When master of erotic art cinema Radley Metzger takes the stage, you know you’re in for a treat. At the perfect age of eighty-five, the iconic filmmaker is every bit as charming, intelligent, gracious, charismatic, and wonderfully witty as ever, regaling us with tales of the ins and outs of his historic and tremendous career. It’s been thirty years since the release of his last film, The Princess and the Call Girl, but thanks to the Film Society of Lincoln Center and their This is Hardcore series, audiences were able to get a taste of his stunning and progressive mid-career films, from the swinging sensation of Score to the deliciously strange The Lickerish Quartet.
Not only a filmmaker, but an editor and distributor as well, Metzger began his career as an editor at Janus Films, cutting trailers for the likes of Michelangelo Antonioni and Ingmar Bergman, after releasing his acclaimed but unsuccessful passion project Dark Odyssey and starting his own distribution company Audubon Films (named after the legendary Audubon Theater in Washington Heights). Debuting in the 1960s and ’70s, his films were lauded for their candidly sexual nature, garnering attention with an X-rating, but for Metzger, it’s always been the “in-betweens” that have mattered most. From his literary adaptions such as Therese and Isabelle, the black-and-white youthful lesbian love story with visuals akin to that of Alain Resnais, to his Henry Paris hardcore films like the hilarious and creamy dreams of The Opening of Misty Beethoven, his work is always as expertly crafted as it is erotic.
Having made films internationally for most of his career, Metzger’s devout professionalism and passion for storytelling and detail allowed him to call upon some of the most sought after set designers, composers, and directors of photography from around the world, resulting in work that is as modern and progressive in its sex positive attitude as it is aesthetically impeccable in its lavish grandeur. So before a screening of his twisted and tantalizing take on S&M, The Image, I sat down with Metzger at Lincoln Center to discuss his early days of innovative cutting, the “great pussy drought” of the 1950s, and getting in at the apex of porno chic.
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I love to compare Philippe to a painter. He tries to extract small things in existence, the simple details. He loves to paint simple beauty, the existence in a simple beauty.
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“There are certain qualities about American culture that ordinarily, certain American directors would totally overlook. They wouldn’t find a neon sign of a stagecoach going like this that fascinating, but because of his European background, I guess, this thing suddenly strikes him, having an obsessive quality about it.”
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Your pink lipsYour arms upstretchedI can’t breathe without youBut this circle of ribsKeeps working on its own.
When I discovered cinema, there was a moment when I was only concerned with movies who had a real link between the reality of the director and the life they had. I was only interested in Truffaut, Godard, and Pialat—movies that existed because they were connected to their own lives. In my head I was thinking, okay, if I like the movie, if I like the idea of living in the movie, I can say to myself, this woman exists because it’s the world of the life of the director—which is a bit stupid and naive, but I loved the idea of autobiography. When I’d watch a movie and say to myself, okay it’s just imagination and it never happened, I was a bit disappointed. But if I could see a movie that was connected to reality, I was so happy. This was maybe because of the kind of movies my father was making. But then I was fascinated by the movie Magnolia. At the age of 29 years old, I can’t even imagine how a young man [Paul Thomas Anderson] could create so many characters so well and have it be so well done and so well painted, and from the imagination. So it all changed a little bit. But for example, Wes Anderson, when you start to think about it, he makes movies from some part of his life, and it’s also very joyful. The game is also to try and understand who he is. He doesn’t make documentaries about his life, he makes movies made about elements of his life.
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