I noted that the first Radley Metzger DVD set from First Run Features attested to the cohesiveness of Metzger’s vision of erotic longing as a necessary social malady that ignites relationships even as it corrupts judgment, then the three titles that constituted First Run’s second volume (a third is already in the works) point out what I neglected to do proper justice to: the raucous, irrepressible ambition of Metzger as a pornteur. Versatility characterizes his filmography, and though most directors who spread themselves over a variety of genres and formats typically sell their own talents short (picture a bodybuilder attempting to run the decathlon), Metzger’s jerry-rigged grindhouse sensibilities and careful attention to the vicissitudes of shifting human behavior, the thrill of the amorous pursuit, and the desperate bids for sexual authority, all punctuated by the use of real-time environments give his oeuvre a semblance of unity. Then there are the omnipresent breats and overdubbed female sighs. They also help.
The Dirty Girls has frequently been cited as the first “real” Radley Metzger film, after a few preliminary directorial efforts in the non-erotic realm. It certainly sets the stage for the films that followed—the first shot shows a woman’s hand suggestively lifting her telephone receiver off its cradle to prevent any interruptions. Actually, the film sets a few stages, as this sort of Mondo Battona (complete with faux-documentary voice-over narration following the characters around like an eloquent, omniscient gnat) details the completely separate lives of two prostitutes (one in Paris, the other in Munich) in short, anthology film format.
First is Garance, the Parisian street walker who picks up gentlemen in the corner bistro. An impossibly well-scrubbed girl, Garance’s encounters might seem disparate at a glance. In the first, she’s teaching a jittery neophyte the art of seduction (meanwhile, he’s inching ever closer to premature ejaculation with each piece of clothing Garance removes). In the second, she is horrified to discover she’s picked up a violent misogynist who whips her with his belt and attempts to rape her until the septuagenarian brothel concierge comes to her rescue. And finally she meets up with her long-standing client, a fatherly type who busts nuts over being beaten by a uniform-clad Garance. Simple enough: three customers, three outcomes, all in a night’s work. But there’s a subtle (i.e. easy to ignore if you happened to be a raincoat-wearing pervert circa the film’s initial release) feminist bent behind Metzger’s organization of the “chapters” in this first “book” of Dirty Girls, a double-time reawakening that showcases Garance’s disillusioned loss of sexual authority and subsequent climb back into the saddle, as it were (complete with horsewhip). The speed with which Metzger manages to unfurl this three-hanky redemption haiku only serves to accentuate the sad resignation of Garance’s fate: she relives this melodrama every night.
In contrast, Monique, the film’s second test case, may be (to quote the loopy narrator) “the woman of 10,000 pleasures” and an extremely-well-reputed-woman-of-ill-repute, but her sense of sexual worth is apparently the property of “Laurence,” whose call she waits for night after indifferently sex-ridden night entertaining obnoxiously eager American tourists and attending the sort of poolside party where ennui-stricken millionaire sugardaddies dangle diamond bracelets on fishing poles over the grasping hands of swimming call girls. Lest any of these scenarios get too heavy, Metzger devotes most of his attention to the little idiosyncrasies of pre-coital instincts (and misfires). Naturally, it all culminates in a cheeky, lesbian tease that seemed, to me, as though Metzger was winkingly cutting through all pretensions, effectively saying “I ain’t trying to teach you a damned thing.”
Speaking of sexual authority, Little Mother must’ve been an irresistible proposition for Metzger. A loose adaptation of Eva Peron’s life (made, so he claims, long before she was famous anywhere outside of Argentina), the film’s ambitions far exceed Metzger’s grasp, in part because the concept of using sexual congress as a tool and nothing more, as the Eva stand-in Marina Pinares does so here, is something that even Metzger finds psychologically improbable. Nonetheless, his fragmented, chronologically short-of-breath approach to the film’s form is always interesting, even if the gritty, industrialized Yugoslavian location shooting is a far and unwelcome cry from the Europosh delicacy that characterizes his other films. (Even the aristocratic capital dining hall that Marina invites the working class into, demonstrating her power over “The People” and their devotion to her looks more like a medieval artillery warehouse than a refurbished ballroom.)
As an ingénue, the only physical features that Christiane Krüger (as Marina) has in common with Metzger’s other protagonists are her perfect, alabaster complexion and magnificently buoyant breasts. Otherwise her thick accent is rather brusque where Metzger’s stock vocal delivery is usually breathy, meowing, and anxious. Her body remains rigid and alert instead of languorously reclining (her love scenes unsurprisingly feature her on top, bolt upright). Her jaw is strong and masculine instead of conic (best exemplified by his follow-up Score’s pixette Lynn Lowry). Not to be flippant about it, but this aesthetic casting divergence is the very essence of Metzger’s versatility. And even if he ends up locking himself out of Marina’s psyche, he still proves capable and cognizant enough to express his dramatic dilemma via a visionary tableau of erotic detachment: Marina and a suitor feel each other up on opposing sides of a shower stall pane of glass (an image that Chantal Akerman was no doubt inspired by while making La Captive).
