Director: Radley Metzger
Cult Epics

Young Armand Duval (Nino Castelnuovo, THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG) arrives in Rome to work for his stockbroker father (Massimo Serato, DON’T LOOK NOW). His old friend Gaston (Roberto Bisacco, TORSO) promises to introduce him to all of the eligible girls of the jet set. When he become interested in “now child” Marguerite Gautier (Daniele Gaubert, A MILANESE STORY), Gaston tries to warn him off her because “the hills are covered with the bodies of the men she’s ruined” (in the source novel, she’s a courtesan). Armand finally gets some alone time with Marguerite at one of her extravagant parties and charms her. Marguerite tries to resist falling for him, and even warns him away if the feelings he expresses for her are true. Their one-night-stand becomes something more and Armand and Marguerite flee to the Porto d’Ercole (before it became trendy) where they “live on love” on a houseboat. Armand’s father approaches Marguerite believing that she is using Armand – in the novel, he is also concerned that Armand’s association with her will taint Armand’s sister’s chances at marriage, but the sister is not a prominent character in the theatrical cut and already “engaged to money”). Although he is blindsided by Marguerite’s revelation that she has been selling off all of the expensive gifts that have been given to her by past suitors to support herself and Armand (who believes the money he brings in from Rome is sufficient), Armand’s father nevertheless implores her to consider Armand’s future happiness and reputation. Marguerite flees back to Rome and takes up with the sadistic Count DeVarville (Philippe Forquet) and parties hard to “return to life.” When Armand tracks her down, she tells him that she grew tired of him and that he was not making enough money to keep up her lifestyle. Armand tries to move on with his life, throwing himself into work and making a name for himself at the stock exchange, but he remains lonely. Marguerite’s dress designer friend Prudence (Eleonora Rossi Drago, THE SECRET OF DORIAN GRAY) introduces Armand to exhibitionistic Olympe (Silvana Venturelli, THE LICKERISH QUARTET) who throws an extravagant S&M party called “Olympe’s Jail.” When Marguerite and DeVarville make their entrance, it becomes a battle of will between Armand and Marguerite with Armand flaunting his interest in Olympe. Marguerite’s drug use reaches dangerous levels as she tries desperately to forget her thwarted chance at happiness until… well, you’ve seen CAMILLE or LA TRAVIATA.

Before CAMILLE 2000, scenarist Michael DeForrest had novelized a couple Audubon releases and would contribute an original scenario for Metzger’s THE LICKERISH QUARTET. The result is a romantic film in which the sex scenes feel like a bonus rather the raison d’etre of the entire enterprise. The pacing tends to drag, and a little, more so in this extended cut which is not a director’s cut. Metzger claims that the film is based on Alexandre Dumas’ (son of the THREE MUSKETEERS author) novel while other adaptations are based on Dumas’ play, and that they shot every page (the theatrical cut proves that every page was not needed, but it is nice to have these extra bits). Nevertheless, there is always something beautiful to look at (the actors, the locations, or the sets) and Armand and Marguerite are affecting characters. In the opening scene, one of Marguerite’s jet-setting buddies sees her taking pills and asks, “Don’t you ever come down?” She replies, “Not if I can help it,” which suggests that part of the lifestyle is an attempt to block out even the concept of mortality; as such, Castelnuovo’s standout bit is not his hospital bedside scene with Marguerite, but the coda scene in which he seems to have successfully lost his soul. The sequence with Marguerite and Armand’s father is also very well played by Gaubert and Serato. Bisacco and Rossi Drago are dependable supporting players, but Venturelli stands out during her striptease and her expression when she realizes that she has been used by Armand to get back at Marguerite. The Bond-ish baccarat game is one of the film’s liveliest scenes (the editing picks up here and both Castelnuovo and Forquet are in ultra-suave mode). Even the stereotypical gay dressmaker Gody (Zachary Adams) gets a brief moving scene where he expresses concern for Marguerite’s well-being.

