Menu

When Porn Was (kinda) Sweet: A Review of Score

Charlie Bass Feb 7, 2006

Today’s pornography industry, while never regaining the playful spirit of its 1970’s heyday, has proven itself continually successful. Blame the decimating impact of AIDS, the conversion from film to video, widespread plastic surgery, or 30+ years of cultural change – whatever the cause, most porn today feels hung-over and listless, as if nothing could be less fun than sexual activity.

Not that porn from the past is always enjoyable, but few porn filmmakers (beyond the brilliant if problematic Russ Meyer) ever bothered to push their films toward artistry.

In his best films (Score, The Lickerish Quartet, The Opening of Misty Beethoven), Radley Metzger achieves a kind of playful art-porn grandeur. In Metzger’s world, sex becomes the common denominator, and he glosses over any distinctions of class, race or sexual orientation: All that matters is each character’s ability.

Score (1973) captures a now-inconceivable swinging 70s utopia: Elvira (Claire Wilbur) and Jack (Gerald Grant) are a happy couple competing to see who can first seduce the sexually naïve Betsy (Lynn Mowry) and Eddie (Casey Donovan).

Not too unusual a setup, but the trick here is that Jack wants Eddie and Elvira wants Betsy, leading to a film that truly offers (as the ads claimed) “something for everyone.” After Elvira has Betty photograph her screwing local handyman Mike (Carl Parker), the couples share a joint and play dress-up: Jack the sailor, Eddie the cowboy, Elvira the nun and innocent Betsy, the dominatrix.

The same-sex couples split off for a long seduction sequence, brilliantly cross-cut by Metzger, to where the men get Warholian fetishized images projected on their bodies, the women lose themselves in a mirrored tent bed and everyone takes amyl nitrate (how quaint!). Inhibitions drop away as fantasy, memory and identity blur in a whirlwind of rhythmic making out (as Metzger prefers, the hardcore shots are cut from the DVD) before Betsy and Eddie depart, now trained seducers themselves.

Adapted from an off-Broadway parody of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolff?, Score’s consistently witty script, Hefner-ski-lodge décor, and perfect cast are a treat. Cult legend Mowry (who’s worked with Cronenberg and Romero) might be porn’s ideal naïf, and the hilariously brazen Claire Wilbur is empowerment incarnate. Like a dirty cross between James Whale and Josef
Von Sternberg, Metzger is a master of framing his characters to illuminate
private meanings and desires while never passing judgment on them, save those too square to let loose and … the whole room.

It’s hard not to admire a film where one character says of her husband: “I
like everyone here except him because he won’t take his pants off.” Never less than wholly charming, Score is pure adulterated joy.