Color, 1976, 84/81m.
Directed by Henry Paris (Radley Metzger)
Starring Constance Money, Jamie Gillis, Jacqueline Beaudant, Terri Hall, Calvin Culver, Ras Kean, Gloria Leonard
Distribpix (Blu-Ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9) / DTS-HD5.1, VCA (US R0 NTSC)
While cruising the red light district of Paris, bestselling author and sex expert Seymour Love (Gillis) finds his adult film viewing (at a theater advertising the French classic, Pussy Talk!) interrupted by a crass hooker, Misty Beethoven (Money), who offers a quick servicing 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 (one-shot wonder 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 (Kean) and his wife, Barbara (Leonard). Seymour, Geraldine, and Misty jet off to New York and Europe 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?
While all of erotica auteur Radley Metzger's soft and hardcore films (the latter under the name Henry Paris) bear his unmistakable stamp of elegance, only The Opening of Misty Beethoven completely broke the XXX mold and earned respect as an accomplished 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. As many English and theater students will recognize from the plot description, The Opening of Misty Beethoven (originally shot under the title Society) is actually a 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. Interestingly, it also seems to take place in the sort of idealized, sexual fairy tale world from Score, a kind of uninhibited alternate universe in which sex is a completely guilt-free, casual aspect of everyday life. As with that film, the impeccable soundtrack of catchy Italian lounge and pop music (culled from library tracks, mostly KPM) hits just the right note, and the tastefully chosen locations (art galleries, opera theaters, location shooting in Paris and Rome) establish that delicate touch of playfulness while 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 a surprising number of taboo images involving senior citizens, strap ons, and cross dressing, among others.
The first DVD from VCA announced that it contained previously censored material and never-before-seen footage, which wasn'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 (removing penetration close ups performed by Culver, better known as gay porn actor Casey Donovan). The VCA disc used the same video master they'd been rehashing for years. 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 curve balls including the revelation that she slept with Metzger (once) and a reference to the actual name of this film's cinematographer, "Robert Rochester," who turned out to be Paul Glickman . 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.
Fortunately this welcome but flawed release turned out to be just the beginning of the story. In 2012, Distribpix had already mounted lavish, essential DVD editions of two previous Henry Paris films, The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann and Naked Came the Stranger. Due to its significance as the crown jewel of the Paris collection, Misty was undertaken as a mammoth special edition to surpass all the others including a Blu-Ray edition. This extra step was funded with Project Misty, a successful backer-based program that threw in some extra bonuses for supporters. The end result (whose cover art is stunning, incidentally) was certainly worth it as this sterling release impresses on all fronts, finally treating a bona fide classic with the respect it deserves. The 2K HD transfer itself breathes life back into the film, showing off the clever cinematography and nifty little visual touches in the production design and fashion choices like never before, while the 1.85:1 framing is much more aesthetically pleasing. The film was shot primarily in Super 16mm with some shots (the Place Pigalle exteriors and some of the Layman party, for example) in 35mm. The end result looks extremely good, with the Blu-Ray in particular displaying a rich and very satisfying cinematic appearance without any unnecessary grain scrubbing going on. Audio is presented in DTS-HD 5.1 and 1.0 mono; the new mix is a thoughtful idea using the music and effects track to create a very active surround environment (mainly traffic, plane, and crowd sounds), but the music sounds much, much punchier in the mono mix, which is still the preferable option. Optional subtitles are also provided in English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, and Portuguese, so now you can learn how to say "Do you leave the bathroom door open when you have guests?" in five other languages. As with the previous two Paris release, there's also a great film facts subtitle track rattling off an intimidating amount of trivia about the music, cast, and locations, including useful pointers for scenes in Europe using a stand-in for Money.
The main explicit version is completely uncut as usual, but the real find here for many fans will be the inclusion of the film's "cool" softcore cut. Clocking in at 81 minutes, this isn't a cut version but rather an entirely different edit in which alternate angles and takes are used for many of the sex scenes, which is fascinating to watch. Even better, some brief scenes never included in the familiar X-rated cut are included here, most notably Geraldine slipping into a bathtub to reassure and briefly make out with a nervous Misty, a Tarzan-themed orgy at Geraldine's mansion with Misty sitting on the sidelines, and a lot of extra banter between Lawrence and Barbara, including a debate about New York and L.A. cops on TV. This version is also transferred in HD and looks comparable to the standard cut with the same subtitle options, in mono only.