The nudity may have been quite shocking by late 1960s standards outside of the 42nd street roughies; indeed, Castelnuovo and Gaubert spend a lengthy sequence in the altogether (and only once does Metzger’s choreography go to humorous lengths to avoid frontal nudity). It seems tame now in the context of what was to come in the 1970s in European and American exploitation, but today one may be surprised by how plentiful the nudity is for a 1960s film. While Metzger and Guarnieri lovingly photograph said nudity, Metzger and Sabbatini are just as interested in stylish but revealing clothing from Olympe’s too-transparent mesh bikini to the futuristic S&M couture. Sabbatini’s idea of foreshadowing Marguerite’s fate by surrounding her in synthetic furniture and décor (material that never lived) includes inflatable chairs and bedding (since the sex scenes were shot using long lenses and resulting shallow focus, Metzger mentioned that the body heat during the sex scenes caused the plastic to stretch and threw off the focus a number of times). Although not a high budget film, CAMILLE 2000 certainly was a larger production than his previous European efforts THE ALLEY CATS and CARMEN BABY. Although CAMILLE 2000 maintains its luxurious look without appearing to betray its budget, Metzger reigned back and seemed to find a happy medium of budget and production value for his remaining erotic films THE LICKERISH QUARTET (surely his masterpiece), LITTLE MOTHER, SCORE, and THE IMAGE (his hardcore “Henry Paris” films are another story). His mainstream “all star cast” thriller THE CAT AND THE CANARY’s production value is just as creaky as the story (although it is still enjoyable).

Castelnuovo’s varied career included a number of arthouse and exploitation highlights. Besides working with Luchino Visconti (ROCCO AND HIS BROTHERS), Agnes Varda’s THE CREATURES (with his THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG co-star Catherine Deneuve), and Godard in his segment of the anthology AMORE E RABBIA (which also featured segments by Bernardo Bertolucci, Carlo Lizzani, Marco Bellocchio, and Pier Paolo Pasolini). He played Adrienne LaRussa’s (BEATRICE CENCI) sleazy boyfriend in actor Rossano Brazzi’s bizarre Italian directorial effort PSYCHOUT FOR MURDER and also worked for Fernando Di Leo (CODE NAME: RED ROSES), Andrea Bianchi (STRIP NUDE FOR YOUR KILLER), Lucio Fulci (MASSACRE TIME), and Alfonso Brescia (STAR ODYSSEY) among others. He also appeared in Don Taylor’s Italian shot spaghetti-esque western THE FIVE MAN ARMY. Besides an appearance in THE ENGLISH PATIENT, most of Castelnuovo’s recent work has comprised Italian TV series. Gaubert had acted in twelve films in the late 1950s and early 1960s before marrying Rhadamés Leonidas Trujillo, the son of a Dominican Republic dictator. She divorced Trujillo (who was brought up on charges along with his mother, sister, and brother, by his father’s illegitimate children for taking $50 million with them to Europe) and started acting again. She appeared nude in the Italian magazine PLAYMEN. Although she had already appeared in Antonio Pietrangeli’s COME, QUANDO, PERCHE – the director drowned during production and the film was finished by Valerio Zurlini (VIOLENT SUMMER) – CAMILLE 2000 was her comeback film, or her own “return to life” (Metzger avers that she was okay with the erotic content because it was an international production). She made four more films after CAMILLE 2000 before retiring again after marrying Olympic skier Jean-Claude Killy (they starred together in her last film SKIJOB). She died in 1987 at age 44.

