A little late for Valentine's Day, First Run Features is reissuing a handful of Radley Metzger's films individually on DVD today. Often referred to as the counter of Russ Meyer, Metzger was probably the king of American art-house erotica in the 1960s and 1970s.
The Lickerish Quartet (1970) is regarded by some as his masterpiece. And though three of his prior films (the lesbian romance Therese and Isabelle (1968), his erotic adaptation of the opera Carmen entitled Carmen, Baby (1967), and somewhat kinkier Camille 2000 (1969), by the time The Lickerish Quartet hit theatres, the discerning film-goer knew who he was. A nameless upper-class family of three (father, mother, son) become enthralled by a circus biker chick (Silvana Venturelli) whom they invite to watch a 'blue movie' with them. The woman, credited as 'the visitor,' is not a lusty tough-girl in the fashion of Meyer's Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill!, in fact her character is far more reminicent of the Terence Stamp's "visitor" in Pasolini's Teorema. She's a mystery that's never solved, but not without becoming the object of the family's sexual fantasies.
Score (1973) was Metzger's first film before donning the alias Henry Paris. Though he claims Score was filmed as a hardcore feature, the hard sex has been lost in time; all that remains is a saucy comedy about a bourgeois couple who invites two naive newlyweds for a night of erotic awakenings. Elivra's seduction of the young Betsy seemed pretty natural, but when the film begins to explore the two men's (homo)sexuality, you begin to understand Metzger's idea and presentation of sexuality onscreen. Though he does delve into a Bataille-esque world of sadomasochism in The Punishment of Anne (or, The Image, as it's known on DVD), his ideas of sexuality are refreshingly positive ones. Though one might bring up the fact that all of these films were made pre-AIDS, The Lickerish Quartet, Score, and his porn masterpiece The Opening of Misty Beethoven do more that offer a look at the sexuality or sexual fantasies of the time. Instead, they offer a sex-positive expose, where characters embrace fully their own complex sexualities. All of his films (as most erotic films of the time period and contemporary pornos) allow the female characters to expose their attraction of other females, but, in Score, he shows us that it's a two-way highway. And never does Score feel "gay" as it does "sexual," and this is where the adjective "Euro" works best. While his scores, actors, and setting recall a non-specific European feel , it's truly his openness and embrace of human sexuality that clarifies this description. Metzger displays a healthy, beautiful fantasy world where people take risks and no one judges them for it. A surprising outlook coming from one of the meccas of occidental sexual repression, the United States.