And now we get to the rest of the extras, which should keep fans busy for many hours. The explicit cut contains another excellent commentary with Metzger and moderator Benson Hurst, covering such topics as the origins of the project, the evolution of the title, all of the cast members, and the tactics used to give the film an international, jet-setting flavor. (Oh, and that great Roman mansion seen in the film? That was really in New Jersey.) On the other hand, the softcore version has a solo commentary with Leonard, which plays a bit differently from her one with Gillis on the previous release. The future publisher of High Society spends a lot of time offering her own blow-by-blow coverage of the events in the film, but she has plenty of perceptive comments to make about Metzger's directorial style and her own views on how to present pornography on celluloid. "Behind the Scenes of Misty Beethoven" offers an impressive 48-minute look at the creation of the film with Metzger (audio only, as usual) and Leonard returning to the talk about the film's genesis and production. However, the biggest bonus here is the new interview footage with cinematographer Glickman, who also lensed several films by Al Adamson (The Female Bunch, Dracula vs. Frankenstein) and Larry Cohen (God Told Me To, The Stuff) as well as Pamela Mann. His comments about merging his work as a magician with his craft are fascinating, and it's great to see his love and enthusiasm for this film years later. Also present are music supervisor George Craig, who gathered up all the incredible library music for this film, and sex specialists Drs. Carol Queen and Robert Lawrence, who appear near the end (appropriately) to talk about the film's pioneering depiction of pegging. Also included are a wealth of behind-the-scenes photographs, some of which fly by all too quickly.
A 24-minute reel of outtakes and deleted scenes comes next, an obvious treasure trove for fans. Two sequences shot for this film were famously dropped and used later, an incongruous bondage session between Gillis and Money (which became the climax of Barbara Broadcast) and a scene between Money and a matador (which was integrated into Maraschino Cherry). Some of the other goodies here include more training footage with Money, extra shots on the plane (featuring actor Mark Margolis who went on to play the bell-ringing Tio Salamanca on TV's Breaking Bad), additional coverage of the "ripe mango" prep sequence, more of Layman's party entrance, extra shots of Napoleon in the porno theater, and much more. Then there are the entire deleted scenes including a really odd roughie-style scene with Gillis flinging Money around a room, alternate angles of that cut bondage scene, and a "mystery" sequence with Richard Bolla and a hooker that looks like it was probably related to the theater scene with the same actor used only in the cool version of Barbara Broadcast. A three-minute slideshow of color photos from the set comes next, followed by a six-minute "Ephemera" collection of ads, posters, and newspaper articles, plus some interesting early concept art under titles like The Coming of Misty Beethoven and The Tales of Misty Beethoven. Want more? Okay, some radio spots for other Henry Paris films are included (plus trailers for all five of 'em in HD including Barbara Broadcast, which contains several shots censored from all available video versions), and five additional featurettes. "The Restoration of Misty" (25 mins.) walks through the process of scanning the film in 2K and putting it through the processes of color correction and scratch removal, with plenty of before-and-after comparisons and snippets from the outtakes as well. "Remembering Jamie Gillis" (9 mins.) is an anecdotal tribute to the late adult film legend, while "Jamie Gillis: The Final Interview" (18 mins.) is a candid chat in which he recalls getting his start in the business, his rise to prominence, the involvement of mob money in the industry, the impact of Deep Throat, Tina Russell, Seka ("the combination of princess and white trash"), and the "freaky" nature of some of his work. "Desperately Seeking Susan" is a shorter six-minute piece about the enigmatic Constance Money, revealing how she grew up and what her attitudes were when she took the role. Apparently the disc producers managed to get in touch with her, and though she wasn't interested in doing an interview, it sounds like she'll be a fascinating subject if she ever officially resurfaces to speak with her fans. Finally, "Back to Cinetta Studios" (3 mins.) takes a tour of the location used for the climactic Lawrence Layman party scene. An astonishing package all around and easily one of the year's best.