5.02.2013

The pornographic canon: "The Opening of Misty Beethoven" (1976)


The girl-girl scene as appetizer: Terri Hall and Jacqueline Beudant in The Opening of Misty Beethoven.

It’s a given that sex scenes between two or more women in mainstream pornography are usually aimed at the straight male viewer, and are usually presented as merely the appetizer to heterosexual coupling’s main course.  Radley Metzger’s The Opening of Misty Beethoven (1976)—a superb film, by the way—offers us as good an example of this as any.  Terri Hall and Jacqueline Beudant act out a seduction scenario that ends with Hall going down on Beudant, whereupon Hall transfers her attention to Jamie Gillis and the straight sex commences.  In the context of the straight porn film, even the girl-girl scenes such as this one could be considered straight sex insofar as they serve the interests of a heteronormative logic, according to which “cock and cunt will come together,” to quote an old schoolyard chant.  As Heather Butler has noted, it’s proven difficult to unearth any authentic lesbian pornography from this so-called golden age of hard-core.  What sex between women is there (and there is quite a lot of it) almost always seems to have been made by straight filmmakers, with straight actors, for straight audiences.

By contrast, the tradition of gay male pornography from the 1970s on is a rich one, yet gay sex almost never turns up in straight films, in part because it threatens to awaken homosexual panic on the part of the straight men presumed to be hard-core’s target demographic.  And yet it’s instructive to note how, when, and where homosexuality does turn up in films such as The Opening of Misty Beethoven.  The homosexual in this text is an art dealer played by none other than Casey Donovan of Boys in the Sand fame.  The words “gay,” “homosexual,” or “fag” are never uttered in the film; instead, Donovan’s character is coyly referred to as “impotent” (though his costume, which consists of a silk robe and some makeup, serves as an instant giveaway).  He thus becomes an ideal target for our heroine, who is looking to test out her recently acquired sexual skills.  What greater challenge than trying them on a gay man? 

Casey Donovan as Misty Beethoven's "impotent" art dealer.

That Misty succeeds in turning Donovan’s character straight (at least momentarily) could be read as another moment in which the film asserts its heteronormativity: even when the figure of the homosexual does turn up, it’s only so that he may be drafted into straight sex.  But there’s a great deal more sexual flexibility in this film than in many other straight films from the period (witness the pegging scene that comes later), and it’s worth noting that Metzger had previously used Donovan in Score (1972), a soft-core feature that sports both a girl-girl and a boy-boy scene.  This is to say that Metzger shows much less anxiety about male homosexuality than, say, Gerard Damiano, in whose films it remains virtually unimaginable.  Metzger’s films are thus fascinating examples of how straight hard-core acknowledges homosexuality and even flirts with its narrative possibilities at the same time that it asserts the superiority, and the inevitability, of straight sex.    

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