Rossi Drago was set to be the next Sophia Loren, but she never made the crossover to Hollywood despite some impressive credits such as the Francois Truffaut/Max Ophuls/Shintaro Ishihara/Renzo Rossellini/Andrzej Wajda anthology LOVE AT TWENTY, Pietro Germi’s THE FACTS OF MURDER (with Castelnuovo), John Huston’s THE BIBLE: IN THE BEGINNING… and Michelangelo Antonioni’s LE AMICHE. Her other genre credits include the Harald Reinl’s Edgar Wallace krimi THE CARPET OF HORROR and her last film appearance: Sergio Bergonzelli’s bizarre giallo melodrama IN THE FOLDS OF THE FLESH. Bisacco’s prolific acting career includes only a couple brief dalliances with Italian exploitation including Sergio Martino’s TORSO – although he may have taken the project because it was a Carlo Ponti production – and the Italian-British war thriller FRAULEIN DOKTOR (with TORSO co-star Suzy Kendall). Some of his other Italian genre credits skirt the line between exploitation and mainstream or arthouse including Francesco Rossetti’s DEATH ON A TENNIS COURT, Romolo Guerrieri’s UN DETECTIVE/RING OF DEATH, Tinto Brass’ DEADLY SWEET (from Brass art film, pre-erotica phase), Alain Resnais’ STAVISKY…, Eduardo Molinaro’s LA CAGE AUX FOLLES II, Joseph Losey’s MODESTY BLAISE, FrancoZeffirelli’s ROMEO AND JULIET, and Carlo Vanzina’s extremely soapy TV-movie-like MILLIONS. Forquet, an aristocrat in real life (the Viscount de Dorne), had gone to Paris to study and made a few films before being cast in American director Robert Parrish’s IN THE FRENCH STYLE alongside Jean Seberg (BREATHLESS). His Hollywood career was quashed by a relationship with a pre-Polanski Sharon Tate (apparently a producer had eyes on her and ran a negative publicity campaign on the actor). Forquet’s future wife, American model Linda Morand (PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW) appears briefly at the baccarat table as a bimbo present so the screenwriters can explain the rules of the game to the audience. Besides appearances in Anthony Mann’s EL CID, Christian-Jacque’s MADAME DU BARRY, Ugo Tognazzi’s CATTIVI PENSIERI, and Elio Petri’s THE 10TH VICTIM, Serato appeared in every subgenre of Italian exploitation: horror (Jose Ramon Larraz’s STIGMA), gialli (AUTOPSY, THE BLOODSTAINED SHADOW, KILLER NUN), WIP (WOMEN IN CELL BLOCK 7), science fiction (THE WILD, WILD PLANET, THE HUMANOID), peplum (THE LOVES OF HERCULES, THE LION OF THEBES), and westerns (LIGHT THE FUSE… SARTANA IS COMING). Other than this and her immortal role in THE LICKERISH QUARTET, Venturelli only had a handful of credits; but they were memorable ones, including Steve Reeve’s final film A LONG RIDE FROM HELL, an uncredited appearance in Roger Vadim’s BARBERELLA, Javier Seto’s obscure but worthy giallo EMPTINESS ALL AROUND, and – although I haven’t seen this, the soundtrack is Ennio Morricone soundtrack is a favorite – Franco Rubartelli’s VERUSHKA (penned by the model herself). German actor Peter Chatel (WHO SAW HER DIE?) pops up in a few places as one of Marguerite’s jet-setting friends George. Chatel was a favorite actor of filmmaker Reiner Werner Fassbinder, appearing in thirteen of his films including MARTHA and the Fassbinder-produced Ulli Lommel-directed TENDERNESS OF THE WOLVES. He also died young at age 42.

