Sunday, October 24, 2010

And that's how you play get the guests: SCORE (1974)


The title above is a line from WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? (1966), delivered by Richard Burton after he demolishes the entire foundation of another couple's marriage (my review here). One thing that's nigh un-demolishable is the WOOLF itself, a great film based on a great Edward Albee play, which proved a reliable blueprint for Jerry Douglas's all-nude 1970s stage play Score, AKA No One's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, (no doubt jumping into the foamy wake of Oh, Calcutta!'s surprisingly big splash) answered Albee's titular question, at least for the pre-AIDS era. Douglas' play must have been a success because it had a film adaptation, via auteur erotique Radley Metzger, the 1972 classic SCORE.  With its discontentedly sexual quartet-takes-acid plot, the film reimagines the equations of Albee's original for the age of swinging suburbia.  This is what would happen if George and Martha were druggy bisexuals instead of bitchy drunks, and Liz Taylor went after Sandy Dennis and Burton punked out George Segal and they all got high and did poppers and Valium and god knows what else...


My main issue with softcore 1970s films, or sex movies in general, is that for some reason sex isn't sexy once its 'present' onscreen. It can be a forbidden thrill to think about, but without special skill behind the camera and maybe half a roofie chased with a quart of whiskey you may either fall asleep or find yourself having an anything-but-sexual fantasy while waiting for the soft focus and slow gropes to die away and an actual movie to appear. The 'wallpaper' camp factor lasts around ten minutes, and unless the music is good, like sitars and bongos, it can grate on your nerves, but why am I even mentioning all that when discussing Radley Metzger? He's a rare a diamond in a thorny rose bush. He's classy; he's artistic; he's a little bit mad, and smart enough to know you can put Shakespeare into smut just as easy as you can put smut into Shakespeare. 


SCORE is a gem not only in the Metzger canon but in the world of risque adult entertainment, marking a genuinely subversive high water mark above the usual lowbrow hetero-male-centric sexual rubric. It's a gay seduction film for straight men, or a bi-curious film that satisfies curiosity how other quarters halve, like a cat killer that raises cats from the dead. This is the movie that should have gone on while Elliot Gould was brushing his teeth at the end of BOB AND CAROL AND TED AND ALICE (1969). He'd have run screaming from the screen!

As the head hedonist Martha-type, Claire Wilbur is strangely reserved (she played her role originally onstage) and kind of manly, which suits the role. As the hotter younger gamin, Lynn Lowry is cat-eyed (she was 'Ruthie' in the 1982 CAT PEOPLE remake) and convincing. She seems to be really having fun and rolling along with the story wherever it may go. As her squeamish new husband, Calvin Culver is kind of too gay from the get-go to convincingly be seduced out of his straight programming, but he looks good without a shirt and has a sweet smile (sadly, he died of AIDS in 1987). Gerald Grant as the worldly, knowing Jack was in only a handful of other films: both his haircut and acting are uneven, but Metzger's tart dialogue carries him through and he seduces like he's played 'get the guests' all his life. SCORE, thou shalt score again!


Not only is this an important movie for anyone anxious to learn the ABC's of seduction strategizing, it's also a feel good movie for the gay matchmaker in us all. Many's the night I've helped counter the odds as a lesbian wingman back in the 00's. Between my hot AA lesbian sponsee and me in my peak condition, all the exits were covered. Still, that didn't mean we always caught our quarry, espec. if she was straight and sniffed out our Dangerous Liason-style game like a frightened deer. Sometimes you can turn 'em, most times you can't, but it's a great team-building exercise. Before all that, whilst still drinking, I lived in Hoboken with a hot bi swinger, and I'd feel a vested interest in her seduction stratagem as well. I'd work to keep her prey entertained but when said prey ran hurriedly off with mixed signals and tedious straightness intact to catch the midnight Path train back to Manhattan, we'd drown our collective sorrows.

Watching SCORE reminded me a lot of that, except, well, the title says it all! Path trains not an option.

