"All this present reality of yours - is fated to seem a mere illusion to you tomorrow ..."
So begins Radley Metzger's marvellous seventies classic of sex, fantasy and voyeurism, The Lickerish Quartet, with a quote from Pirandello's "Six characters in search of an author". So also begins my exposure as an utter non-intellectual when trying to write about this wonderful little film! I confess to not have a clue about Pirandello, so if Metzger is referencing him throughout the film I can't tell you about it. In my relentless drive to cover as many films as possible in these pages, I sadly haven't got a lot of time to research Mister Pirandello. Plus, there's that boring old real world that consistently eats away at the old study time. I'll just convey my own experience and love of the film, and perhaps you'll want to see it yourself. After all, there can't be enough studies of this type of material. Enough preamble, let's devour some lickerish.
There are no names for the characters in this film, an Italian/West German/American co-production. It will become clearer later why this is so. In a castle somewhere in Europe, a debonair, middle-aged man (Frank Wolff), his beautiful but acid-tongued wife (Erika Remberg) and her adult son (Paolo Turko) watch a pornographic film via a projector. As a visual clue to the mystery to come, we see a drinking bird-toy on furniture in the film. They speculate on the beautiful blonde woman participating in the sex. Was she a prostitute, or just a 'normal' person? The 'castle owner' is aroused by the control he can exert over the actors. Another dark-haired woman joins the projected action. There's some mild flagellation. He can rewind them, speed them up, slow them down. His wife and her son become both disgusted and bored and leave for the city, to find some other sort of hedonism to pursue. Feeling left in the lurch, he soon follows.
They all arrive at a carnival and watch a motorcycle act. The amazing female rider (Silvana Venturelli) whirls around at right angles to the ground on a 'wheel of death', and does it along with two other riders. As soon as she takes her helmet off to receive some applause, the trio instantly recognise her as the blonde woman from the porno film, albeit with long black tresses this time. The man is transfixed and instantly obsessed with bringing her back to the castle, and viewing the film. Amazingly, she agrees and goes home with him to the 'party' he promised was on offer. Soon realising that there are only three other strange people at this party, the girl decides to stay anyway, still clad in her fetching white motorbike outfit. The son shows them some magic tricks, and makes the girl disappear. With a burning torch, the man frantically searches for them throughout the castle, but eventually finds her and the son back in the viewing room. Trying to show the film, now strangely the film doesn't show her face. Later it does, but it's a completely different and coarser-looking person. The 'Castle-owner' is mystified.
Later, as they had offered the woman to stay the night, we see her by herself. She removes the black wig. Now she's exactly like the woman in the original film! Walking around the castle in the sunshine the next day, she finds the man and behaves flirtatiously with him. The wife and son watch from a distance, jealously. She follows him into a huge, amazing library wth erotic literature written all over the floor. At one point claiming to be a virgin, she seduces him and they roll all over the floor as we see words like "fuck", "hole" and "orgy" flash in front of the camera. Once he thought he was impotent but obviously no more. Later he and his wife argue about the tryst, the man boastful of his prowess.
The next day, the girl goes on to seduce the disturbed young man. In a gorgeous outdoor setting they make love on the grass and against a tree. The man and his wife confront their past. That she was a prostitute during the war when they first met, with a son fathered by an unknown man. Sick with venereal disease, he as a customer paid for her to get well and they eventually married. the marriage soon deteriorated into platonic bitterness over the years. Distraught from their clash, the wife sits in front of the film which is being projected again. In the projected film, the naked blonde girl is being tied up by the brunette and seduced. The girl enters the real room and begins to seduce the wife, first with words, then with her lips and skin. Suddenly, it's the wife in the projected film, being tied up and seduced by the blonde girl. We see the drinking bird-toy in the real viewing room. The wife is naked now in the viewing room, the blonde girl still clothed. The projected blue movie now becomes the wife as a young prostitute, having sex with her soon-to-be husband. The next time we see the wife, she is with her husband watching themselves make feverish love. The girl is completely gone. Back to the projected film, her young son walks in on them and sees only monstrous things happening. This later gives rise to his obsession with the gruesome death of a 'Saint Margaret' that he insists he saw as a vision - with the Saint being naked and eaten alive by a dragon. Medieval paintings of this event weave their way throughout the film.
Another event from the past shows up on the projected film. A disgruntled former client shows up and begins to attack them. "The man" shoots him dead and he falls down some stairs. When the girl first visited the castle, she asked "when does the shooting start?" and we saw glimpses of this event again throughout the story. Finally the man stops the projector. The fantasy is over. The adult son sees his parents talking about life being a game of "hide-and-seek", that begins in the dark and ends in the dark. They seem happy. He runs out to find his missing lover, remembering their moments together in the green outside, She's nowhere to be found. Did she even exist? We see the projected film again, and this time the biggest twist to The Lickerish Quartet is about to be revealed ... Let's just say all is very much not as it seems.
I haven't even touched on the complexity of Metzger's visuals. Aside from moving between the scratchy pornographic film and the 'real world', the film shifts from black and white to colour in the blink of an eye. Flashes of the past flicker their way into the present. The blonde girl occassionally appears as the prostitute the wife once was - taking on a customer who ends up being mysteriously shot and falling down a flight of stairs. We glimpse a purple-stockinged woman's foot which will be the key to the film's ultimate ending. Technically, the photography and lighting are brilliant, with many shots taking place purely in the reflections of objects. The music is classy sixties-seventies lounge, of course the clothes and decor follow suit and are all magnificent. That castle is to die for. The actors put their all into it, with Silvana Venturelli as 'The Visitor' surely being one of the most beautiful women in all of creation. Watch the film and see if you disagree! The sex scenes are all quite intense and erotic. Acting-wise they're all good - this is a 'proper' film from a film-snob's point of view. The wife gets the most intimate close-ups and her emotional pain comes through as each layer of their story is unravelled.
I came away with quite a sense of sadness from The Lickerish Quartet. The fantasy that was so important to the jaded married couple completely consumes the son, and he's left with nothing in the end. The lover that brought him out of his shell is gone, never to return. Then the ending comes along and twists everything on it's head. What was reality and what illusion? How easy it is to make people cease to exist, is all I'm saying! Metzger is covering some deep issues here, the very need for, and nature of human fantasy is explored in just over an hour.
If you find 'serious' seventies sexual cinema a bit of a laugh, I'd give this one a miss, as the era certainly comes through in every second of viewing time. Some could find this film pretentious. Still, if you can put the cynicism of 2006 aside and dive into the mystery of Meztger's little masterpiece, I'd urge you to get your projector going, lie down in your plush leopard-skin couch and experience this for yourself.
© Boris "Or Is He?" Lugosi, 2006.
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Review written: 04/26/2006 22:15:00