The cinematography of the late Ennio Guarnieri (GARDEN OF THE FINZI CONTINI) makes full use of the Panavision frame (the transfer restores the full width so anamorphic bowing – as well as occasional vignetting at the corners – is visible in wide-angle shots), whether it is encompassing the nude bodies across the width of the screen or capturing emotional counterpoint in the background. One of Guarnieri’s assistants was Fulci’s later cinematographer of choice Sergio Salvati (THE BEYOND). The score of Piero Piccioni (THE 10TH VICTIM) – released on CD and collector’s LP by Easy Tempo – however, is the film’s most immortal aspect. There are two contrasting principle cues: the first is a Hammond organ and saxophone-driven theme that underlines the decadence of the film’s jet set. The melody weaved through the first theme with sultry saxophone is rendered through romantic orchestral strings in the second theme which highlights the reverie and anticipates the tragic denouement. The first theme is heard over the book-ending humorous opening and cynical closing scenes before segueing back to the romantic theme for the end credits. Piccioni also scored the much shorter and restructured Italian edit of Jean Luc-Godard’s French-Italian-American co-production CONTEMPT (although Piccioni’s score here is not unlike George Delerue’s romantic work, Piccioni’s score for the Godard film was more pop-infused). Piccioni’s 1950s and early 1960s scoring assignments leaned towards the more mainstream works like the Mauro Bolognini/Vittorio De Sica/Pier Paolo Pasolini/Franco Rossi/Luchino Visconti anthology THE WITCHES (co-scored by Ennio Morricone), Visconti’s THE STRANGER, Bernardo Bertolucci’s LA COMMARE SECCA, and the Italian edit of De Sica’s AFTER THE FOX with Peter Sellers. From the late 1960s on, his work veered more towards Italian exploitation such as Jose Maria Forque’s IN THE EYE OF THE HURRICANE (one of his finest giallo scores), Jose Luis Madrid’s SEVEN MURDERS FOR SCOTLAND YARD (with Paul Naschy), and Federico Chentren’s PLAYGIRL 70 (the album of which is probably more memorable than the obscure film); although his 1970s filmography did include the occasional prestige assignment like Lina Wurtmuller’s SWEPT AWAY and Francesco Rosi’s CADAVERI ECCELENTI. Costume designer and art director Enrico Sabbatini (BAY OF BLOOD) went on to work some of the same magic – minus the inflatable furniture – on Metzger’s follow-up THE LICKERISH QUARTET. Sabbatini’s career encompassed a broad range of Italian and Italy-shot productions of varying prestige from Christian Marquand’s CANDY, Dario Argento’s FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET, and Piero Schivazappa’s THE FRIGHTENED WOMAN – distributed by Audubon – to Vittorio De Sica’s SUNFLOWER, Jean-Jacques Annaud’s SEVEN YEARS IN TIBET, and Roland Joffe’s THE MISSION. The editing is jointly credited to Amedeo Salfa (Tarkovsky’s NOSTALGHIA) and Humphrey Hinshelwood – who edited Metzger’s previous CARMEN BABY under the name “Humphrey Wood” – so I would assume that most of the assembly editing was done in Italy and then it was fine-tuned in the states (Salfa also edited THE LICKERISH QUARTET and Pupi Avati’s ZEDER).

CAMILLE 2000 was first released on VHS by Magnum Entertainment in a cropped transfer, followed by a widescreen tape from Metzger’s own Audubon Films library through mail order (the listings used to pop up in magazines like PSYCHOTRONIC in the 1990s) and then another from First Run Films. Image Entertainment released the widescreen version in a non-anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer with the trailer as the sole extra. When Image’s rights for the Metzger titles were up, it was hoped that another label would tackle this and other titles like SCORE and LICKERISH QUARTET in new transfers, but they were quickly reissued on DVD in the same old transfers by First Run Films. The First Run disc did add four minutes deleted scenes, photo galleries, and liner notes, but the transfer still left a lot to be desired. The UK and Australian DVD releases from Umbrella (an NTSC-PAL transfer) featured roughly ten minutes of deleted scenes. The German DVD was the first 16:9 transfer but it reflected the European version’s running time of just under 100 minutes (95 minutes in PAL). Starting with SCORE (in two editions of varying explicitness) and THE LICKERISH QUARTET, Cult Epics has finally taken up the admirable task – or is that enviable pleasure – of restoring Metzger’s films in high definition – alongside Synapse’s exquisite THE IMAGE DVD and Blu – for DVD and BluRay. The extended version under review here restores twelve minutes of deleted scenes into the body of the film. These scenes are featured as extras apart from the film in the theatrical version and, based on the specs for the theatrical version disc, it appears that these scenes are the only difference between the two discs. The deleted scenes are include Armand paying a visit to his sister shortly after arriving in Rome, Armand and Gaston picking up a girl on the road, Prudence visiting Marguerite on Armand’s boat, an erotic encounter between Marguerite and DeVarville, and a silly fight scene after the casino sequence. It goes without saying that the new high-definition-mastered anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer blows all previous versions out of the water, but it also makes one aware of the amount of attention that went into both the compositions and the color choices (since Metzger coordinated much of the post production from New York, he was wise to have put a lot of faith in the choices of Sabbatini and Guarnieri). The mono English audio is also in good condition (Gaubert, Castelnuovo, and Serrato provide their own voices in English) with the music score coming across powerfully without any need of remixing and surround enhancement.

