Feb 9, 2013

Blu Ray Reviews: Radley Metzger Triple Bill

On February 11th, Arrow Video are releasing three Radley Metzger films, Camille 2000, The Lickerish Quartet and Score as dual format editions.  You'll find a combined review of all three releases below.

The Films

When these films landed on my doorstep, given my limited prior knowledge of Radley Metzger (I had seen only one of his films before this; The Image, made after Score), I was expecting three helpings of sixties and seventies sexploitation, but, from the opening moment of Camille 2000 - the earliest of these three films - it's clear that Metzger has more highbrow aspirations than most directors working in adult film.  Not only is Camille 2000 adapted from the story by Alexandre Dumas, but it sets out a determinedly stylised stall from the off, opening with a slate and an informal scene of the cast horsing around on the steps of the opera house the first scene will take place in.

Metzger clearly has a signature style as a filmmaker, and you can see it reflected and refined through these three films, which each have strong visual identities.  While they deliver the sex, nudity and eroticism that audiences would have gone to them in pursuit of they also want to entertain and satisfy in terms of storytelling.

Camille 2000 is the weakest film here, its story of the fall of Marguerite a modern day courtesan (perhaps an overly polite word) and the affair she has with a man who is simply not rich enough to keep her in the style to which she's accustomed is well acted, especially by leading lady Danièle Gaubert, but at 130 minutes the pace is extremely slack, and the drama doesn't quite sustain the film.  That said, it is incredibly striking looking.  Constrained by the censorship conditions of 1969, Metzger has to find interesting ways to imply the harder action he can't show.   This leads to a fun little metaphor where he repeatedly racks focus between Gaubert and some flowers in one scene, the rack getting faster as she gets more worked up.  It's likely for the same reason that there are so many shots, particularly during the sex scenes, in which we see the characters in mirrors.  In one shot, taken from above, the entwined bodies of Marguerite and her lover Armand (Nino Castelnuovo) are reflected over and over, creating a multilayered effect that is pretty unique.  Camille 2000 is also strong from a design standpoint; the boldly coloured late 60's chic creates a striking look for the film.

Beautifully photographed and framed throughout, the film hits standout moments when it combines these qualities with its stronger moments of storytelling, as in a long orgy sequence in which Marguerite and Armand, now split up, attempt to make each other jealous.  This is where the performers really excel too, selling the emotional as well as the physical content of these scenes.

If Camille 2000 is flawed but promising, for me, The Lickerish Quartet, from 1970 delivers on the promise.  Here Metzger ups the explicitness of his erotic content, strips back the setup and delivers a surreal and playful work that not only bears but positively demands analysis.  In an extended opening sequence a middle aged couple and their late-teenage son (Frank Wolff, Erika Remberg and Paolo Turco) watch and critique an 8mm adult film (often mocking it).  The son doesn't want to continue with this form of entertainment, so they go out to a carnival and see a motorcycle stunt ride.  When the female rider takes her helmet off the couple believe that she (Silvana Venturelli) is one of the girls from the loop they were just watching.  They invite her back to their home, and that's when things get very strange.

Sexploitation cinema doesn't usually need much interpretation; the purpose is clear from the start, most don't seem to aspire to saying much beyond 'look at these boobs'.  The Lickerish Quartet is different.  There are likely as many readings of this film as there are viewers, for me, the most interesting thread is about cinema.  The opening scene could easily be taken as Metzger's critique of the worth of his own work, while the rest of the film retains that idea, but also uses the story, the ever-changing film within the film and the editing to say something about the effect of cinema on our perception.  It's also entirely possible that that reading has nothing to do with what Metzger wanted to say with this film, but whatever your take on its meanings, this is a  fascinating film that is clearly operating on a much more sophisticated level than your typical slice of softcore.

Of the four leads (who are, essentially, the only people in the film) three are excellent; Venturelli is seductive and mysterious, while Frank Wolff and Erika Remberg add to the 'anything could happen' atmosphere with their detached performances as the bored, jaded aristocrats.  Only Paolo Turco lets the side down, though he's saddled with the film's worst dialogue.  Once again the deign is striking and the now more explicit sex (none of Camille 2000's careful concealing here) is actually pretty sexy, thanks in no small part to the stunning Venturelli.  Ultimately though, The Lickerish Quartet is notable for much, much more than its sex scenes, it's a rewarding and interesting film that straddles the line between art and smut as capably and intriguingly as the best of Walerian Borowczyk's work.

