Tuesday, 22 September 2015

The Image


The Image
USA 1975
Directed by Radley Metzger
Synapse Films All Region Blu Ray 

Recently I saw two really great sexploitation movies by director Radley Metzger which made a big impression on me with their rich visual compositions and impressive, innovative editing techniques. These were called The Lickerish Quartet (reviewed here) and Camille 2000 (reviewed here). Alas, I have to say that this next film I chose to watch by this director, while still interesting in terms of its technical aspects, is less compelling than the other two films I saw... although it’s certainly not a disaster by any means.

The Image starts off with sedate intertitles, like those you would expect on a silent movie, telling the audience just the name of the movie, the director, and the fact that it’s an ‘adaptation’ of a novel by Jean de Berg... which is a pseudonym for Catherine Robbe-Grillet, who was the wife of French director Alain Robbe-Grillet and whose sympathies were, from what I can understand, alligned with the subject she was writing about. You can find my reviews of her husband’s films Eden and After here and Gravida here. These credits are followed by chapter splits under the following headings as the movie runs its course: 1. An Evening at the X...'s, 2. The Roses in Bagatelle Gardens, 3. Too Much Water and Its Consequences, 4. False Starts, 5. The Photographs, 6. An Expiatory Sacrifice, 7. The Fitting Room, 8. In the Bathroom, 9. The Gothic Chamber and 10. Everything Resolves Itself.

The main character Jean, played by Carl Parker, is a writer and the film opens with him attending ‘a literary party’ hosted by his friend Claire, played by Marilyn Roberts. Here he spots an attractive young model who he becomes very interested in called Anne, played by Mary Mendum. Things get unusual very fast when he is introduced to Anne and he discovers that she is owned as a sexual slave by Claire... as in she’s her sub, if you are familiar with current BDSM terms. Claire invites Jean to join in with their games and the whole rest of the movie is pretty much about having sexy and exciting times as they humiliate the willing Anne via ritualistic sex and pain practices, culminating in heavy whippings and a tame form of needle play by the end of the film. 

Now... there’s not too much going on here, it has to be said, at least not from the point of view of a contemporary audience looking back to this and, I suspect, neither at the time either... S & M is nothing new. I can understand how people whose tastes are purely vanilla might be somewhat taken aback by some of the content in this film, not because of the graphic nature (it does, though, slip into hardcore pornography territory in a couple of places) but because of the psychology of the attitude of the 'seemingly' non-consensual Anne in this movie... although logic surely dictates that no sub would stay in any kind of destructive relationship if he or she weren’t into pushing into that kind of head space in the first place and it's certainly implied that her consensuality is a given here. However, if you are familiar with this kind of sexually tinted power play to begin with, the film does reach levels of dullness I really wasn’t expecting from a director of Metzger’s proven flair and ingenuity.

That being said, there is some nice stuff in here at the visual level... asides form the obvious erotic pleasures inspired by the nudity of the actors. For example, in the rose garden sequence there is a beautiful shot of a freshly picked rose seen in juxtaposition to Anne’s genitalia although this in itself, not to mention the thorns, may be too much of an obvious visual metaphor for some people. In another scene where a half naked Anne is told to go and choose an instrument for her punishment, we follow her back to her ‘owners’ viewing her beautiful backside, which is filling the frame, with the coiled whip held in front of her butt cheeks, echoing both the shape of her body and the tapering curves of her garter belt from behind. 

Stuff like this is absolutely what keeps me watching a Radley Metzger movie but, although there are many such nice compositions and artistic flourishes to be found in this film... well, like I said, it’s nowhere near as overt or outstanding as the previous two movies I saw by this director. That being said there was just enough to keep me concentrating on it and one of the things I’ve noticed about Metzger and the way the actors bring his scripts to life, is little details of character that another guy helming the project might not want in or allow... but which give even the most minor of the characters an intelligence all their own.

For instance, when a shop fitting girl is asked to adjust the lingerie of Anne as a prelude to including her in a threesome in the shop between her, Anne and Jean, the girl starts off towards the changing room as she is called to assist, then pauses to think for second before returning to where she was... she then removes her pearl necklace (no, not that kind) before she goes ahead to help, her character obviously thinking of convenience, in case she might be willingly seduced by her two customers. So, yeah, fascinating details like this are quite interesting to spot and so, although I didn’t love this movie as much as the others I’ve seen by Metzger... I’m certainly not ‘done’ with him yet.

After all, he gives us in this film such visuals as a blindfold with bejewelled eyes and eyebrows inset into it... this is a really posh blindfold and not like one I’ve seen before. That being said, it doesn’t detract from the poe faced seriousness with which the BDSM relationship in this movie is relentlessly pursued... it’s a long way from the fluffy, play S & M party shown in the director’s earlier Camille 2000, for example. I'm not entirely sure that's a good thing and depends purely on an active participant's own temperament, I suspect.

The film climaxes with an extended torture scene but towards the end of it the power balance between the three players shifts out of the dynamic the characters are expecting. I won’t spoil the ending of this movie for you here but in the epilogue scene, when one of the characters is ordered to undress, I noticed that the long shot and medium shot which the camera kept cutting between didn’t match up. I don’t know if the director was having a bad day here because my previous experiences of his films shows a meticulous attention to such detail but... well there was definitely a continuity error created here, for whatever reason... possibly the choice of performance in one of the takes as opposed to another which didn’t quite match with what it was being cut against... but I did find this a bit of a shame. 

Ultimately, and although I am a fervent admirer of the BDSM scene as it is today (and its historic background), The Image really is my least favourite of the director’s films that I’ve seen to date. I may find it grows on me a little if I watch it again in a few years... some films do have that power... but for now, if you are wanting to get into the wonderful world of Radley Metzger, I would say this is not a very good jumping on point for this particular director. Not a terrible film but... not a great one either.

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