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Monday, February 4, 2013

From the Journal of Hyman Mandel: Radley Metzger's THE OPENING OF MISTY BEETHOVEN (1976)

What a magnificent run it had been.  Between 1966 and 1976, New York born filmmaker Radley Metzger had delivered a series of stunning films that showed him as one of the bravest, most innovative and most vital directors on the planet.  Whether his camera was capturing the streets of New York or a European countryside, Radley Metzger proved himself as one of American Cinema’s true greats, even though his deserved place in the Golden cinematic canon has still not been granted by many film historians who have continued to either ignore his landmark work or degrade it.  

While an argument can be made as to whether The Opening of Misty Beethoven is Radley Metzger’s greatest film, it is hard to deny that this 1976 masterpiece isn't his most representative.  With The Opening of Misty Beethoven, Metzger managed to capture and combine the sensual decadence of his European lensed work of the late sixties with the witty hard eroticism of his New York based pictures of the seventies.  The Opening of Misty Beethoven is the ultimate Radley Metzger film and one of the most important, and finest, English-language films of the seventies.  

While The Opening of Misty Beethoven is rightly often granted the title of the greatest adult film ever made it is also one of the warmest and wittiest.  Metzger’s modern update of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion has the exhilarating flair of a classic Lubitsch film and the cinematic bravado of a vintage Hawks.  Metzger’s razor-sharp script is packed with the kind of memorable dialogue that would have made any of the great classic American screenwriters he so admires blush with envy.  The globe-trotting The Opening of Misty Beethoven (Metzger took the production to Paris, Rome and New York) is also stylistically one of the most thrilling films of the period and Metzger’s compositional strengths teamed with Oscar winner Paul Glickman’s photography will be eye opening to even the most jaded film buff. 

The Opening of Misty Beethoven was recently unleashed on a new DVD and Blu-Ray collection by Distribpix that rivals anything Criterion has ever mounted.  Treating the film as the great work of art, and bold cinematic achievement, that it is the folks at Distribpix (led by the great Steven Morowitz) have released the best archival disc of the decade and the most important, as no other film offers up the much needed rewrite of accepted film history like The Opening of Misty Beethoven.  Distribpix’s collection offers up a sparkling and lovingly restored new remaster of Metzger’s uncut opus with hours upon hours of supplemental features including documentaries, interviews, vintage materials, outtakes, deleted scenes, audio-commentaries and, best of all, the long-rumored ‘alternate’ cut of Misty.  Lawrence Cohen writes in his beautiful liner notes, in the massive fifty-plus page book that accompanies the DVD, that watching The Opening of Misty Beethoven will make film lovers rub, “ones eyes in disbelief that a such a creation actually exists” and that pretty much sums up the feeling I get when I hold the package Distribpix has produced for us. 

Metzger admits in the enlightening audio-commentary that accompanies The Opening of Misty Beethoven that after the success of his first two “Henry Paris” productions The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann and Naked Came the Stranger that he felt like he could do anything he wanted with his newest venture and that confidence is on display throughout the film.  The Opening of Misty Beethoven is the work of a master with the knowledge that he was at his peak of his powers as an artist and a filmmaker.  Film historian Benson Hurst writes in Distribpix’s booklet that The Opening of Misty Beethoven, “premiered in 1976 boasting a script, cinematography, music and acting of a caliber never seen before or since in the (adult) industry”.  This was Radley Metzger’s Magnum-Opus and I think, perhaps, the great director realized that very fact when he was making the film in the mid-seventies.  

While all of Metzger’s films are wonderful examples of true ‘director-driven’ works they all benefit greatly from Radley’s uncanny eye for casting.  The Opening of Misty Beethoven is populated by perhaps the greatest cast he ever assembled from the star making supporting turns of Gloria Leonard to Jacqueline Beudant to Ras Kean to Mary Stewart to Jenny Baxter to Terri Hall (seriously swoon) to the jaw dropping legendary lead performances by Jamie Gillis and Constance Money…every scene is just filled with some of the most beautiful, charismatic and talented performers of the period and to say they all serve the intelligence, and timing, of Metzger’s script incredibly well would be a gross understatement.  

