MORE

Porn for the Young Moderns

Discovering the films of Radley Metzger is not unlike uncovering a stash of vintage Playboy magazines and realizing they are, actually, worth reading for the articles. Ostensibly a maker of dirty movies, at his best Metzger is in fact a top-notch filmmaker, a sharp social satirist with an eye for lush production design wrapped around his slinky, sophisticated sexcapades.

His 1972 film Score has just been issued on Blu-ray and DVD by the label Cult Epics, which will be releasing Metzger's 1970 The Lickerish Quartet early next year and a previously unseen version of 1969's Camille 2000 in the spring. Score is particularly notable in Metzger's filmography not only for its gorgeous look and startling wit, but also for its panic-free portrayal of uncensored male and female bisexuality. 

Metzger worked on training films while in the Air Force during the Korean War, and later cut trailers and did postproduction for Janus Films, helping to introduce U.S. audiences to the likes of Bergman, Truffaut and Antonioni. He eventually started his own company, Audubon Films, importing European art films for the sex scenes. It was a short next step to making erotic films of his own.

"Our audience at the time, as far as I could work it out, were what we called 'young moderns,' " Metzger, a lively 81, said during a recent trip to Los Angeles.

"What they called 'the briefcase trade,' men who wanted to see big knockers ... you don't have to worry about marketing to them. They'll find you. But what you were looking for were, I guess, [baby] boomers, with two kids, been married 12, 15 years, and they were just about ready for something that might be in the category of marital aid."

A recent screening of Score at Cinefamily proved Metzger's assessment of his audience still holds. While the back rows did have their share of seat-shifting solo men, what was most surprising was the couples: In all permutations of gender, their happy snuggles proved the lasting appeal of Metzger's films as a powerful aphrodisiac.

Score was based on an off-Broadway play written by Jerry Douglas, who retains writing credit on the movie, and the text of the play was filmed more or less intact. (Trivia sidebar: The role of a telephone repairman was originated onstage by a prefame Sylvester Stallone.) An innocent young couple (Lynn Lowry and Cal Culver) is seduced in tandem by a more experienced husband and wife (Claire Wilbur and Gerald Grant), creating a sexual roundelay fluidly and elegantly captured by Metzger in a long sequence that stands on its own as pure filmmaking.

While the play was set in Queens, Metzger wanted to relocate to the more scenic French Riviera. Unable to afford that, he went to the Dalmatian coast of what was then Yugoslavia. When the production was kicked out of the rented house they were using after going over schedule, Metzger turned his own hotel room into one bedroom set and used the hotel lounge for another. The hotel's house band, whose name has been lost to history, provided the evocative song "Where Is the Girl," used throughout the film.

"We learned early, never make a movie bigger than your budget," Metzger said. "Whatever we did, it was the best you could do for that money. We always kept the concept within our limitations. The films may look small, but they never look poor."

Score was a box-office disappointment, unable to compete with the oncoming hard-core boom. Metzger himself eventually succumbed to the inevitable, directing five hard-core films in 23 months under the name Henry Paris. Although even those films, including The Opening of Misty Beethoven, were better made than the average porno, things would never be the same. By the mid-'70s the time for films like Score, Camille 2000, The Lickerish Quartet and Carmen, Baby (his biggest hit) had passed.

Considering they are the work on which his legacy largely rests, how does Metzger classify those films now: elegant erotica? High-toned smut?

"Certainly naughty, certainly racy," he said. "I think they're very hard to do. Whenever somebody would say, 'You make dirty movies,' I'd say thank you. To affect people on an erotic level, I don't think it's that easy. I take it as a compliment. I think the alchemy is between 'dirty,' in quotes, and what today you would call hot. But what you cannot be is offensive.

"The one role you have is to start conversations, to bring things up. 'You know what I saw?' You open those doors and that's the best you can do."


Sponsor Content