Heading up the extras is a new audio commentary by Metzger moderated by Michael Bowen (the same pairing has also provided commentaries for SCORE and THE LICKERISH QUARTET). According to Metzger, as a director he was not so much competing with other American sexploitation auteurs so much as with Roger Vadim (whose AND GOD CREATED WOMAN he edited for synchronization of the English dub). He also claims to be “jealous of” Pasquale Festa Campanile’s THE LIBERTINE, which he distributed through Audubon Films. Metzger points out that the film is an adaptation of Dumas’ novel “The Lady of the Camelias” not Dumas’ play which has formed the basis of other film adaptations as well as Verdi’s opera LA TRAVIATA. When asked why he chose to shoot in Italy, Metzger answers that it was not that it was cheaper to shoot in Europe but that you got more bang for your buck rather than the wealth of attractive backdrops. He mentions that a short love scene between Armand and Marguerite meant to be captured in near-silhouette but that the lab assumed it to be an error and brightened it up. Metzger and Guarnieri had to order it printed again and again to get the right exposure (Bowen mentions that the German DVD release features the brighter version). Metzger mentions that he had to send to America for a special Panavision lens to capture the sequence of Marguerite’s orgasm in which the camera moves in and out of focus in sync with her breathing. He also mentions, regrettably, that the only surviving Technicolor print of the film resides in the Museum of Modern Art and has started to shrink. Metzger mentions that the prop man got fired for turning the label of a bottle of J&B whisky towards the camera. Metzger was not a proponent of product placement; he does not seem to realize just how ubiquitous the brand would become in Italian exploitation cinema of the 1970s. Bowen is an active moderator and cannot contain his affection for the film and Metzger’s stylistic choices. In addition to the deleted scenes (whether incorporated into the film or as a supplement on the theatrical cut disc), both Cult Epics editions feature an alternate take of the “Cube Love Scene” (1:52) and Silvana Venturelli’s complete striptease (2:47) with frontal nudity that likely would not have made the final cut. In addition to the commentary, the other major extra is an on-the-set featurette (30:36) which includes home movie footage and commentary from Metzger. The footage is arranged by shooting date and features appearances by Metzger’s business partner Ava Leighton (who was on set for the first and last two weeks of the shoot) and Gaubert’s children, who visited the set during the opera sequence. A restoration featurette (6:28) and trailers for the film - comprised entirely of rapidly cut stills set to Piccioni’s main theme - SCORE, and THE LICKERISH QUARTET round out the extras. In the aforementioned commentary, Metzger states that they filmed every page of the book. The director’s cut may or may not bear this out. The film is neither significantly improved nor hindered by the addition or deletion of these scenes. The only reason I see to pick up the director’s cut over the theatrical cut is that the commentary seems to have been recorded for the longer version and the loss of these scenes on the theatrical cut suggests that some of the commentary has been cut along with them. (Eric Cotenas)