The Libertine (DVD)
In addition to opening American eyes to cinema's potential, European films of the late '50s and early '60s also brought a little skin to legitimate U.S. theaters for the first time since the implementation of the Hays Code. New York entrepreneur Radley Metzger took advantage of the loosening standards, and under his Audubon Films imprint, he began importing and distributing genteel tales of sexual awakening from overseas. He also made his own softcore (and later hardcore) films, setting the standard for artful, playful erotica. Two of the more obscure Audubon Films acquisitions have just been released on DVD: 1959's The Nude Set and 1969's The Libertine. Though not directed by Metzger, both films' ritzy internationalism and sophistication match his vision. The Nude Set (originally known as Mademoiselle Strip-tease in France, and as The Fast Set in prudish American communities) stars Agnès Laurent as a rich girl from Lyon who loves chocolate cake, movie magazines, and her Parisian doctor boyfriend (Philippe Nicaud). When Laurent moves to Paris to be closer to the worldly Nicaud, she finds that her virginal teenybopper act doesn't sit well with him, or with the beatnik artists and cabaret strippers with whom he drinks and dances the night away. The same sexual timidity curses Catherine Spaak in the Italian romp The Libertine. When her husband dies, Spaak discovers a swinger's apartment that he kept for bondage play and erotic moviemaking. Figuring that she's been too repressed, Spaak embarks on a series of sexual adventures, culminating in an attempt to woo prudish doctor Jean-Louis Trintignant. In spite of their titles and plot descriptions, neither The Nude Set or The Libertine is all that wild. The nudity in each is sparse and tasteful, and the rare sex scenes are treated with a combination of joyousness and matter-of-factness. The appeal of these films derives from their polished style and jazzy music, and in the way the directors (Pierre Foucaud on the former, Pasquale Festa Campanile on the latter) try to piggyback on the art cinema of their contemporaries. The Nude Set's youthful zest recalls Jean-Luc Godard, while The Libertine features the same sort of oddball lovemaking-insects includedthat marked Luis Buñuel's Belle De Jour. The DVDs sport crisp transfers but a paucity of extras: A few bonus Audubon Films trailers and a few screens of production notes are pretty much it. That's unfortunate, because Metzger is still alive and granting interviews. It would've been nice to hear his voice on a commentary track or two, remarking on the subtle chauvinism of these simplified "sex equals freedom" stories. Perhaps he could have spilled anecdotes about the nascent years of adult films, when impresarios still had an interest in celebrating the many facets of the human condition, not just exploiting the basest.