Radley Metzger – The Opening of Misty Beethoven (1976)
Pornography meets Pygmalion. Misty, the hooker, meets the sexologist who thinks he can transform her from the nadir of passion into someone who inspires passion. While Misty is trained for her big test, seducing a homosexual artist, the relationship between the doctor and Misty remains unsettled.
While all of adult film auteur Radley Metzger’s soft and hardcore films bear his unmistakable stamp of elegance, only The Opening of Misty Beethoven broke the XXX mold and earned respected as a well made film which happened to contain actual sex. Thanks to a witty script, deft performances (yes, everyone here can act), striking sets, and continental locales, this is one for the time capsule.
While cruising the red light district of Paris, bestselling author and sex expert Seymour Love (Jamie Gillis) finds his adult film viewing (at a theater showing the French classic, Pussy Talk!) interrupted by a crass hooker, Misty Beethoven (Constance Money), who offers to take out for a quick, good time for fifty dollars. Seymour agrees and begins to quiz the enterprising but unappealing Misty about her lack of experience. Striking up a bet with his partner Geraldine (terrific one shot wonder Jacqueline Beaudant), Seymour wagers he can turn Misty into the toast of the town as the revered Golden Rod Girl at the next high society party thrown by vain magazine publisher Lawrence Layman (Ras Kean) and his wife (Gloria Leonard). Seymour, Geraldine, and Misty jet off to New York, where he instructs his pupil in the arts of pleasure and sends her out to build her reputation with a variety of men, including a mostly gay art dealer played by Score’s Calvin Culver. As Misty’s fame spreads, Seymour’s arrogance conceals a growing attraction to his ugly duckling.. but can he still have her?
As most lit students will recognize from the above description, The Opening of Misty Beethoven is actually a thinly disguised retelling of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, also musicalized as My Fair Lady. Metzger had already experimented with sexy literary twists on Carmen and Camille, but this proved to be his most radical and critically successful attempt yet. The impeccable soundtrack of Euro lounge and pop music (culled from library tracks) and tastefully chosen locations (art galleries, opera theaters) establish just the right touch of playfulness, though the sex itself remains graphic and raunchy enough to satisfy the raincoat crowd. In fact, the satirical tone allows Metzger to get away with slipping in an amazing number of taboo images involving senior citizens, strap ons, and cross dressing, among others.
The box art for this DVD announces it contains previously censored material and never before seen footage, though this isn’t exactly true. The large oversize VHS edition from VCA contained the entire menage a trois between Money, Leonard, and Kean, one of the most memorable kinky set pieces in the annals of ’70s porn, which was later heavily censored for the regular sell-through edition. The DVD reinstates the footage (whose penetration close ups were performed by Culver, better known as gay porn actor Casey Donovan) and, VCA’s restoration claims notwithstanding, appears to be taken from the same video master they’ve been going back to for years. The colors are punchier than usual, but given the fact that the film was originally shot in 16mm and blown up to 35mm before being slightly cropped for video, this is about as good as one could expect. Metzger himself owns the original materials for Misty, so hopefully a sharper, more carefully framed edition will turn up someday. The cropping isn’t as damaging or claustrophobic when the DVD is viewed without overscan on a DVD-Rom drive, allowing more peripheral information on the sides to creep through. The disc includes some nifty extras, the most notable being a running feature commentary by Gillis and Leonard. Obviously old pals, the two dish out an amazing number of anecdotes about the film, many of them involving the notoriously uncooperative Money. Leonard also drops a couple of bombshells, including the revelation that she slept with Metzger (once) and a reference to the actual name of this flim’s cinematographer, who won an Oscar a few months later (look it up on the IMDB!). A couple of factual goofs aside (Leonard insists Calvin Culver and Casey Donovan weren’t the same person, and Gillis erroneously refers to this as his first film for Metzger), the commentary makes for an enlightening and joyous experience. Other goodies include a gallery of promotional stills for this film and Barbara Broadcast, a three minute reflection by Jim Holliday, and some promotional filler for VCA products. Sadly, the softcore version of Misty Beethoven has long been out of circulation and isn’t included here — a shame, really, as it includes numerous additional dialogue scenes and alternate takes which would have made for a fascinating comparison.