Radley Metzger's 'Camille 2000' updates an Alexander Dumas story.

YBCA Revisits Vintage Erotica

Dennis Harvey May 19, 2011

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts' series “Three-Way: A Trilogy of Vintage Erotica” expands the sensuous cinematic horizon with diverse old softcore features that run the gamut, from B&W "adults only" material to stylish color spectacular—both late 1960s and highly European—to a forgotten 1970s documentary about an abortive midwestern shoot of a serious indie drama with graphic sex scenes. YBCA film programmer Joel Shepard has long demonstrated a taste for yesteryear's sexploitative treasures, such as kick-off feature Camille 2000, Radley Metzger's mod 1969 update of the Alexander Dumas story about a dying courtesan's true-love romance with a young man, despite the disapproval of her wealthy patron. Metzger was the era's most elegant sexploitationist—when softcore films were rendered obsolete by the arrival of hardcore in the early ’70s, he made some of the few truly stylish and interesting features in that genre.

Camille 2000 is perhaps Metzger’s most sophisticated film in terms of production value and felt drama, even if the next year's Lickerish Quartet provided a more enigmatic, imaginative canvas. (Both features have, coincidentally, just been released in deluxe DVD editions.) The major delights here are very much of their moment, what with much druggy orgiastic psychedelia, transparent blow-up furniture, aluminum-foil wallpaper, a sleep-pod of white gauze and plastic, a swinging lounge-y score, a kinky “prison party” scene. Such flourishes more than make up for the fact that the film's leads, Daniele Gaubert and Nico Castelnuevo (the latter from Umbrellas of Cherbourg) aren't really up to tragic histrionics.

In contrast to that fairly lavish Italy-shot color extravaganza, Robert Flaxman and Dan Goldman's 1976 documentary A Labor of Love chronicles the making of a very low-budget U.S. independent drama that had the distinction of being the first (and supposedly still only) movie shot in Chicago with hardcore sequences. Yet The Last Affair's intentions were lofty: As a production secretary rather hopefully says, it aimed to be "a combination of Fellini, Truffaut and Bergman."

Unfortunately, what emerged was an apparently dreadful relationship drama whose one and probably only theatrical run prompted home-town critic to call it “the most godawful mess I've ever seen.” The documentary is interesting, however, for showing the uniquely beleaguered shoot itself: Uri Geller-looking, German-raised director Henri Charr (who continues to make obscure direct-to-video films) copes with leads who can't stand each other, necessitating an all-too-willing young production assistant to do the actual deeds in close-up with actress Debbie Dan, an argumentative handful who probably alienated the entire crew by wrap day. After so much hassle and drama, ironically, The Last Affair's producer got cold feet, cutting the sex scenes entirely from final cut.

Last but ohhhhh so far-from-least is a movie YBCA showed—in its apparent only existing print—four years ago to a small audience that I can pretty much guarantee will all (myself included) be there again to again to confirm what we can't quite believe we saw. That would be The Wild Pussycat, a 1969 B&W Greek cheapie in which Nadia (Gizela Dalli) takes unique, prolonged revenge on worthless stud muffin Nick (Dean Byron), the man who—as seen in flashbacks—very badly used and abused her sister Vera (Kathy Impro).

To reveal more would be counterproductive, although if you've seen a great 1975 movie by prolific Italian schlockmeister Joe D'Amato known as Emanuelle's Revenge (as well as numerous other titles), you'll have an idea where things are headed—because that sufficiently different, equally great exploitation flick is an (apparently unacknowledged) remake. But have you seen it? Of course you haven't. That film is almost as rare as The Wild Pussycat.

Suffice it to say you will laugh, you will cry (albeit from laughing). And you will experience possibly the greatest domestic-cat reaction shots in the history of cinema.