Radley Metzger, who died aged 88 on March 31st, was arguably America’s greatest erotic filmmaker. Alongside Russ Meyer – who was just as great, but who made unashamed smut rather than erotica – Metzger showed that erotica, be it soft or hard, could work as art. He wasn’t alone in that, of course, but Metzger’s work had something extra special about it – a touch of class and sophistication that made his work more than just porn. This really was Porno Chic, critically praised and as close to the mainstream as erotic cinema could get.
Metzger began his career as a film editor in the 1950s, and in 1961 formed Audubon Films, a distribution company specialising in continental sex films (or at least films that could be marketed as sex films) – titles like I, A Woman and The Twilight Girls. But as well as importing films, Metzger began directing them, and by the second half of the 1960s, was developing a name for himself, with films that stood out from the pack thanks to their style, sophisticated feel, production values and intelligence, often having literary origins. His late Sixties run – Carmen, Baby, Therese and Isabelle, Camille 2000 and The Lickerish Quartet remain among the most impressive sex comedies and dramas in film history.
With shifting morals and the relaxation of censorship in the 1970s, Metzger tested the waters for more explicit material in 1974 with Score, which featured one hardcore gay scene in the midst of its comedy of swinging manners, and then made The Image, based on the classic BDSM novel by Jean de Berg / Catherine Robbe-Grillet, and possibly the greatest adult movie ever made. From the mid-1970s on, Metzger shot hardcore under the name Henry Paris, and received as much praise for these films as he had for his softcore work. The Opening of Misty Beethoven still tops many ‘best adult movie’ polls, and Barbara Broadcast, The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann, Naked Came the Stranger and Maraschino Cherry all showed the same level of style and sophistication as the earlier works even if for some people – myself included, I must admit – they didn’t really work as well as the soft films
Metzger also tried his hand in the mainstream, with a 1978 remake of The Cat and the Canary, and returned to the softcore world with The Princess and the Call Girl in 1984 before retiring – like many of his generation, the adult movie shift from film to video production, with a reduction in budgets, shooting time and values didn’t appeal to him.
But he remained active, interested in film and proud of his legacy. Several years ago, there was talk of a comeback – he met several people I know in London in search of a screenwriter. The films never happened, but Metzger at least began to get the acknowledgement that had eluded him since he stopped making films, with special edition blu-rays and screenings in respectable venues. An ending he deserved. I hope that in his latter years, he knew just how many people adored his work, admired his talent and were influenced by him.
Radley Metzger 1929 – 2017