Radley Metzger's Carmen Baby.

Erotic cinema will hit the big screen at the Film Society this August. Known for his chic and upscale depiction of the sensual on screen, filmmaker Radley Metzger will be celebrated with week-long series, “This Is Softcore: The Art Cinema Erotica of Radley Metzger,” featuring some of his most notable films, August 7-13. Metzger will be present for introductions and Q&As at select screenings.

Highlights of the series include Camille 2000 (1969), Metzger’s adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’s The Lady of the Camellias; The Image (1975), his uncompromising and groundbreaking depiction of sadomasochism set in Paris; The Lickerish Quartet (1970), his film about a female houseguest who seduces each member of a household that’s regarded by many to be his magnum opus, and has been declared “an outrageously kinky masterpiece” by Andy Warhol; Score (1974), in which a frustrated, competitive swinger couple has designs on another younger couple; and Therese and Isabelle (1968), Metzger’s adaptation of Violette Leduc’s censored autobiographical 1955 novel of sexual awakening and lesbian passion.

Regarded as a fascinating transitional figure whose unique brand of sophisticated erotic art cinema created an almost utopian space between the cheap grindhouse sexploitation of the ’60s and the full-on hardcore porn of the ’70s, Metzger was born in 1929 began as an editor and later commercials. He helped with the dubbing of …And God Created Woman (1956), cut trailers for Janus Films (notably some of their Bergman titles), and in 1958 made his first feature, Dark Odyssey, a drama about a young Greek immigrant in New York.

He and business partner Ava Leighton formed Audobon Films in 1960 through which they imported and then re-edited and distributed European sexploitation films. They released The Fast Set and The Twilight Girls that same year, earning enough money to pick up other titles, notably I Spit on Your Grave, and Mac Ahlberg’s I, a Woman, which proved to be a smash hit in U.S. in 1966. Metzger’s second directorial effort, The Dirty Girls (shot in 1963 and released in 1965), marked his emergence as a sexploitation film director from which he gained more notoriety.

The Film Society noted that Metzger's work was “commercially calculating” and that he “hit upon a formula that would make his films stand out from other sex films of the day: an eye for chic, glamorous beauty; a genuine sensuousness; a feel for the ’60s zeitgeist, an artful stylistic precision and control; glossy, strikingly upscale production values; and a predilection for Continental location shooting and casting—these were the hallmarks of the Metzger style.” He was particularly keen in “creating a total environment.”

As he put it: “I created an idealized enactment of sex, as a unifying force between people … In the area of eroticism, I think it’s easier to involve the audience if you deal with rich people… So I had to keep everything upscale. It’s a kind of seduction.”

[Tickets and a discount package for “This Is Softcore: The Art Cinema Erotica of Radley Metzger” will go on sale Thursday, July 17. Single screening tickets are $13; $9 for students and seniors (62+); and $8 for Film Society members. See more and pay less with a discount package starting at $30; $24 for students and seniors (62+); and $21 for Film Society members. The discount package prices apply with the purchase of tickets to three films or more. Visit Filmlinc.com]

Radley Metzger's The Cat And the Canary.

Films, descriptions and other information follow:

Camille 2000
Italy/USA, 1969, 35mm, 115m
The decadent high society of late-1960s Rome gets the royal treatment in one of the best and most visually inventive films from Metzger’s European phase. Set in a world of jaded and over-sexed beautiful people dressed in increasingly outrageous costumes, and interspersed with a succession of ever more debauched parties, this faithful adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’s The Lady of the Camellias tells the tragic story of doomed love between eligible bachelor Armand (Nino Castelnuovo) and beautiful but remote Marguerite (Danièle Gaubert), a kept woman. But in this collision of Old Europe grandeur and ’60s mod stylings, heroin is the new tuberculosis…
August 9, 9:30pm (Introduction by Radley Metzger)
August 12, 4:00pm

Carmen, Baby
USA/Yugoslavia/West Germany, 1967, 35mm, 90m
With this first prototype of his winning “Continental” formula, Metzger takes Prosper Mérimée’s 19th-century tale of an amoral gypsy temptress, updates it to Swinging ’60s Spain, and dresses it up with plenty of sex and visual style. In thrall to seductive grifter Carmen (played with easy charm by Uta Levka), naïve young policeman Jose (Claude Ringer) sacrifices all, only to be tormented as his amoral lover sleeps her way up the social hierarchy from minor officials to influential aristocrats in order to achieve her goals. Shot on location on the coast of Spain, Carmen, Baby epitomizes Metzger’s flair for erotic melodrama with polished production values.
August 7, 6:30pm

The Cat and the Canary
UK, 1978, Digibeta, 98m
Changing gears, Metzger tackles a British-shot period remake of the 1939 horror classic. It’s 1934 and the avaricious relatives of a deceased eccentric millionaire convene at his mansion 20 years after his death for the reading of the will—which comes in the form of a film in which the millionaire reveals his testament. The sole heir to the fortune proves to be innocent, young Annabelle (Carol Lynley)—but should she die or prove of unsound mind, a second film has been shot naming the beneficiary next in line. Let the intrigue begin! A dark and stormy night, a hideously disfigured madman escaped from a nearby asylum, a secret torture chamber—all the classic ingredients are in place. Assembling a powerhouse cast including Honor Blackman, Michael Callan, Edward Fox, Wendy Hiller, Olivia Hussey, and Daniel Massey, Metzger attacks this material with gusto, and a true knack for classic old dark house suspense.
August 11, 9:00pm

