This Is Softcore: The Art Cinema Erotica of Radley Metzger
August 7 – 13
The preeminent director of the Golden Age of Erotic Cinema and a pioneering American independent filmmaker, Radley Metzger is 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.
Born in 1929, Metzger got his start as an editor, dabbled in commercials, helped with the dubbing of …And God Created Woman, 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. In 1960 he formed Audubon Films with partner Ava Leighton. Their business plan? To import, re-edit, and distribute European sexploitation films. They released The Fast Set and The Twilight Girls that year, and made enough money to go to Europe on buying sprees, picking up and releasing a host of 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—and he never looked back.
Commercially calculating, Metzger 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. Moreover, he had a particular interest 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.”
All of this distinguished him from the lowbrow vulgarity and earthy vitality of Russ Meyer (Metzger’s polar opposite in every respect) and the leering slapstick romps of Tinto Brass, to mention the director’s most notable softcore peers. Metzger would later cite French auteur Claude Lelouch, maker of heady, glossy melodramas and sex comedies, as his touchstone. But when his classy brand of sex film went out of fashion as the success of Deep Throat opened the floodgates to graphic sex on the movie screen, Metzger boldly reinvented himself as Henry Paris and crossed over into the hardcore-porn world, bringing his brand of high-quality filmmaking, superior production values, and passion with him. He successfully made five films in this mode, beginning with the 1974 The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann, and achieving acclaim with The Opening of Misty Beethoven two years later. And having made his point, left the business behind, head held high.
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