So while on the one hand you are rooting for this pair to seduce this younger couple, on the other hand, 'gulp' if you are a straight male you are kind of put in the position of having to imagine all sorts of 'new sensations' which straight males are not often forced to reckon with while being too high to object and too vulnerable to being wooed and flattered by some hot hairy... shirtless... male. If you're not gay, maybe this movie will prove you wrong. And at least do your hosts the credit of inhaling some freakin' poppers before you make up your mind.


Could part of 'straight' middle America's rabid hate/fear of gay marriage and openly gay soldiers be similar to the reticence and denial of the younger couple in this film? Is it a metaphor? Or is it that our reign on our straight imaginations is so tenuous we can't help imagining acts that then freak us out and repel us sexually? We don't like to imagine our parents doing it either, for example, and generally they respect that by not talking about their sex life in our presence. Can we put two and two together and realize fear of homosexuality is fear of our own imagination, of the way we can't let mental images go, the way we become obsessed by threats that don't exist, all tied into our own conception of our primal scenery? If we don't repress our cultural gayness, in short (according to our subconscious' bundled anxiety portfolio), we may have to watch our parents have sex, and that would be horrific. Better to not be born, better to inhale our own amyl nitrate birth and exhale into a whole new self, one more open... and more opened.

All I know is, gay people who don't admit it to themselves are a misfiring piston in the roaring Chevy engines of bi-ness, straightness, and gayness. If you're always telling people the elaborate non-gay reasons you have for not having an opposite sex lover, then forget it, come out and be the best gay person in the world, rather than the lamest straight person. And then come over for dinner (in 1992) so my roommate can sleep with you! SCORE strikes again! Open up the pepper shaker and roll another number.


There is a minor issue I have with the SCORE soundtrack, particularly an obnoxiously off-key Yardbirds impression song "Where is the Girl" that repeats way too much in the beginning. But the big climax scene that's the last 20 minutes or so rocks with a funky bongo and distorted electric cello score that gets the blood racing.  Similarly, the actors are also a bit stilted in the beginning but come into their own pretty quick once that cello starts, especially cat-eyed Lowry, who taps into a kind of sensational wickedness as she begins to take some control and play along; a natural born swinger just now blossoming as the pot, pills and poppers kick in.

And of course that slow coming into their own also parallels WOOLF, wherein Burton's character starts out all old and tired and set in his set fusty history prof ways and as the night heats up and the drinks fly down, he catches fire and comes alive with wit-fueled malice. SCORE though, is in the end much nicer. Because no one is bemoaning lack of children, or being mean to one another. The games of 'get the guests' here have no malice, just a kind of refreshingly even-keeled bravado, by which husband and wife stand as well-matched opponents in a friendly game of 'turn the newbie on'. Nothing warms my heart more than seeing someone 'open up' into new realms of being... while doing weird drugs.

And SCORE's big finale climax is methodical and ingeniously edited so that when the seductors agree, each in their separate killing chambers, that midnight will be the 'game's' deadline, everything begins to heat up in crazy crosscuts, to the point of no-return right at the stroke of twelve, cooking like no one's business, until the separate seductions bleed together and the will they or won't they becomes a tied-up, twirling funhouse mirror blur of identity that rockets SCORE out of the WOOLF-ish woods and right into the rarefied air of menage-a-troisteur Donald Cammell's PERFORMANCE


I also love that the film follows only one 24-hour period, in these people's lives, from one hung-over morning/afternoon picking up ashtrays, spent popper tubes and flung underwear, to the next. I love those kind of parties! People sing about goin' on and on to the "breaka dawn," but don't often show it in movies. With his attention to the real-time rhtyhms of seduction and horizon-widening, Metzger shows his love not only of WOOLF but of Eric Rohmer! And drug orgies! Like the best of Rohmer's sun-dappled moral tales, the chase and the near misses become so hot with SCORE that even after hooking up or not the passion still undulates. And like all the best drug movies, the contact high is potent.

Incidentally, the stunning new DVD being released this week from Cult Epics is fully restored and uncut, which means... oh I shan't spoil the surprise. Let's just say, if you see just one 1970s uncut sex movie this semester, make it SCORE. And since this is a time for new things, my friend, just relax... relax... and when that first popper comes rushing through your brain, keep repeating "it's only a movie, it's only a movie.." being projected.. onto my tight sailor pants.

Look closer...at far right

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