Conspirators of pleasure

The Image: Claire (Marilyn Roberts, right) reprimands Anne (Rebecca Brooke, middle) in front of Jean (Carl Parker).

The erotic comedies of Radley Metzger often turn on schemes of seduction orchestrated by male-female partners.  In Score (1974), married swingers Jack and Elvira conspire to get their straight friends Eddie and Betsy into bed.  In The Opening of Misty Beethoven (1976), Metzger’s sexualized variation on Pygmalion, Jacqueline Beudant’s Geraldine plays Colonel Pickering to Jamie Gillis’ Professor Higgins (renamed Seymour Love): as Seymour proceeds to remake the lowly Dolores Beethoven into “Misty,” Geraldine acts as his confidante, interlocutor, and wing-(wo)man.  The Image (1975) involves a similarly triangulated relationship between Jean (Carl Parker), his bisexual friend Claire (Marilyn Roberts), and Claire’s submissive lover Anne (Rebecca Brooke).  The majority of the film’s erotic set pieces involve either Claire loaning Anne to Jean for him to do with—and to—what he will, or Claire and Jean teaming up to discipline and punish Anne. 

The type of relationship between the men in Metzger’s films and their female pals/co-conspirators is unusual in erotic cinema from this period (or any period).  There’s an egalitarianism and a shared sense of fun that structures these relationships that’s different from the structures of pleasure that attend the films’ other sexual relationships.  Jean and Claire’s relationship to each other in The Image depends upon a mutual respect for each other—and a mutual acknowledgement of the other’s shared desire for Anne.  Which is why the twist at the end of that film, an otherwise accomplished piece of high-brow soft-core, feels like such a let-down: Anne having broken away from the group, Claire now assumes the role of submissive bottom to Jean’s dominant top.  I like the film better when Jean and Claire are allied in their dominance over Anne; they’re equals, bonded by their exchange of the other woman.  Furthermore, the twist revelation that Claire is, apparently, a closet submissive (her desire to be dominated by Jean is triggered when, in the film’s climactic S&M set piece, the two of them fight over Anne) doesn’t jibe with her stone-cold persona.  I was sorry to see her playful friendship with Jean suddenly become bound by the power dynamics of a couplehood.  “Everything Resolves Itself,” the title of the film’s last chapter reads—but this ending feels less like a resolution than a trick.

The final scene: Claire submits to Jean.

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