Lesbian antics aren’t particularly alien to the world of Metzger (and even less so in the realm of hardcore), but gay male couplings were and still remain the erotica equivalent, more or less, of slipping a Roofie into a jar of Gerber’s mashed carrots. Hence Metzger’s adaptation of Jerry Douglas’s stage play Score, or No One’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf!, emerges as almost unquestionably the most transgressive of the director’s softcore films (though Score does surface from time to time in a mildly hardcore iteration, First Run’s DVD is the edited version), not by design or execution but simply by mere existence. In the film, Jack and Elvira (Gerald Grand and Claire Wilbur) play George and Martha to Eddie and Betsy’s Nick and Honey, with the sexually liberated couple (“liberated” being tantamount to libidinous in this film’s fairy tale, faked-French Riviera setting, once again filmed in Yugoslavia) hoping to corrupt the uptight, fresh-faced innocents (played by gay porno proto-superstar Calvin Culver and the aforementioned Lowry, whose button nose it would appear Michael Jackson has been attempting to emulate via plastic surgery all this time).
Jack and Elvira have defined their marriage as a long-running competition in which points are accrued with each successful seduction of an outside party, and same-sex trysts are worth double. The entire film, all cheeky double-entendres and dress-up games, is but the prelude to a virtuoso extended sex diptych with the ladies wearing out Elvira’s supply of dildos, chiffon scarves, and amyl nitrate in the upstairs boudoir and Jack successfully breaking the penetration barrier with not-so-reluctant bottom Eddie in the basement den among 8mm gay porn loops and neon blue shag carpeting. Metzger’s direction is flawless, demonstrating an awareness of his unwitting audience’s impending skittishness toward pansexuality by playing up the moments of nervous humor and wide-eyed zeal in his undeniably attractive “innocent” couple. (Betsy turns “Am I high yet?” into the chipper chorus to her own deflowering.)
At the same time, prudes be damned, Metzger doesn’t soft-sell the gay sex in the slightest. He even gleefully muddies up the fragile mindset of Eddie (obviously the character the predominately straight male audience of Metzger’s heyday would have to identify with, since he holds out the longest) when he imagines his wife pounding his ass in place of Jack, the two switching places until he finally settles on Jack. Don’t look now, boys, but that’s your façade of masculinity being treated like the adolescent posturing it is…and by your greatest cinematic ally, even.
Once again, we're talking audio-video transfers that border on criminal. Or at the very least irresponsible. First off, the Score disc is advertised as being the "unrated" version, but it's the same truncated version that was last released by Image, with a number of minutes sheared from the climactic sex scenes. (It's been reported that Metzger preferred this version, but even if this is the case, don't advertise the disc as being uncut.) They've even gone so far as to lie on the back of the box about the running-time of the film, reporting it as 89 minutes as it would be if it were uncut, though the actual running time of the edited version is the 83 minutes we have here. The audio on The Dirty Girls has that overwhelming hum that grows during silent stretches as an auto-equalizer attempts to keep the audio level at an even level throughout, which reveals the transfer for the VHS dub job that it is. Framing is pretty poor on all three, but perhaps the worst on Little Mother, which is also the least acceptable transfer in terms of brightness of image (it's hideously dark in spots) as well as color-balance (there are stink lines from the videocassette dubbing). Happily, Score, easily the best film in this particular volume, is also the least ruinously presented. I can't talk any further on these transfers, though, or I'll have to drink myself into a stupor.
Like with The Alley Cats last time around, the disc for The Dirty Girls features a short reel (six minutes) of "alternate nude footage," which is mostly alternate takes of shots that are actually in the film, only with exposed breasts. Since the film proper has its share of exposed breasts, I can't for the life of me figure out what made these alternate shots objectionable enough to replace with chaste retakes. Otherwise, each disc is accompanied with pretty limited collections of promotional art and production stills, original trailers (some of which manage to look less beat up than whatever third-generation material was used for the actual film transfers!), film notes by mondo-digital.com's Nathanial Thompson and a Metzger filmography and biography.
Nevermind that the transfers look more worn out than a street whore's love slot. This second batch of Metzger titles features the director's riskiest statement on sexual ambivalence.