Last night my husband and I watched Radley Metzger's 1972 film “Score”. We'd seen it before, in the nineties, when we first discovered a collection of Metzger's work on VHS (remember VHS?) at our local independent video store (remember independent video stores?). The film was as lively and erotic as I had remembered, though some of the more dated references evoked a laugh or two.
Most of my readers are probably not familiar with Metzger. He began making sexually-oriented films in the late sixties and is responsible for ground-breaking efforts such as “I, a Woman” and “Therese and Isabelle”, one of the first films to concern itself with lesbian love. Later in his career, under the name of Henry Paris, he directed hard-core features including the classic “The Opening of Misty Beethoven”. The movies that initially made his name, however, skirt the edge between art and porn. They include nudity and simulated intercourse, but the attention to characterization and dialogue, not to mention the elegant cinematography and breathtaking locales (many of Metzger's films were shot in Europe), move these films into a category all their own.
I don't know how many of you have watched modern “adult” movies. Based on my experience, most contemporary porn is pretty boring. The characters are primarily presented as bodies, who are largely interchangeable. They have no connection with one another beyond the physical tab-A into slot-B. There's little or no conversation, no buildup of tension, no feeling of transgression. One has no sense of any of the participants as individuals. Furthermore the sexual interactions tend to be annoyingly stereotyped and predictable. There is zero suspense.
Metzger's work, in contrast, and “Score” in particular, focuses on the development of sexual attraction and the lure of the forbidden. Some of his films are more serious than others, but all are concerned with the experience of desire as much as with its fulfillment.
“Score” is one of his more light-hearted offerings. Jack and Elvira are a sophisticated, swinging couple who compete in their seductions. They set their sights on Eddie and Betsy, a pair of apparently innocent newlyweds. However, this is swinging with a twist. Elvira lays her snares to attract and corrupt angelic-looking Betsy, while Jack is determined to fulfill Eddie's barely-suppressed homoerotic fantasies.
Neither Betsy nor Eddie falls immediately into bed with their pursuers. Elvira and Jack are gradual and subtle in their seductions. The characters are naked by the middle of the film, but it takes many sensual touches and intense, smoldering stares before the victims actually fall. Metzger vividly communicates the embarrassment and fear that mixes with Betsy's and Eddie's burgeoning lust. When they finally succumb to their hosts, the viewer feels a release of tension that goes far beyond the physical.
Metzger's characters live in a permissive world where any sort of sexual activity might occur, including same-sex interactions. “Score” is cheerfully kinky in its acceptance of homosexuality, orgies, voyeurism, even a touch of S&M. It aims to arouse but not particularly to shock. Watching the film brought me back to the days when sex was fun, when it was relatively safe to surrender to desire.
Modern porn has much to learn from Metzger's work. Even if you find porn offensive, you might well appreciate Metzger's films. He has a healthy respect for his characters and their sexuality. In his world, sex is made to be enjoyed—and the chase is as exciting as the consummation.