1974's Score is the last and latest of these three Metzger releases, it also likely to be the more controversial one for the director's admirers.  Score exists in two cuts: an uncut version which features a hardcore scene and an R Rated version.  From what the usually very reliable anti-censorhip site Melonfarmers says, it seems that Arrow initially submitted the uncut version, and were asked to make a little over two minutes worth of cuts to get an 18, but that the version now being released is cut by almost five minutes more, which would suggest that when the film was resubmitted the decision was taken to simply submit the R Rated version.  I've asked for comment from both the BBFC and Arrow on this issue.

Censorship issues aside, Score is yet another fine film from Metzger.  Based on an off Broadway play (which featured Sylvester Stallone), Metzger transports the action from New York to a coastal town in Europe, but otherwise keeps the story of a swinging couple in their thirties Claire Wilbur, who played the same role on stage and Gerald Grant) who have a bet running on how many people they can 'score' with and their attempts, over 24 hours to seduce a couple about ten years younger than them (Calvin Culver and cult star Lynn Lowry).  The thing that still makes Score rather different to your usual sexploitation film is the configuration of its pairings.  Both the older couple are bisexual, and the film contrives a same sex partner swap (the deleted hardcore scene is between Grant and Culver).  I can only imagine the reaction of the dirty mac brigade on 42nd street in 1974, not just because, though there is quite a lot of nudity and a brief sex scene before, the film takes an hour or more to get to the main sexual event but also because this would have been something you were unlikely to see at the time outside of gay porn.

The film is dialogue heavy, and the cast all acquit themselves well.  The elfin Lowry is perhaps best; her naive and repressed character slowly melting away, influenced by drugs and a headily sexual atmosphere, but Claire Wilbur is also excellent as the more forceful woman, whose unarticulated frustrations as she slowly tries to seduce Lowry are pretty funny.  You'd expect less of Calvin Culver and Gerald Grant, as neither was so much an actor as a gay porn star, but they both do good work.

Metzger's visual invention was employed to practical as well as artistic purpose on this film.  Lynn Lowry at one point developed a fever blister on her lip, leading to one of the film's most striking images as she and Wilbur talk with an odd decoration; a seesawing plastic bar, filled with water, obscuring the lower halves of their faces.  Set in a more typical home than The Lickerish Quartet, this is perhaps the most visually restrained of these three films, but Metzger still has a great sense of composition, and the film never feels static or stagebound, even in the long sequence that takes place in the older couple's house.

A lighter, more direct, film than either Camille 2000 or The Lickerish Quartet, Score is nevertheless highly enjoyable.  It's solidly written and acted, looks great, and in terms of its eroticism it certainly caters for all tastes.

The Discs
All of these transfers are much of a muchness, and all of them are seriously impressive given what and how old they are.  All three films exhibit some print damage (Score more than the others), but it's never intrusive and damaged frames are very much the exception, rather than the rule. The rest of the news is good; while the HD 'pop' you get from the very best Blu Rays is understandably absent, these films are very pleasing to look at.  Detail is impressive (and explicit) and the colours seem vibrant and true (especially compared to clips of the films seen in some of the interview footage).  Grain is present, but neither it nor DNR seem to affect the film like look of the picture.  It's not their most revelatory work, but these editions maintain Arrow's reputation for quality. 

The Extras
Extensive, as you'd expect.  All three films get commentary tracks with the talkative and engaging Metzger, alongside film historian Michael Bowen, and all three discs also have trailers for each of the three films. 

Camille 2000 and Score both have lengthy behind the scenes footage from the set, given context with more commentary from Metzger (though he does repeat some of the information in the commentary tracks).

Camille 2000 and The Lickerish Quartet each feature deleted and alternate scenes (which really show up how good the films look).

A handful of other bits round out the video extras.  On Camille 2000 there is a restoration comparison, on The Lickerish Quartet a comparison between the location and dubbed soundtracks and on Score a 19 minute interview with Lynn Lowry, who is very candid about both the good and bad experiences she had relating to the film.

Finally, each of the films comes with a collectors booklet by Cinema Sewer's Robin Bougie, these were not supplied for review.

Though I was less keen on Camille 2000 than on the other two films, I would highly recommend all of these releases, and watching them more or less back to back, as they chart the development of a man who seems to be a highly individual and interesting filmmaker, working in a field where most people would be content to turn out dross.

Camille 2000

The Lickerish Quartet / Score

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