Follow the art house trail back fifty years and you might find yourself enjoying Russ Meyer’s “The Immoral Mr. Teas” at the Guild 45th or Brigitte Bardot in Vadim’s “And God Created Woman” at the Beaux Arts. From the beginning, the art house doubled as a venue for sexploitation pictures, and the two overlapped more frequently than one might imagine.
Throughout the sixties, some of the finest work in international cinema was often advertised with a salacious leer. Wanton images of Anita Ekberg in the Trevi fountain sold more tickets to Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita” than did the director’ s reputation, and the marketing behind Bergman’s “The Silence” was all about forbidden sexuality.
Radley Metzger’s sexadelic version of Dumas’ “The Lady of the Camilias” opens and closes with an homage to Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita,” as a quartet of orgiastic revelers collapse on the Roman steps. Metzger’s vision of heartless debauchery among the upper classes is even more anguished than Fellini’s, with its beautiful courtesans and their counts skewering the odd romantic who falls into their silk-lined lairs.
That romantic lad in this case is Armand Duval (Nino Castelnuovo), whose pursuit of the faithless Marguerite Gautier (Daniele Gaubert) makes him think twice about exchanging eternal ideals for temporal pleasures.
Metzger is an American who started Auduban Film, a distribution company for European erotica, and directed many of his own pictures in Europe. “Camille 2000” was made in Italy, with a crew that included many of that country’s finest artisans. Cinematographer Ennio Guarnieri also lensed Pasolini’s “Medea,” De Sica’s “Garden of the Fizi Continis,” and Ziefferelli’s “Brother Sun, Sister Moon.” The original score was composed by Piero Piccioni, whose credits include Visconti’s “The Stranger” and Rosi’s “Christ Stopped at Eboli.” Finally, the art direction and costume design is by Enrico Sabbatini , who worked on Bava’s “Bay of Blood” and Petri’s “The 10th Victim.”
The sets, especially the Marguerite’s all-white bedroom, are gorgeous, and the cast is far more attractive than you could hope for. Or maybe it’s just the lighting. Skin is never as golden-perfect in real life as it is in three-strip Technicolor.
In addition to its delightful surfaces, “Camille 2000” does a credible job with the darker side of Dumas’ material, and the hospital scenes between Armond and Marguerite are even more passionate than their couplings, as they try to overcome a thin wall of plastic as the blood of the sick and the robust cries out to be mingled.