The Art Cinema Erotica of Radley Metzger

Radley Metzger was born on the Grand Concourse of the Bronx during the crash of 1929 and spent much of his youth in air-conditioned, double-feature movie theaters. It was there, as for so many future film artists, that his two abiding passions were born and synced: erotic visualization via celluloid. He learned his craft in the editing room, first in the Air Force during the Korean war producing propaganda films, and then at Janus Films cutting and dubbing trailers for the American releases of some of the great European directors of the late 1950s — Ingmar Bergman (Wild Strawberries), Michelangelo Antonioni (L’Avventura), François Truffaut (Jules and Jim), Jean Renoir (French Cancan).

Starting his own production and distribution company, Audubon Films, Metzger began making his own films with the profits. Between 1957 and 1986 he made eighteen films that comprise a uniquely intelligent and elegant body of work exploring eroticism on film with unprecedented wit and style. And he hired truly luscious European actresses, in the Brigitte Bardot mode — Essy Perrson, Daniéle Gaubert, Silvana Venturelli — whose innocence, like our homegrown Marilyn Monroe, provides their potent, unexpected, allure.

Metzger invariably based his films on literature – Camille 2000 on Dumas fils, Carmen, Baby on Prosper Mérimée, and The Lickerish Quartet (“an erotic duet for four”) on Pirandello. Andy Warhol, a devoted fan of Metzger’s, called the latter “an outrageous, kinky masterpiece.” Metzger wrote the scripts himself under various pseudonyms, often “Jake Barnes” in a sly nod to Hemingway’s impotent hero. Highlights in the upcoming festival include Therese and Isabelle, an overt, yet tender, budding lesbian love story adapted from the memoirs of Violette Leduc, subject of the recent, moving Martin Provost biopic Violette, and The Image, adapted from the 1956 French sadomasochistic novel of the same name by Jean de Berg, non de plume for Catherine Robbe-Grillet, then the young bride of the “pope” of the nouveau roman, Alain Robbe-Grillet. It is the film that the insipid Story of O should have been.

This first New York retrospective of eight of Metzger’s films provides the rare opportunity to see them on the big screen, for which they were made, in what was a very different time and place erotically from the quagmire of our current facile online instant-gratification roundelay. They dazzle. And Metzger, himself, a handsome but reclusive eighty-five-year-old, will be on hand to explain all those amorous unexplainables.

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Category: Film
Film Society of Lincoln Center
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