Radley Metzger is a masterful erotic filmmaker. His films are seductive and sexy, and never prurient, or distasteful. One of his greatest achievements is Score, a 1974 feature, based on an off-Broadway play by Jerry Douglas, who also penned the film’s script. Fabulously stylish, the film was shot in Yugoslavia, and concerns a couple—Elvira (Claire Wilbur) and Jack (Gerald Grant)—who play a game of seduction, partnering off with Betsy (Lynn Lowry) and Eddie (Calvin Culver), respectively. The film was celebrated as one of the first to depict bisexuality, and its reputation was bolstered by the existence of both hard and soft-core versions. As part of the Free to Love film series, International House is showing the uncut version of Score, and director Radley Metzger will be in attendance for a post-screening discussion on January 24 at 7:00 pm.
Cinedelphia spoke with Metzger about his classic, landmark film, Score:
Cinedelphia: How did you come to make classy erotica and films like Score, Camille 2000 and the Lickerish Quartet, as well as an X-rated film under the “nom de porn” Henry Paris, and even a remake of the suspense film The Cat and the Canary?
Radley Metzger: Well, I guess it’s the reflection of the import and export. Whatever you do—and I haven’t thought a lot about it—but what I’ve done is a reflection of things that made an impression on me. I’m speaking broadly on storytelling, not erotica. I think that with the techniques you have to tell a story, either you’re an effective storyteller—and I’m not saying I am—or not. I say that with certain limitations and experiences. I can’t tell a war story effectively, not having any real experience making war, but in terms of relationships, I think it’s a fairly common denominator. So I have done everything from sex (Score) to suspense (Cat and the Canary) and low down humor (my Henry Paris films).
C: Where does Score rank for you in the pantheon of your cinematic output?
RM: Score was very significant in a way. I leaned most heavily on the source material. Everything I’ve done before and after, I had to bring a lot to the basic structure. Score was all done for me; that was one of the attractions. Jerry Douglas was clear what it was about and the characters were vividly drawn. That made everyone’s job easier. The parts were so carefully delimitated that the actors had little difficulty. It was the first time where I had direct live sound. Most of the work I’d done in Europe we had to post-sync the actors. The live sound made it easier. It also prepared me for Cat and the Canary. I owe a great debt to Jerry and [actress] Lynn Lowry. Her character is the focal point of the story, without her skill, I don’t think the film would have been as effective. I was very lucky to get her. Claire was from the original off-Broadway show. Lynn was a real find.
C: How did you cast the men? Did you (deliberately) hire gay actors for the male roles?
RM: The sexuality of any of the performers was not a factor in the casting. For the guys, I was dependent on and lucky that Jerry knew them. Cal Culver had just made a groundbreaking film, Boys in the Sand, and that was like The Jazz Singer of [adult] gay cinema. I didn’t realize the significance of it at the time. One night in Yugoslavia, he was talking about where that film fit in and how it gave him a super gay status. I was lucky to get him and Gerry Grant. And for Carl Parker, who plays Mike, the telephone repairman, I worked with him again in The Image [Metzgar’s next film, after two Henry Paris adult features]. The fact that they knew each other and Jerry made it familial. There was an issue between the women on the set, but other than that, we had the element that was probably the most important you need in making a movie, and that was enthusiasm. Everyone believed in the project. We had the luxury of isolation too in that we were all alone, the only English-speaking people in Croatia. The days were long and complicated.
RM: I think that’s a little bit my personal revolution to the kind of films I was brought up on. When I was coming of age, eroticism was always in films, but eroticism was punished. The promiscuous girl never got the leading man, the woman who sold her charms, always had a bad fate. The “good girl” always achieved ends the bad girl never did. As a reaction to that, I tried to do the opposite. You could have a free attitude and behave in a free way and not be punished. A parallel to that is that it could also be light. It didn’t have to be tragedy. You could look at [sex] in a fun way. That was a personal thing, to work against the clichés in cinema when I was growing up.
C: The film addresses social taboos—swinging, bisexuality, homosexuality, drug use, games of seduction. These things were certainly part of society, but rarely seen in films of that time. How do you think your work was progressive or transgressive?
RM: That was the role and the function of the independent filmmaker. If it weren’t, I don’t think we served a purpose to society. You have to go where others fear to tread. If you go over independent films they all have that common denominator. That’s one of the attractions that drew me to the story when I saw the play. I think that if you don’t have the umbrella of a major studio/production company, you have to find a niche that will call attention to yourself and bring an audience and provide something not readily available, so you take subject matter that is unconventional. You take what people whisper about and you repeat it in a louder voice.
C: The film has some amazing sets and visuals. I love the shag carpets, and the color light filters, the mirrors, and more. I was especially dazzled by the shot of the porn film projected on Jack’s white pants. What can you say about the distinctive look of the film?
RM: It was a certain amount of luck—I was able to avail myself with consummate artists. The cinematographer who shot Score was the second finest in Yugoslavia. The production manger was someone I had worked with before, and he was able to get me the cameraman. My film, Camille 2000, was shot by one of the top three cinematographers in Italy. They were great. When you take the cocktail of what the film looks like, one of the elements is time. I was able to give them the time it took to create the effects we got. Working with mirrors is always time consuming. The inflatable beds in Camille 2000 were a nightmare. It took 3-4 times as long to shoot than normal furniture. I was able to afford them the time to exploit the location and the villas in Camille and the castle in Lickerish Quartet to make it look as good as it did.
C: The actors put on fetish wear—cowboy, sailor, prostitute, and nun costumes; they role-play. What can you say about creating an identity, and is there a character in the film that you identify with?
RM: You touch on a number of things. To work backwards, the cowboy and other “characters” were in the play, but I’ve always believed in dress up and assuming another personality, or another aspect of their personality. But I think the whole concept of dress up is something that I’ve always found touches on an essential element for people. I’m not sure I’ve ever thought about what character I identify with. The responsibility that you have when you make a film that scares you the most is not for an individual character, but are you really creating a whole? If films have a shortcoming, it is that one character stands out. If people love the photography, you don’t have a successful film. They shouldn’t see the photography. Generally speaking, when you do a film like Score it’s a total fabric. That’s what you identify with—the initial thrust. In terms of Score, my job was whatever point the story had to make and what concerned me the most is that basic intention of the story—is that being realized? You’re telling a story backwards, sideways, and there’s no flow that you progress from beginning to end. That continuity is one of the great challenges.
C: Score moves briskly, and the connections/word play/seductions between the couples/characters is terrific. Their shots are framed to emphasize and focus on the actors’ arousing butts, breasts, crotches, chests. What can you say about the editing of the film?
RM: I did the editing, cause that’s how I started, as an editor. I took the time to get it. There’s an old saying, “Films are never completed in the editing, they are just abandoned at one point.” But we were able to take as much time as possible to get the effects we wanted.
RM: When the film was first reissued, I said it would never work. The characters keep marijuana in a pepper mill and [audiences] will laugh with it not at it. I was surprised people accepted it as a period film. But as for today, that’s a tough question. I don’t think it’s for me, a storyteller, to answer; it’s for a sociologist. There were always people who engaged in that activity; the question is how much has that expanded today? It seems to be that the activity is probably more accepted, but again, if it’s more talked about and accepted on a verbal level, or practiced, I don’t know.