friend these past 15 years. I’m grateful that so much of his creative output is available for audiences to appreciate. And I will keep doing all I can for the story of Alfred Sole and Deep Sleep to reach as many people as possible.
To mark his passing, we are premiering our short film, and reprising the 2015 podcast we made on Alfred Sole and the Ballad of Deep Sleep.
Deep Sleep – The Short Film
Deep Sleep – The Podcast
He didn’t know much about adult films or the industry, so he shot it in his hometown of Paterson, New Jersey and using a cast and crew made up of friends and family members.
This meant that the local lawyer, banker, policeman, high school teachers, funeral home director, the mayor’s wife, even Alfred’s wife and his mother were part of the film-making group. It seemed like everyone in Paterson knew someone who was involved in the making of ‘Deep Sleep’.
And so predictably when it came out it was a smash hit in New Jersey, with long lines of people breaking box office records trying to get into the theaters to see it.
But not everyone was impressed. And what followed was one of the most remarkable and notorious prosecutions of an adult film in American history. First the filmmakers were indicted on a state basis under an ancient anti-fornication statute, and then on a federal level for interstate transportation of pornography. Suddenly Alfred Sole found himself at the center of a storm. He was under attack both from the law and from everyone who’d helped him make the film in the first place.
On this Rialto Report, the people involved speak out for the first time in 40 years. We speak to –
Kim Pope, Deep Sleep actress
Joseph Friedman, Deep Sleep cinematographer
Butch Taylor, Deep Sleep’s soundtrack composer
This episode’s running time is 69 minutes.
Deep Sleep – The Stills
Willard Butts looks on
Jamie Gillis, in hammock
Deep Sleep – Press Coverage