Friday, September 9, 2011

Radley Metzger's The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann (1974)

Easily one of the most important archival releases of the year, Distribpix's new collection dedicated to Radley Metzger's The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann is a powerhouse release and essential purchase for Metzger-fans and cinema-lovers. This new double-disc edition of Metzger's first outing as the legendary Henry Paris offers up the film completely uncut and beautifully remastered. Armed with an arsenal of valuable extras, this new version of The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann is not only the best edition of this film ever released but one of the best releases of its kind ever.

Frank is a private detective, and self-confessed peeping tom, who is hired on by a Mr. Mann to spy on his wife Pamela, as he suspects she is having an affair. Frank follows and films Pamela as she makes her way through various Manhattan locations and soon finds himslef involved in a life much more complicated and surprising than he would have ever imagined.

Despite being shot on an extremely low-budget in less than a week, The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann contains the same sort of depth, polish and style as Radley Metzger's more well-known films from the sixties and seventies such Therese and Isabelle, The Lickerish Quartet and Camille 2000. A wonderfully self-aware work powered by a smart script, witty dialogue, terrific performances and Metzger's considerable skill behind the camera, The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann takes all the conventions of a typical adult-film and playfully turns them inside out. As Lawrence Cohen notes in his wonderful analysis in Distribix's near fifty page liner-notes, The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann is a, "legitimate work of art", and, "one that deserves the loving attention of film connoisseurs." Radley Metzger's first Henry Paris film waves a defiant middle-finger to film fans and historians who insist on ignoring the golden age of adult cinema as a viable art-form, and it is an ideal entryway for newcomers interested in 'The Other Hollywood'.

Film historian Benson Hurst points out in his excellent notes for Distribix's booklet that The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann came about due to a few different factors, with two of the most notable being the financial failure of Metzger's previous film, the excellent Score, and the release of Damiano's Deep Throat in 1972. Hurst notes that, "overnight the landscape for soft-core films changed", and that, "the market for stylish fantasy trips made with intelligence and high production values", like the films Metzger had been making for more than a decade, were gone. Audiences were enjoying the new-found freedom to watch more explicit forms of filmmaking and, though he was hesitant to join in, Radley Metzger took the plunge with The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann and for five years he delivered the most exquisite and smartest adult films American audiences had seen before or since.

The one aspect about Radley Metzger I have always valued the most is just how much this man loves film. The near fetishistic obsession with celluloid is apparent in all of Metzger's best films and this is especially true of The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann. Hurst writes that it just took a few minutes of meeting Metzger before the conversation turned to film and he noted that, "Radley balances an encyclopedic knowledge with a humble and genuine interest in other people's opinions." Radley Metzger, now in his seventies, remains a man fascinated by all things cinematic and this obsession is reflected in many of his most memorable characters, several of which can be found in The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann.

It might be a surprise to those who just know his reputation as an erotic auteur, but the two most repeated images in The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann don't concern sex. Going along with Radley Metzger's love for cinema, the two things we see the most of throughout the film are a camera and projector. Like in his earlier masterwork The Lickerish Quartet, the characters in The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann spend much of the running time watching and studying film, and we, as an audience, are treated to numerous shots of the camera, the inner-workings of the projector and even the film itself. Metzger's first Paris production is a strikingly post-modern work that is so confident in its self-awareness that it doesn't miss an opportuinity to comment on it. Make no mistake though, while it certainly has elements of satire in it, this isn't a parody of an adult-film. It is in actuality an embrace of the genre and what it is capable of. It is also a slap in the face to the conservative groups looking to ban these films and prosecute those involved with the film's most biting moment being a line delivered by Metzger's editor Lola Lagarce, who shows up as a poll-taker throughout the film asking Pamela about heated issues of the day. I won't give away the film's most explosive and funniest moment but I will say that it is perhaps the most jaw-dropping line in all of Metzger's filmography.

It is fitting that such a high quality film as The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann be graced with an extraordinary cast and it certainly is. As the title character striking looking Barbara Bourbon is quite wonderful. Sexy, warm and witty, Bourbon really shines as Pamala Mann and its a shame she only appeared in a handful of films before retiring. Distribpix's booklet features an enlightening new interview with her that will be of great interest to those who ever wondered what happened to one of adult-cinema's greatest disappearing acts. The rest of the cast is made up of some of New York's finest including the uber-talented Eric Edwards and Jamie Gillis (whose sporting a head of hair here that I would kill for) and the iconic Georgina Spelvin, who delivers a very funny and inventive performance as Pamela's friend Linda (her Rhoda to Bourbon's Mary if you will). Also on hand in smaller roles are Sonny Landham, Darby Lloyd Rains, Marc Stevens (excluding a goofy charm), Alan Marlow, Levi Richards and gorgeous Naomi Jason (billed as Day Jason). Naomi, who would appear in the terrific The Passions of Carol in 1976, is a real scene-stealer here as a receptionist dealing with a very particular form of office-harassment.

Shot on 16mm, by furure Oscar winner Paul Glickman (as Marcel Hall), The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann, like so many other of these films made during this period, offers up a wonderful view of New York City in the mid-seventies. With its numerous street-shots, The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann acts as much of a valentine to the city as say a Woody Allen film from the period. For folks, like myself, who have fond memories of the city Metzger's film will be a real eye-opening experience as New York is presented so lovingly and so incredibly well.

While the release of the uncut version of The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann would make Distribpix's new collection a must-buy the Criterion style treatment the film has received as far as extras go make it truly indespinsable. Disc-one offers up a fascinating commentray track from Metzger himself, as well as the original theatrical trailer, a stills gallery and an excellent near 40 minute interview with Eric Edwards. The exhaustive extras continue on disc 2 in the shape of a truly special near 40 minute chat with Georgina Spelvin (such a charmer), a 2011 re-release trailer, outtakes, stills, press-clippings, a then and now look at the locations and a never before seen alternate version of the film prepared for, but not released in, 1976. Add on the impressive almost fifty page booklet and a glossy still of Bourbon and you have one of the most comprehensive and worth-while DVD collections releases of this or any other year.

More information on The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann can be found at Distribpix's official site, order-site (NSFW) and blog. It is one of the essential collections in recent memory and Distrippix's dedication to a film most would be content to ignore is both noble and noteworthy. It is Distribpix's second Radley Metzger release (with the first being the double-disc set of Maraschino Cherry) and the rest of the Henry Paris films are in the works for future release.


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