Universal Seduction and Thorny Bosom

By Rosy Rockets

camille-2000-score-radley-metzger.jpgCamille 2000, 1969  

As sweet and decadent as Ferrero Rocher, and melting hot as fondue in a pot, Radley Metzger’s erotica targeted the aspirational Italian audience of the swinging sixties. Like many art house auteurs, Metzger was also a film distributor; this allowed him greater leeway from pitch to publication. In the wake of the 50s dawn of grindhouse, Metzger’s classics heralded a sexual revolution which was child-like, petulant, joyful and capricious. 

Morality moves in cycles, and today 21st century repression and prudishness meld the erotic with the neurotic. Mainstream porn usually caters to the swain – gay or straight, but never the twain. Glamour girls are starved and selectively re-inflated. If the women are girlish, they show it with knee socks and a dull wit. Metzger's leading ladies are fat by today's standards, and like their male counterparts they are often childlike – but their sexuality is always fully ripened. His actors are self-conscious but they do not break the fourth wall, or make a Brechtian feature of the camera operator. Their lovemaking is choreographed and yet naturalistic. The divine, lugubrious melancholy and hyper-natural sensuality of their clinches shames the bobbing Robin Askwith arse of the seventies, the sweatband capoeira of the eighties, the grim gymnastics of the nineties and beyond.

Metzger’s most prolific period began towards the end of the decade, and the bedfellows of his Camille 2000 included two other adaptations of romantic classics: Kubrick’s interpretation of Nabokov’s Lolita, and Marquand’s peculiar presentation of Southern’s saucy Candy (which was itself inspired by Voltaire’s Candide). Camille 2000 evolved from Alexander Dumas Junior’s La Dame Aux Camellias. The bastard son of the Three Musketeers’ creator drew on themes from his own youth, chiefly examining the motif of the whore redeemed. He spiced the Biblical Pretty Woman parable with the piquant promise of premature death, and his febrile fairytale was to inspire not only Camille but La Traviata and its slutty descendant Moulin Rouge!.

camille-2000-radley-metzger.jpgCamille 2000, 1969

The tragic heroine of Camille is Marguerite, portrayed by the unnecessarily beautiful Danielle Gaubert. She and the other revellers dance through the opening scenes of “Camille” like paraplegics struggling to undress; and they conduct their love affairs with similar clottishness. It is a pre-Gaultier parade of chainmail, sheer woolens, reversed collars and inflatable furniture. Life carries but a ridiculous semblance of meaning, and the drawling dialogue reflects this:

“Someone is knocking”


“He wants to get in.”

“Who doesn't?”

A venerated film critic was deeply unimpressed by Metzger’s meander through the flowerbeds, and tossed off a sneering review like a sticky blossom of tissue paper. Considering his personal circumstances, perhaps the critic was turned off by this lugubrious, cruel ode to mortality. The cancerous and consumptive may leave us prematurely – Gaubert herself died of the former at the age of 44 - but all humankind faces the same fate as a goldfish in a bowl. French idiom links sex and death with le petit mort. In a key scene, Metzger almost captures its synaesthesic oblivion with a focus-racking anamorphic camera pulsation which glances in turn from Camille to camellia. The post-coital comedown sprawl is distorted and angular as a Schiele sketch, rippling across lens and mirror. The transient ephemera depicted by set and costume designer Enrico Sabbatini chimes with the shallow immediacy of obsession – “I wasn’t born the day we met,” chides Marguerite in response to her young lover’s overtures. The soulless show-homes are thrown into sharp contrast when Marguerite flees to a more salubrious seaside sanctuary. Here, the cruel sterility of the monochrome interior gives way to the clean white of laundry, sails and fluffy clouds, and the lovers stroll in matching existential black outfits. But Marguerite’s fate has a dark irony, a visual poetry.

The Score marks Metzger’s evolution from soft to hardcore. (His erotic nom de guerre was Henry Paris, which can be spoonerised into an agreeably naughty nickname.) This warm, jolly adult fairytale can be purchased with or without its more explicit content. Cuts were made by Image Entertainment, coring the key sex scenes and leaving odd glitches in the soundtrack. The title refers to a challenge laid down between a loving but sexually insatiable couple, Elvira (a haughtily naughty Claire Wilbur) and Jack (the winsome, sassy Gerald Grant) who compete to seduce as many lovers as possible – the highest scoring conquests demanding a popped cherry, a broken boundary but never a broken heart. Within the narrative their game saves a marriage – between the young, sexually repressed Eddie (clean cut porn star Casey Donovan) and his wife Betsy (Dark Crystal puppet turned real girl Lynn Lowry). Eddie is a closet bisexual and Betsy is a Catholic prude; they are willing students who chart and articulate their sexual awakening with charmingly naïve commentary and great physical expression. The characters bicker like children, revelling in feigned innocence and genuine wonder. An open minded viewer will not see the quick flipping alternation between gay and lesbian sex scenes as an exercise in onanistic Russian roulette – each union is a beguiling study of human eroticism that should override the discerning viewer’s fragile sexual preference.

camille-2000-radley-metzger-2.jpgCamille 2000, 1969

The theatrical origin of The Score is immediately apparent. The dialogue compensates for theatre’s lack of visual intimacy – its adaptation to film is thus enriched, with every action (censorship notwithstanding) speaking louder than the verbal quips, ejaculations and pick-ups. The layers of dialogue and eye candy reach even greater depth though Metzger’s ingenious visual experiments – memorably, when Jack’s white sailor pants become a cinema screen for a grainy black and white porn film, allowing the projector to transpose a naked twig and berries across his clothed crotch. The original stage production, known as “Score”, starred Sylvester Stallone; presumably as the handyman plaything of the two central couples. It’s difficult to imagine him carrying off the dry wit, bareback backchat and naked vulnerability of either male lead.

camille-2000-radley-metzger-3.jpgCamille 2000, 1969

The original score was composed by Robert Cornford, whose limited CV includes work on the soundtrack for The Ren and Stimpy Show twenty years later, a suitable showcase for his clever genre hopscotch which mixes melodrama and funk with wit and style. His deft experimentalism matches the trippy imagery perfectly; one scene finds the fancy-dressed foursome getting stoned to ersatz Stones, the smacked up Jack overlapping it with a cassette recording of unrefined drum beats whose rhythm works in and out of the rock with a Doppler effect. The audio-visual conceits, without intruding on the simple story, illustrates the increasingly flexible relationships between four distinct characters, each one on their own fairytale journey. By the end of the picture, Eddie and Betsy are of course fully blown graduates of this unorthodox marriage therapy, and the final minutes of the film evoke wonderfully the goofy, group-hugging coda of a Hanna-Barbera animation.

Proper kissing. Natural nudity. Boys as pretty as the girls. Funky soundtracks. “Making love”. Would Emmanuelle 2000 speak of love, on Channel Five today? I think not. Metzger’s Betsy’s words are true: “It doesn’t really matter who you love, just as long as you do”.

Rosy Rockets is a freelance journalist based in Cambridge.