New York City-bred director Radley Metzger made several arty softcore pictures, culminating with this one, before diving headlong into hardcore. Yet he wasn’t merely a money-shot hack, because Metzger later helmed the PG-rated thriller The Cat and the Canary (1978). Thus, The Lickerish Quartet merits a small measure of attention as a key transitional project in Metzger’s career. Although it’s ultimately a skin flick, with the supple curves of leading lady Silvana Venturelli providing the main focus, The Lickerish Quartet is almost a real movie (albeit a laughably pretentious one). Set in Italy, the picture—which Metzger contrived with Michael DeForrest, who wrote the script—imagines a sexcapade among the jet set. When the film begins, a middle-aged man and woman (Frank Wolff and Erika Remberg) watch a porno movie alongside their adult son, and the father provides cynical color commentary during the screening. Later, the trio ventures to a carnival, where stunt performers ride motorcycles sideways in a “Wall of Death” attraction. When the performers remove their helmets, the trio realizes that one of the drivers is a woman they saw in the porno movie. Excited, they invite the woman home for an evening of chitchat, mind games, and, of course, sex.
Metzger borrows myriad visual tricks from the European cinema of the ’50s and ’60s, jostling the viewer’s sense of reality with hidden cuts, shifts from black-and-white to color, and trick shots. Meanwhile, he and DeForrest give their characters stilted dialogue that sounds vaguely sophisticated but doesn’t actually mean anything: “Like most collectors,” the patriarch says at one point, “I’m afraid private ownership has rather got the upper hand.” And yet, somehow, the narrative is mildly intriguing—thanks to the presence of psychosexual tension—until characters start screwing. Then Metzger loses all discipline, devoting his energy solely to inventing cool angles from which to ogle Venturelli’s body as she writhes through sessions with all three other characters. During the most visually interesting of these tediously long sex scenes, Metzger channels Russ Meyer’s gonzo style, because Wolff and Venturelli make out in a library that’s decorated with blow-ups of dictionary entries. So, as Woff thrusts, Metzger flash-cuts to closeups of words including “organ,” “phallus,” and “sex.” The effect is as subtle as a heart attack, but at least it’s an attempt at style.
Notwithstanding its X-rating, The Lickerish Quartet isn’t explicit, so viewers curious about vintage erotica but uninterested in actual porn may find the movie interesting. Plus, The Lickerish Quartet provides a (very) minor link in the chain connecting classic European art cinema to the bold experiments of American ’70s directors.
The Lickerish Quartet: FUNKY