The spirit of the late Jamie Gillis haunts every frame of The Opening of Misty Beethoven.  His award-winning turn as Dr. Seymore Love is one of the great, great creations of the seventies and stands with any ‘mainstream’ performance from 1976 you care to mention.  Gillis’ delightful work in the film is given a further heart wrenching dimension after one reads Hurst’s lovely notes about how much the film meant to the great man, which is summed up so wonderfully succiently with, “Happy times.  Happy Place.”  Hurst’s later recollection of helping put touch Jamie in touch again with his greatest leading lady Constance Money shortly before his death due to cancer in 2010 is unbelievably moving and I doubt any lover of the film, and this period, will get through this story without shedding at least a few tears.  

And what of the elusive and mysterious Susan Jensen a.k.a. Constance Money, the alluring and intoxicating disappearing-act who brought Misty Beethoven to glorious life more than thirty-five years ago?  While Distribix couldn't convince her to appear in the supplements that are on their Misty Beethoven collection, they did track her down and the documentary (and notes) on her are eye opening (I especially love when Metzger helps warmly set the record straight about her in the commentary) and the fact that she is penning a memoir is amazing news.  While she appeared in a few films after The Opening of Misty Beethoven, Money remains frozen in time due to her iconic work as Metzger’s most memorable heroine.  There is no need to say the film wouldn't have worked without Constance Money…she‘s like a collective cinematic dream as Misty Beethoven and every moment she had in front of Metzger’s camera is, for the lack of a better word, magical.

Fuelled by a tremendous ad-campaign, a grand-opening night and an audacious soundtrack (compiled by the great music director George Craig), The Opening of Misty Beethoven opened in 1976 and damn near became the crossover smash Metzger had hoped for and deserved but, at the end of the day, America (and mainstream cinema) was (and is) just too uptight to truly accept the film and it remains one of the great ‘hidden’ movies in film history, although Distribpix’s jaw-dropping collection has already started opening some eyes and changing some minds.  Time rewards great works and the time for The Opening of Misty Beethoven is NOW and Radley Metzger’s acceptance into the established cinematic canon is long OVERDUE.  

Benson Hurst writes that The Opening of Misty Beethoven left Radley Metzger absolutely exhausted and that, “the grueling months in the editing room (really) took their toll".  While he managed to direct a few more films, including the terrific final two Henry Paris films Barbara Broadcast and Maraschino Cherry, Metzger would never again be able to make a film quite as powerful and visionary as The Opening of Misty Beethoven.  With the film, he had reached the top of the mountain, took a moment to survey his great creation and then took the inevitable journey back down.  

Distribpix went to heroic lengths in restoring The Opening of Misty Beethoven and getting it, not only on a DVD set, but also Blu-ray.  While all of the extras they assembled are indeed godsends finally getting to see the alternate cut of the film (which includes a number of takes and even scenes not in the original) is particularly breathtaking.  The collection is exhaustive, lovingly assembled and it makes previous releases of the film seem absolutely quaint (although the VCA disc is worth holding onto for a commentary track with Gloria Leonard and Jamie Gillis that isn't included on the Distribpix release).  The DVD and Blu-ray set isn't the only prize available for fans of the the film as there is finally now a soundtrack (which features an astounding forty page booklet detailing Ian Culmell’s astonishing archival dedication and digging), t-shirts, posters and more.  The lucky patrons who were able to give larger amounts to the ambitious drive to get the film on Blu-Ray were even treated to additional discs of outtakes (which I oh so hope to get to see someday).  The whole package (and the passion that went into making it) is quite awe-inspiring.  

Recently Sight and Sound conducted their once every decade poll regarding the Greatest Films ever made and the results were as dull and stagnate as ever. The history of film is being turned into a tenured aging professor, at another gala honoring his past works, ignoring the students who carried on his great ideas long after he has stopped caring.  Ignore the canon, seek out the cinematic fringe dwellers and create your own greatest films the words of the great Hyman Mandel, "never let the fact that they are doing it wrong stop you from doing it right."

-Jeremy Richey, 2013-


dfordoom said...

A great review of a great movie. I'm tempted by the new Blu-Ray edition - the old DVD edition that I have doesn't do justice to Metzger's artistry.

Stacia said...

Absolutely beautiful post, Jeremy. And those screen caps are astonishing!

Metzger is a director I want to get in to, but I get busy and things happen and he always gets delayed. I even have the 2-disc set of Pamela Mann that I got after reading DforDoom's terrific post a few months ago, but the set is still unwatched. No more! Metzger is happening for me today, no excuses.

Nostalgia Kinky said...

Thanks so much to you both and Stacia I do hope you enjoy Metzger's work!