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  Lickerish Quartet, The You ought to be in pictures
Year: 1970
Director: Radley Metzger
Stars: Silvana Venturelli, Frank Wolff, Erika Remberg, Paolo Turco
Genre: Drama, Sex, WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: In his luxurious castle, a wealthy aristocrat (Frank Wolff) screens a scratchy, black and white porn reel for his haughty yet curious wife (Erika Remberg) and unsettled stepson (Paolo Turco). All three find themselves captivated by the film’s sexually fearless, beautiful blonde star (Silvana Venturelli). Later that night the family visit a travelling carnival where they are startled to discover the star attraction, a daredevil motorcycle stunt-rider is a dead-ringer for the girl from their favourite sex flick, except for being a brunette. The aristocrat conspires to invite the girl back to the castle and surprise her with the film, but upon doing so discovers the images have inexplicably altered - at first obscuring her face, then showing a entirely different woman. Invited to spend the night, the girl removes her wig to reveal lustrous golden locks and in a series of dreamily erotic encounters seduces each family member in turn, liberating their private neuroses and subconscious desires.

Opening with a quote from Pirandello, The Lickerish Quartet certainly ranks among the most cerebral sex movies you are likely to see. After almost stealing the show in Camille 2000 (1969), smouldering sex goddess Silvana Venturelli becomes the bewitching focal point for this reality-bending romp from Radley Metzger, the man once described as the only true genius working in exploitation cinema. Metzger is unique in that he approaches the erotic with both utmost seriousness and a sense of play, never feeling the need to link sex with psychological terror and despair the say contemporary “erotic thrillers” do. His films may be fuelled by the spirit of carefree abandon that characterised the post-sexual revolution/pre-AIDS era, but they are not naïve thanks to his cultured, literary approach.

Here the post-modern playfulness that danced around the edges of his earlier works, explodes into an audacious film-within-a-film concept. It lies at the heart of a series of benevolent mind games exploring the interaction between fantasy and reality, cinema and the viewer, with the onscreen action fed as much by our own inquisitive desires as we are nourished by it. Metzger employs his usual arsenal: sumptuous scope photography, outstanding sets and costumes designed by regular collaborator Enrico Sabbatini, and an achingly romantic score by Stelvio Cipriani. All these elements combine to create an erotically-charged dream world, through which Venturelli’s gleefully enigmatic heroine floats like a seductive spirit. As intuitive as she is alluring, the mystery girl is more than a match for her smug, self-assured hosts who come across like a parody of the haughty intelligentsia who flocked to upmarket sex films like this.

In a manner deliberately evoking (and arguably one-upping) Last Year at Marienbad (1961), Metzger employs ingenious editing tricks that fracture the time stream. Scenes from before and after intrude on the present. At one point the movie rewinds and replays in variations. Metzger makes atmospheric use of the authentic Italian castle that is almost a haunted house, full of black and white phantoms from the characters’ past, strange fantasies and pop culture riffs intruding from other movies entirely.

Some surprisingly meaty drama and a line of subversive wit prevents the concept from disappearing up its own post-modern backside. Notably the famous scene where Wolff and Venturelli roll naked around the library floor decorated with blowups of dictionary terms for sexual slang, which is one of Metzger’s wittiest set-pieces. He even stages a sex scene/dance number where Venturelli and Turco shimmy out of their clothes as they cavort across the castle grounds. It’s a rare, genuinely multilayered erotic movie that proves sexy, funny and philosophical.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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