Saturday, 25 October 2008

The Opening of Misty Beethoven (1976)

The first thing that has to be said about Radley Metzger’s The Opening of Misty Beethoven is that it is a hardcore porn film. The second thing to be said about it is that it’s an extremely good film. It’s not merely a good movie by the standards of hardcore porn; it’s a good movie judged by any standards.

It’s a movie that demands to be judged by the same criteria that one would apply to any mainstream film - to be assessed in term of plot, dialogue, acting, cinematography, directing. And in all of these areas it’s a triumph. Which will come as no surprise at all to anyone who is familiar with Metzger’s earlier softcore erotic films.

It’s based on Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion. Dr Seymour Love (Jamie Gillis) is a sexologist, and on a visit to Paris he meets an American prostitute, Misty Beethoven (played by Constance Money). He decides that she’s the most incompetent hooker he’s ever encountered. She has no interest in her work, she takes no pride in it, she is unskilful and worst of all - she manages to be completely sexless. He is so appalled that he is moved to describe her as "the nadir of passion.” Despite all this, he makes a bet with his friend Geraldine Rich that he can transform this Eliza Doolittle of streetwalkers into the Golden Rod Girl (the sex industry equivalent of the Oscars).

While Seymour and Geraldine undertake the painstaking task of Misty’s sexual education the relationship between Seymour and Misty becomes more complex and considerably more strained, and while a whole new world is opening up for Misty she is not entirely certain how comfortable she is about her new life.

This is a sophisticated comedy of manners, and it’s also a love story (and a very effective and quite moving if rather unconventional love story). Jamie Gillis is delightful as the Henry Higgins of sex, proving to be a very talented comic actor. Jacqueline Beudant, in her only movie role, is absolutely superb as Geraldine, and is the perfect foil for Gillis. Constance Money does a fine job as Misty Beethoven. She’s both likable and obnoxious, vulnerable and brash, and her character develops as the movie progresses. Yes, this is a hardcore sex movie with character development!

As you’d expect from anything directed by Radley Metzger, The Opening of Misty Beethoven looks fantastic. Wonderful sets, beautiful cinematography, and lashings of style. The Pygmalion plot work extremely well - this is a very successful adaptation of Shaw’s classic play. The sex is most definitely hardcore, so if that’s a problem for you you might want to stay away from this one. If this isn’t a problem for you, you’ll find that this is a smart, elegant, witty and completely delightful movie.

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