Bruce Sparks: Adult Cinema Loses Another Legend

LOS ANGELES – Veteran cinematographer Bruce G. Sparks, who shot for such diverse directors as Dino DeLaurentis and Richard Fleischer in Hollywood, and Joe Sarno and Carter Stevens in XXX, has died, reportedly by his own hand, though exact details of the death are not known. Sparks had been retired for several years, his last screen credit having been for the 1980 documentary, The Creative Adventures of Isamu Noguchi.

"I don't really remember when we met," said Stevens in an exclusive interview. "I know it was after Collegiates [1972] because he didn't shoot Collegiates, but then after Collegiates, there was a two-year stretch when I was doing a lot of non-union production work, so obviously I met him during that time. It might have been when I was doing a lot of work for Dino DeLaurentis, because I remember Bruce shot the screen tests for Mandingo; I production-managed those screen tests. Dino did a lot of non-union stuff. Richard Fleischer, the guy who directed Soylent Green, I actually saw him offer to get Bruce a union card, so Bruce could shoot IATSE stuff, and Bruce turned him down because he didn't like the union so much. He was very much of an independent mind. Bruce was an iconoclast, a very independent soul. He literally taught me to load a 35mm film camera on the back of a pick-up truck under a street lamp because he couldn't shoot the next day and I needed to get a shot done, and I didn't know how to load an Arri, and he taught me how to load an Arri so I could do the shoot myself the next day. That was for Lickety-Split [1974]."

Sparks began his Hollywood career in 1966, working camera mainly with famed adult director Joe Sarno on such creations as The Love Merchant, Skin Deep in Love, The Bed and How To Make It (a play on Richard Lester's then popular mainstream title The Knack and How To Get It, starring Rita Tushingham) and Anything For Money. Sparks also served as gaffer for Sarno's Red Roses of Passion, about a sexually frustrated woman who joins a sexy women's club, and later as lighting director for Sarno's The Swap and How They Make It, another punned title.

"He was a self-taught cameraman," Stevens recalled. "He was crazy as a loon, but he was my kind of crazy. I know, in the early days, Bruce studied at the Pasadena Playhouse, and I believe at one point he was roommates with Dustin Hoffman.

Sparks worked as Sarno's cinematographer from 1966 through the end of the decade, lensing such adult-oriented features as All the Sins of Sodom, Wall of Flesh, and several Swedish productions, including The Indelicate Balance and the Inga series, starring Marie Liljedal.

However, when Sparks began to do hardcore features with Stevens, he (like so many who work "both sides of the hill") adopted a pseudonym, Prudence Prevails, for his XXX work. Sparks and Stevens shared camera credit for such well-known adult classics as Lickity-Split, Highway Hookers, Rollerbabies, Teenage Twins, Double Your Pleasure and The Love Couch.

"He was my first camera on about half of my features," Stevens wrote in an email. "He was a man of rare talent and I can honestly say I learned more about camera work and lighting from him than I ever did in college. He single handedly made me a better filmmaker."

R-rated versions of two Stevens/Sparks classics, Punk Rock and Pleasure Palace, have just been released by Secret Key/Alternative Cinema.