I am of the Paul Thomas Anderson school of thought: out there, amongst all of the quickly filmed filler, are some legitimately good adult movies. They will never be mistaken for Fellini, but they are just as deserving of accolades. To marry hardcore sex with a script that isn’t just a barren clothesline is a difficult feat. As a struggling screenwriter and wannabe director, I’ve often wondered if it would ever be possible to make an adult film that would be a hit beyond the art crowd. Sure, Deep Throat and Behind the Green Door were big in their day, but that was forty years ago. Over the last decade, sex has been prominent in some independent movies like 9 Songs, Shortbus, and The Brown Bunny, none of which met with huge boxoffice. That, to me, would be the ultimate test of one’s directorial skill. A project I’ve always had in mind is an adaptation of Terry Southern’s Blue Movie, which manages to be funny, erotic, and thoughtful. People are squeamish, though, and the cavalcade of free porn they can find on the internet renders theater going nearly moot. It would have to be an event, available only at the cinema, to lure people out of the house.
The Opening of Misty Beethoven is the finest fuck film ever made. My Fair Lady with cum shots, Beethoven is a sly, witty, sexy, and sweet adult romp that is better than it has any right to be. Directed under a pseudonym by Radley Metzger, the film follows Dr. Seymour Love, played by Jamie Gillis, as he takes smart ass streewalker, Misty Beethoven (Constance Money), under his tutelage. Gillis, like Rex Harrison, believes that high class doesn’t come from breeding but rather surface level factors and has made a career of teaching regular women how to be top notch lovers. It’s a strangely subversive move, helping blue collar women learn the tricks to infiltrate the upper echelons while still maintaining their own personalities. Misty is a prime candidate when Gillis spies her giving handjobs in a Parisian nudie theater; she interrupts his spiel to attend to her client, an old man dressed as Napoleon.
Misty is a hodgepodge of styles, her clothes threadbare and cheap and her make-up caked on in massive clumps of red and blue. Gillis glimpses something spunky and smart in the girl and tries to sway her to let him teach her. The banter between the two is sharp, clever in a way most porn films never come close to. When Gillis asks if ‘Misty Beethoven’ is her real name, she says ‘no.’ When pressed for the real thing, she nonchalantly says, “Delores.” Gillis mutters, “Of course,” to himself. It’s a snappy, His-Girl-Friday relationship that crackles with real human emotion.
Gillis begins instructing Misty, teaching her how to enjoy sex, perform oral properly, and dress with a modicum of respect. She practices her techniques on the butlers and maids around Gillis’ mansion. When the girl gets sick of her lessons, she turns up her face and says, “I think men stink.” Gillis responds wonderfully with, “Well, they think you stink. In fact, it’s one of the most perfectly balanced equations in nature.” Sue me. I fucking laughed.
When she is ready, Gillis begins sending her out into the world to screw with the classiest of the classy. She causes a scene in an opera house bathroom, successfully seduces a gay aristocrat, and becomes the talk of of the gilded set. Her lovemaking catches the eye of Lawrence, a blond, egomaniacal stud who runs Goldenrod Magazine, a publication that randomly chooses a woman as a Goldenrod Girl; such a title is desired as it means the woman is considered the best lover in the world. Gillis is giddy at the news and starts prepping Misty for her ascent to greatness.
Then, a funny thing happens; Misty and Gillis begin to realize they care for one another. In fact, they may even love eachother. Misty begins chafing at having to be with so many people while never expressing her quiet longing to Gillis; in turn, the man starts to grow melancholy each time the girl leaves on another rendezvous. It is a rare expression of honest romance and companionship that most “regular” movies can’t even get right, let alone porn movies. Money and Gillis are such good actors that the desire doesn’t feel tacked on; in this fantasy world of easy sex, the unspoken love between these two is what is memorable.
Misty attends a Goldenrod Gala held in a warehouse that looks like something out of Midnight Cowboy. She seduces Lawrence in a rare moment of female-on-male strap-on sex and blows his mind. It’s a victory, but a hollow one. Misty tires of Gillis putting on airs and leaves him. Months go by and the man is downtrodden; his work means nothing and he sits alone in his mansion watching home movies of him and Misty. When it seems as though he is doomed to stay in this brooding phase, Misty returns and the two finally make love. A coda shows Misty taking over the business while Gillis is her dog, literally on all fours and led by a leash. It’s the happiest he’s been the whole movie.
Look, this isn’t The Magnificent Ambersons; it’s a well-made adult film and you either dig it or you don’t. Modern audiences will probably find it slow or tame, as the sex isn’t brightly lit and there isn’t a gang of men with thirteen inch cocks looking to spray a starlet down. However, if you can dig on some vintage erotica, Misty Beethoven is a definite winner. The cast is exceptionally good. Gillis was a Shakespearean actor in Greenwhich Village before joining the porno scene in the early-seventies. His training is obvious as he can imbue as much life in his dialogue as he can in his sex scenes. Sadly, he died in 2010 from cancer. Money was never a big name in the industry and came and went a few times. I have never seen her talk about Misty Beethoven; supposedly she was such a pain the ass about constantly wanting money that one of the producers bestowed her stage name upon her. Her silence may be attributed to this. She has a beautiful face, something that isn’t so sought after in today’s adult market. Factors like that began to die off as the industry grew and grew; a face was unimportant as long as the woman was willing to get stretched open to the size of a sewer tunnel. Perhaps I’m picky, but if the face has a distant stare or a wrecked grill, I can’t get into it. Money was gorgeous and clearly enjoyed what she was doing and, to steal a line from Daniel Tosh, for that we thank her.
Adult films can be a form of outlaw art. Mixed amongst the suitcase pimps, dizzy starlets, and greedy producers are some genuinely intelligent and artistic people. The porn industry makes more money a year than Hollywood, the NFL, the NBA, and just about every other American cornerstone you can think of. Billions of dollars roll in from internet subscriptions, DVD sales, and pay-per-view purchases. Yet, we as a country turn our nose up this industry, still caught in the kind of hypocritical shunning our Puritan ancestors excelled at. We view the women especially as victims or sluts, damaged goods that somehow need to be rescued. But, where are those billions of dollars coming from? There isn’t a small pocket of raincoat wearing pervs supplying a straight line of cash. It’s us. Mom and dad and your sister and brother; aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, teachers, ministers, managers, co-workers, and politicians. We partake in this entertainment, but disavow knowledge of it in public. When something as funny, charming, and well-made as The Opening of Misty Beethoven comes along, it is in the interest of every artistically inclined person to support the real creative risk takers. If we don’t champion our own, who will?