Jan 22, 2014

The Image (1975)

Maybe it is because he studied filmmaking with German Dadaist auteur Hans Ritcher (Dreams That Money Can Buy, Dadascope), privately studied acting under visionary American theatre director Harold Clurman, and/or had the opportunity to watch and edit some of the best films in the world, especially those directed by Ingmar Bergman, as a film trailer editor for Janus Films (the parent company of the Criterion Collection), but American Jewish auteur Radley Metzger aka ‘Henry Paris’ (The Lickerish Quartet, The Opening of Misty Beethoven) somehow developed into one of the most shockingly artful and literate pornographers of cinema history. In fact, before looking into his background, I assumed Metzger was some sort of European arthouse director comparable to Liliana Cavani whose career stagnated and who was forced to make sexploitation and porn flicks to pay the bills. The first Metzger film I ever saw was The Image (1975) aka The Mistress and the Slave aka The Punishment of Anne aka L'image aka L'esclave du plaisir—a work based on an S&M-themed erotic novella by L'Image (1956) by Jean de Berg (the penname of Catherine Robbe-Grillet, the wife of novelist/filmmaker Alain Robbe-Grillet)—and I must admit that I was somewhat offended by the film’s cultivated literary qualities, as if the director was so pathologically pompous that he wanted to pretend he was more than just a pornographer. Since then, I have somewhat warmed up to Metzger’s oeuvre, especially after seeing his porn chic magnum opus The Opening of Misty Beethoven (1975), and after reading an article from the British yellow journalism site the Daily Mail about the source writer Catherine Robbe-Grillet’s contractual sex slavery to her demented director hubby Alain, I felt it was about time to re-watch The Image as it deals with similar themes regarding the master and slave dynamics of sexuality. The suavely sordid and salacious tale of a writer who begins a sadomasochistic ménage à trios with an old female friend and her young female sex slave lover (played by Mary Mendum aka Rebecca Brooke, who was Metzger’s real-life girlfriend at the time), The Image is essentially a Europeanized bourgeois blue movie that was clearly specially tailored for cultivated Anglo-Americans and Europeans, but was ironically directed by an American Hebrew with a special predilection for blonde Aryan pussies and classic Occidental art and literature. Told in a sleek and easy-to-follow literary style that is divided into ten chapters (with pretentious titles like “The Roses in Bagatelle Gardens” and “Too Much Water and Its Consequences”), The Image is the sort of film Georges Bataille might have directed had he been a boobeoise Euro-preppy instead of a nasty Nietzschean anarchist. 

 Jean (Carl Parker)—a young and dashing fellow who looks sort of like a Jewish Arnold Schwarzenegger—is a hot jetsetter writer with airs of superiority who knows all the other people in Paris, but as he complains at the beginning of The Image, “I detest literary cocktail parties as anyone who attends them regularly should if he has any self-respect at all.” Luckily for him, Jean attends a hip and happening cocktail party at the beginning of the film that will change his life forever (or at least for the foreseeable future). Not long after arriving at the party, Jean spots a young blonde Aryan babe named Anne (Mary Mendum aka Rebecca Brooke) and soon discovers she’s the 'kept woman' and voluntary sex slave girlfriend of his old friend Claire (Marilyn Roberts). Jean has not seen Claire for about 2 or 3 years, but he never suspected she was a lecherous lady-licker with a sexually sadistic side. Not surprisingly, Jean has next to nil sexual interest in old slag Claire, who resembles a frigid dyke high school administrator on the cusp of menopause, but he becomes instantly infatuated with young and luscious Anne and, since he has an entire month to write a mere article for his joke of a job, he spends all his free time driving around Paris in an attempt to chase down and get to know the young nympho, even going so far as borderline-stalking the submissive little lady. For their first big date together (they previously ate dinner with one another), Jean, Anne, and Claire go to Château de Bagatelle gardens and the writer ultimately gets to see the young concubine’s rosy flesh flower for the first time. After Claire pricks Anne’s genital region with the thorn of a red rose, Jean watches with fetishistic delight. Of course, Jean becomes even more aroused after Claire forces Anne to urinate in front of him on the same rose that was used to prick her skin. Needless to say, Jean becomes hooked on little Annie and uses any opportunity he can find to be with her. Luckily, Claire is not a greedy gal and invites Jean for a BDSM session that eventually evolves into a full-blown, if not bizarre and one-sided, ménage à trios. Indeed, fist-fucking in fancy restaurants and threesomes in clothing store dressing rooms with the salesgirl are just a couple of things Jean and Anna do together. Of course, in the end everything eventually comes toppling down during the ninth chapter of The Image, ‘The Gothic Chamber,’ when Claire’s jealous side is finally unleashed when she notices that Jean rather enjoys screwing Anne and vice versa. After Jean gets down performing passionate coitus on Anne, Claire brutally attacks him with a bondage whip as if he is one of her slaves and throws the writer out of her house, but not before the concubine gangs up on him too and smashes a wine bottle over his handsome little head. Of course, Claire also beats Anne with the whip and the degraded concubine ultimately decides to leave her mistress forever. In a rather absurd twist (Jean mentions at the beginning of the film he had nil sexual interest in Claire), Jean and Claire get together and the latter ultimately goes from being a demanding dominator to being the one dominated. 

 A sort of more merry than morbid mix between Conversation Piece (1974) aka Gruppo di famiglia in un interno directed by Luchino Visconti, The Story of O (1975) aka Histoire d'O directed by Just Jaeckin, and Fruits of Passion (1981) aka Les fruits de la passion directed by Shûji Terayama, albeit more pornographic and lacking any sort of serious socio-political subtext, The Image is undoubtedly a cinematic work that, although gorgeously photographed and nearly immaculately directed, I can only recommend to fateful fans of porn chic and those interested in a film that authentically portrays S&M sex. Of course, compared to a brutal sadomasochistic sodomite fuck flick like Jacques Scandelari’s New York City Inferno (1978) aka Cock Tales, The Image seems exceedingly tame and conspicuously contrived, although both films conclude with a similar message regarding the power dynamics of sex regarding how the so-called ‘masochist’ is the one who is really in control, sort of like The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972) minus the melodramatic acting, intellectual meat, and sophisticated subtext. Personally, I have never understood the appeal of S&M and BDSM, so I got no thrill out of seeing two jaded jetsetters routinely sexually ravaging a dumb young girl with mommy issues (Anne and Claire looked so much alike that the former could have been the latter’s daughter). Interestingly, Catherine Robbe-Grillet—the woman who wrote the novel that The Image is based on—was her husband’s virtual sex slave for over ½ a century, but she must have learned from the best because after her husband died she would become the master of a South African woman that is 31 years her junior. Admittedly, I would not mind if Radley Metzger got back behind the camera and directed a sequel to The Image based on the marriage between the Robbe-Grillets. After all, something tells me that the man responsible for penning and directing Eden and After (1970) aka L'éden et après and Glissements progressifs du plaisir (1974) aka Successive Slidings of Pleasure would be a more interesting character for a film than the pretty philistine protagonist of The Image.  As for auteur Radley Metzger, one must assume he is a sadist as he managed to convince his then girlfriend to be filmed urinating, physically brutalized, and engaged in lesbo sex for the silverscreen, thus lending The Image a certain undeniable authenticity that similar works lack.

-Ty E

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