Meet Jack (Gerald Grant) and Elvira (Clare Wilbur), happily married bi-sexuals who’ve taken out a wager, a bet to see who can lure the most partners into their beds over a six-month period. Into their orbit come Eddy (Cal Culver) and Betsy (Lynn Lowry), a naive young couple whose marriage may not be all that it seems, given the way he shrugs off her advances in the one of the film’s opening scenes. With Jack ahead on the scorecard and time running out, Elvira has one night left to even things up, so she sets her sights on Betsy, our long-limbed young bride . . .
“Fuck, fuck, fuck.”
Shot on the Dalmatian coast in the former Yugoslavia, it’s tempting to view Score (1973) as another step along the path that took Metzger from soft to hardcore. It’s quite different to the other films we might consider part of that journey though, films like Camille 2000 (1969), The Lickerish Quartet (1970) and The Image (1975). In fact it’s very different, both tonally and technically. For a start it’s a comedy, a lighthearted tale of swingers and seduction, full of one-liners and playful exchanges. It also looks very different, with the stunning panoramas and long tracking shots which appear elsewhere replaced here by close-ups of faces (often accompanied by household objects or framed by reflective surfaces) and quick-fire editing.
Adapted from an off-Broadway show of the same name, Score’s central thesis seems to be that swinging and sexual freedom trumps familiarity and monogamy. Jack and Elvira – cut from the same cloth and complicit in each other’s games – apparently do not have a care in the world. By contrast Eddy and Betsy seem trapped by their codependence, at least until they ‘turn on.’ The film is really the story of their transformation – under the guidance of their lascivious hosts – over the course of one day, in an idyllic coastal town.
The screenplay was written by Jerry Douglas, who wrote and directed the play of the same name, and who would go on to direct a number of gay porn films. One wonders to what extent his sensibility also informs the film’s aesthetic, because while it seems to advocate bi-sexuality ideologically, aesthetically it’s quite gay. Both Jack and Eddy appear to be gay, unlike their female counterparts. Around the midway point the four leads play ‘dress up’ – possibly a ploy to weaken the young couples’ sense of self – during which the men adopt the campest attire without a hint of self-consciousness, dressing as a sailor and cowboy respectively.
There’s more to it than that though. Neither display any obvious interest in sex with women, though the women are clearly also interested in sex with men. There is talk of Betsy finding a magazine featuring pictures of naked men among Eddy’s things, and his character arc really seems to be about coming out, about acting on long-held, repressed desires. Betsy’s journey seems quite different, with the sapphic sex coming at the end of a night in which she tries weed and poppers for the first time, seemingly just another new experience she accepts when prompted, with no indication it would have even crossed her mind without the intervention of ‘mama and papa bear.’
“Some things are going up, some things are going down.”
While we’re on the subject of homosexuality, we can’t shy away from the fact that the uncut version of Score contains explicit footage of unsimulated sexual activity between the male leads, specifically mutual masturbation and fellatio. It’s not clear the director went into the shoot with the intention of going that far, but this was the point at which hardcore films were beginning to emerge in the US, Culver and Grant were happy to do it and it made it into the film’s final edit – well, into the ‘hot’ version.
Metzger always maintained that Score was about seduction rather than any particular sexual persuasion, and that the object of that seduction was somewhat secondary. The film’s key scenes – the parallel seduction / sex scenes – could be seen to bear this out, as they proceed in tandem, with the predators using exactly the same plays to secure their prey. The staging of these scenes is notable in other respects, specifically in the way the tempo changes, in the way the camera work changes, providing movement that’s conveyed by editing elsewhere. It’s just a shame momentum is rather lost at this point, given it’s what the entire film has been building towards. It’s not so much that the sex is too graphic, it’s that the sex scenes are too long.
It’s interesting to note in this context that Wilbur barely spoke to Lowry on set, upset when she heard what the younger actress – who would go on to become something of a cult star for her work with George Romero and David Cronenberg – was making. You’d never know it from the images on screen though, which is obviously a credit to all concerned. As for the men, they also acquit themselves well, clearly comfortable in their skin and with one another. It would seem they also made a good impression on the director, as they would go to appear in two of his pseudonymous hardcore features, Grant in Naked Came the Stranger (1975) and Culver – better known as gay porn star Casey Donovan – in The Opening of Misty Beethoven (1976).
“I’d climb aboard a porcupine if it struck my fancy.”
I’ve always been somewhat cool on Score, feeling it to be rather slight when compared to other Metzger films. For me it lacks the weight of Camille 2000, the bravura of The Lickerish Quartet and the edge of The Image. That’s not to say it’s a bad film, far from it. It’s bright and breezy, performed with gusto and executed with style. It’s also an important bridge between the soft and hardcore films, providing a template for the latter with its snappy dialogue, playful disposition and periodic transitions into extended sexual set-pieces. It’s a film that’s somehow warm-hearted and genuinely transgressive, which are not characteristics that easily co-exist. It’s not a major artistic achievement though, not in the context of Metzger’s filmography.
WordPress does not lend itself to formal footnotes:
Clare Wilbur appeared in the original stage play, alongside a young Sylvester Stallone.
Score played theatrically in both ‘hot’ and ‘cool’ versions, though it’s the latter that has most commonly appeared on home video.
Both Grant and Culver performed with women in the Henry Paris films, albeit Culver was playing a gay man Misty was challenged to seduce.
Metzger acknowledged that the bi-sexual subject matter might be problematic for some audiences, and apparently added the fairy tale narration which opens and closes the film to make it more palatable.
It surprises me that no-one has written a book about Metzger, and I can find little in the way of critical essays. The following were helpful in preparing this piece though.
Porn Before It Was Chic: An Interview with Radley Metzger, at BlackBook.com
Interview: Radley Metzger on Score, Camille 2000 and More, at Slant Magazine
The commentary Metzger recorded with Michael Bowen for the Cult Epics blu ray release(s) of Score.