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Seen today, the best elements in Metzger's 60s erotic films are not the sex scenes but the lounge/pop music scores, mod interior design and hip dialogue. Also of note is the creative use of camera placement (through glass or mirrors) to distort what we're seeing. There are long stretches of dull dubbed dialogue between erotic scenes but the three colorful party sequences were the highlights for me.
Back in my Junior High years "Carmen, Baby" (1967) was hot (but
forbidden) stuff in our small mid-western town. For some reason the
distributor gave this film from avant-garde erotica director Radley
Metzger a wide US theatrical release-with mega publicity. So teenage
boys were titillated each day by newspaper ads featuring two still
memorable publicity photos of German actress Uta Levka; sticking out
her tongue in a close-up and displaying her curves in a long side shot.
We were too young for admittance although some managed to see the film
when it hit the drive-in circuit the next summer.
Finally getting to view the thing 40 years later was pretty much a prescription for disappointment and I soon found myself yearning for Rita Hayworth in "The Loves of Carmen (1948).
Metzger's modern retelling of Bizet's opera is generally faithful to the story and sometimes even inventive in its technique. There wasn't much about it that I would consider experimental, other than a slick touch toward the end where Metzger illustrates the separation between Carmen (Levka) and Jose (Claus Ringer) by filming them together at a club from an angle that places a beam between them. What was certainly an "adult" film in 1967 seems almost prudish next to typical contemporary teen films like "American Pie".
Metzger is an American who shot a film in Germany with a German cast speaking English (for a while I thought it dubbed but why dub in broken English). Subtitles would have fixed a portion of the weak acting but would have hurt profits. The film would have been better in 1967 and less dated today if Metzger had used a bit of Bizet's music in the score instead of mid-60's European lounge music.
Ringer is actually quite good nonverbally but has trouble selling his character's obsession with the title character. In part because of the extremely weak script but also because despite her great publicity photos; the on-screen Levka is totally bland and sterile.
Despite excellent and well proved source material, the screenwriter obviously struggled with its modern adaptation and Metzger meanders stylishly all over the place while managing to show nothing particularly erotic "on screen" - whenever anything begins to happen the camera pulls in for a close-up of a man's face experiencing pleasure and one is left to imagine what is happening outside the frame. There are a few good action scenes when Jose surprises his boss in the bedroom with Carmen. The traditional catfight at the start of the film is completely unconvincing; you actual feel embarrassed for the two actresses who have to participate in something this lame.
Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
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