The Swinging ’60s (and ’70s) live on in the sexploitation films of Radley Metzger.
Among countless reasons for a Midwest culture vulture to dream of visiting New York in early August is “This Is Softcore,” a taboo-breaking film retrospective devoted to the 1960s and ’70s art-house erotica of Bronx-born writer/director Radley Metzger.
For those who haven’t yet discovered Metzger’s bevy of sexy satires, including 1974’s sublime “Score”: Imagine the threesome of Michelangelo Antonioni (“L’Avventura”), Elaine May (“The Heartbreak Kid”) and Roger Vadim (“Barbarella”) getting frisky during a late-’60s campus screening of Ingmar Bergman’s “Smiles of a Summer Night” and then retiring to a swinging singles bar to write a screenplay. The result of that heady ménage would likely approximate the minor masterpieces of sexploitation that Metzger mustered before the cold showers of the Reagan era and the VCR finally brought him down.
Now 85 and as intellectually hot as ever, Metzger will be at New York’s Film Society of Lincoln Center through Aug. 12 to introduce and discuss some of the eight features in the series — a happening, per ’60s lingo, for which there’s no substitute. Still, video on demand can at least get us to second base with the filmmaker, as three of his lush romps, including “Score,” are available for streaming via Fandor, with another, 1967’s “Carmen, Baby,” on Amazon Instant Video.
The director’s ultimate conquest (at least to my dirty mind), “Score” was shot in the former Yugoslavia. But as Metzger announces in the first scene, the film is set “in the village of Leisure, in the land of Play, deep within the Erogenous Zone.” Amazingly, there’s a plot. One or two lurid digressions aside, “Score” tallies the partner-swapping dalliances of Elvira and Jack (Clare Wilbur and Gerald Grant), an insatiable married couple who set out to seduce the absurdly strait-laced Betsy and Eddie (Lynn Lowry and Calvin Culver).
To his credit, the director never followed a straight line in his smut. Indeed, the near-constant carnality in “Score” climaxes with Metzger cutting between a steamy pair of same-sex trysts — a radically limber contortion in ’74. The movie’s camp quotient runs hilariously high, thanks to plenty of goofy dialogue (e.g., “I’d climb aboard a porcupine if it struck my fancy!”). Nevertheless, Metzger’s “sinematic” style rivals his story for serious transgression, as when the filmmaker has one of the men screen footage on the other’s body for a double-whammy sequence that’s positively visionary.
Earlier this year, Metzger spoke of the “personal revolution” that “Score” represented to him.
“When I was coming of age,” he said, “eroticism was always in films, but eroticism was punished. The promiscuous girl never got the leading man, the woman who sold her charms always had a bad fate. … As a reaction to that, I tried to do the opposite. You could have a free attitude and behave in a free way and not be punished.”
Also notable on VOD
Fandor’s trio of liberated Metzger films, which also includes “Camille 2000” (1969) and “The Image” (1975), is streaming as part of the site’s “Spotlight on Sexploitation.” Other highlights of this cheeky series include Russ Meyer’s “Fanny Hill” (1964), whose title character becomes a chambermaid in 18th-century London, and “Mondo Keyhole” (1966) by Jack Hill, whom Quentin Tarantino has hailed as the “Howard Hawks of exploitation filmmaking.”
Japanese titles in the 18-film series include 1967’s melodramatic “Slave Widow” by Mamoru Watanabe, who allegedly directed more than 300 “pink films” in his native land, and Ryu Murakami’s notorious “Tokyo Decadence” (1992), in which a shy college girl turns tricks for wealthy execs and Yakuza thugs.
Send questions or comments to Rob Nelson at VODcolumn@gmail.com.