The Image
USA, 1975, 16mm, 89m
Adapted from the 1956 novel by Catherine Robbe-Grillet (writing under the nom de plume Jean de Berg) and also known as The Punishment of Anne, this uncompromising and groundbreaking depiction of sadomasochism is perhaps Metzger’s darkest film. Jean (Carl Parker) encounters the mysterious Anne (Rebecca Brooke as Mary Mendum) at a Paris literary party only to discover that she’s the sex slave of middle-aged dominatrix Claire (Marilyn Roberts). Fascinated, he is drawn into their high-class world of dominance and submission, first as observer and then participant in the women’s erotic games, which take a turn when Claire hands Anne over to Jean for his own personal use. While Metzger never loses sight of the humanity of his characters, be warned—in its harrowing and relentless penultimate chapter in Claire’s “gothic dungeon,” The Image takes you to the dark side—its scenes of torture and flagellation are emphatically not for the faint of heart. The Image also marks the point at which Metzger makes the transition from softcore to hardcore, begun with the tentative first steps in Score, while nevertheless maintaining his customary high style and visual invention. With its fearless depiction of the objectification of Anne in a succession of no-holds-barred sexual scenarios, The Image ranks alongside Barbet Schroeder’s Maîtresse as one of cinema’s best depictions of S&M.
August 12, 9:15pm (Q&A with Radley Metzger)

The Lickerish Quartet
Italy/USA/West Germany, 1970, 16mm, 88m
Metzger considers this enigmatic tale of a decadent family’s seduction his “most personal and most free” film. Based on an original story idea by Metzger and Michael DeForrest, The Lickerish Quartet opens with a quote by Pirandello (“All this present reality of yours is fated to seem a mere illusion tomorrow”). An aristocratic married couple and their son attend a carnival after watching a crude black-and-white skinflick and recognize a female motorcycle stunt rider in a form-fitting white leather outfit as one of the women in the film. The girl accepts an invitation to their grand Italian castle, but when they show her the film, there is no longer any resemblance between the blonde on-screen and their gorgeous brunette guest—but the next morning she has become a blonde. As the girl seduces each family member in turn, liberating them from their repressed states, illusion merges with reality. Metzger’s most distinctive and most beguilingly unconventional film, regarded by many as his magnum opus, and declared “an outrageously kinky masterpiece” by Andy Warhol.
August 8, 9:15pm (Introduction by Radley Metzger)
August 13, 4:45pm

Little Mother
West Germany/USA/Yugoslavia, 1971, 35mm, 90m
In a major departure, Metzger fictionalizes the real-life saga of Evita Perón, seven years ahead of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical. In this sexy tale of intrigue and ruthless ambition, a series of flashbacks detail the rise to power of third-rate actress Marina (Christiane Krüger), who marries South American dictator Colonel Pinares (Siegfried Rauch) and successfully cultivates a mass cult of personality around her persona as the nation’s “Little Mother”—but her Machiavellian schemes don’t end there…
August 13, 7:00pm

USA/Yugoslavia, 1974, 35mm, 90m
How do you know who’s touching who during group sex? “First you don’t know, then you can’t tell, and then you don’t care,” explains worldly Elvira (Claire Wilbur). She and husband Jack (Gerald Grant) are frustrated swingers on an extended visit to the French Riviera (re-created on the Yugoslavian coast), whose competition for the most sexual conquests has reached its six-month deadline. On this final evening, Elvira has until midnight to seduce wide-eyed Betsy (Lynn Lowry), with some chemical assistance, while Betsy’s husband Eddie (Calvin Culver) plays sailor and cowboy with Jack downstairs. Although it’s an adaption of Jerry Douglas’s (Queens-set!) Off-Broadway play, the film’s rapid-fire, subtext-heavy dialogue, enclosed domestic setting, and scenario of a seasoned couple playing host to a pair of innocent newlyweds suggests a kinky, sex-romp reworking of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.
Co-presentation with Viva Radio.
August 7, 8:30pm (Q&A with Radley Metzger; party to follow screening)
August 13, 9:15pm

Therese and Isabelle
France/USA/Netherlands, 1968, 35mm, 118m
Writer Violette Leduc’s censored autobiographical 1955 novel of sexual awakening and lesbian passion brought Metzger to Paris to tell the story of sensitive, forlorn Therese (Essy Persson), who is abandoned by her newly married mother and businessman stepfather at a high-class boarding school. She’s immediately befriended by class minx Isabelle (Anna Gael) and develops a crush on the more worldly girl. When an encounter with suave Pierre (Rémy Longa) at a nearby bar leads to a traumatic first sexual experience, Therese turns to Isabelle, acting on the erotic attraction between them in a succession of increasingly explicit Sapphic trysts. Delicately building a charged eroticism, Metzger’s direction fuses the classicism of his elegant black-and-white camerawork and George Auric’s sweeping score with the modernism of the film’s time-shifting narrative—and while they may be just a shade too old to pass for adolescent schoolgirls, Persson and Gael share a potent chemistry and sensuousness that makes the film genuinely intense.
August 9, 6:30pm (Q&A with Radley Metzger)
August 11, 4:30pm