The Opening of Misty Beethoven

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The openings are both figurative and literal in The Opening of Misty Beethoven, the pornified Pygmalion that’s a key movie from the so-called Golden Age of Porn.

The real Pygmalion, you’ll recall (and My Fair Lady, the musical version) is about two la-di-dah gentlemen betting on whether they can get a Cockney flower girl to pass as a duchess. Here Henry Higgins, Colonel Pickering and Eliza Dolittle are replaced by Dr Seymour Love (Jamie Gillis), his occasional lover Geraldine Rich (Jacqueline Bedaunt) and Misty Beethoven (Constance Money), a low-rent sex worker whom Dr Love picks up in a grindhouse cinema masturbating a guy dressed as Napoleon.

In a plot following Pygmalion’s major beats, international jetsetters and aficionados of erotica Dr Love and Ms Rich set themselves the challenge of turning this reluctant lady of pleasure who won’t actually deliver anything apart from handjobs – “the nadir of sexual passion”, as Dr Love describes her – into something talented enough to pass two tests. First, seduce a very gay designer (Casey Donovan) and then attend a party thrown by the narcissist Lawrence Layman (Ras Kean), publisher of Goldenrod magazine (a dig at Hugh Hefner).

Dr Love knows whereof he speaks. He’s written books on the subject, he says. The Annals of Passion is his latest. “Annals” pronounced “Anals”. And so, in scenes recalling Eliza Dolittle’s elocution lessons, Misty is taught the finer points of sexual congress at the hands (and other parts) of Love, Rich and co.

Director Radley Metzger wastes no time in orienting us as to what this film is really all about. Opening shots establishing that we’re in the Pigalle area of Paris are constantly intercut with hardcore bedroom scenes that have no relation whatsoever to the main story. It’s just a nice-looking youngish couple going at it in a brightly lit room. Point definitively made, Metzger backs off from this approach for the rest of the movie. There are no more cutaways to random sex. Instead, sex happens in the main thrust (if that’s the word) of the story – but anytime, anyplace, anywhere. If there are a woman and a man in any given scene who don’t seem to be there for any specific purpose, it can only be a matter of time before they are getting down to business.

Misty with Dr Seymour Love
Misty with Dr Seymour Love

It’s an alternate reality movie, really, set in a world where people talk openly about sex and do it openly. As Dr Love boards a plane he’s asked if he’s in first class or not, wants sex or not, an adult film or not, before the hostess gets on to the special dietary requirements bit of the onboarding process.

As well as the Napoleon guy, there are some funny jokes, including the naive Misty asking Dr Love what the difference is between New York and Rome – “There aren’t as many Italians in Rome,” he deadpans. At another point there’s a sex scene set to the final, galloping, section of the William Tell Overture, which is like something out of Benny Hill’s TV show, but moreso.

The Golden Age of Porn? Yes, 1969 to 1984 are the dates Wikipedia helpfully gives. From the arrival of Andy Warhol’s Blue Movie in 1969 to the mass take-up of the VHS in the mid 1980s. Most of the traffic was one way – with the likes of Deep Throat, The Devil in Miss Jones, Behind the Green Door and Inside Linda Lovelace prime examples of porn movies gaining some mainstream traction. They were shown in regular movie houses. Meeting these movies somewhere in the middle were smuthouse offerings from the UK (the Confessions… series), softcore from France and elsewhere (Emmanuelle and its sequels) and arthouse from the likes of Bernardo Bertolucci (Last Tango in Paris).

It was Star Wars in 1977 that marked the end of this particular era, when the iconoclastic new guys – Scorsese, Lucas, Coppola, Bogdanovich, Spielberg, De Palma etc – finally replaced the old guard and started cranking out tentpole movies that re-asserted the old order (paradoxically).

No hint of that here. If the sight of erect penises, vaginas, dildos, strapons, semen and so on are a no-no, you have been warned. Metzger includes far more sex than is necessary. He could be a lot less explicit and it would still be a porn movie.

Gillis, Bedaunt and Money all follow where Metzger leads, with Gillis all randy-bastard smarm, Bedaunt looking the least sure of the three (she never made another movie, porn or otherwise) and 20-year-old Money investing the role of the latterday Eliza with a wholesomeness in keeping with her background as a cheerleader. She’s the all-American girl. Likeable and attractive.

Almost entirely devoid of erotic content – the forensically bright lighting largely to blame – it’s a briskly delivered bounce of a movie with some tasty camera work and an almost crash-edit approach to its assembly. But very noticeably, when the sex action gets going the narrative action grinds to halt. But then that is porn, is it not? The flimsy pretext – enter the plumber, exit storytelling.

PS: the full uncut version runs about 85 mins. It’s the one linked to below.

The Opening of Misty Beethoven – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2023

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