Radley Metzger’s Camille 2000 (1969) is a classic of 1960s sexploitation cinema. The genre declined rapidly in the ‘70s with the rise of hardcore pornography, and has since been relegated to neighbourhood video stores as the more socially acceptable, lightweight version of porn. Although the quality of the storytelling in this genre is questionable, its general style-over-substance manifesto makes for some visually beautiful forays into the kinky underworld of the rich and beautiful. At least this is the case in Camille 2000.
Based on Alexandre Dumas’s The Lady of The Camellias, the story revolves around Marguerite, a beautiful woman whose affairs with wealthy men make up her day job. She comes across Armand, and the two fall in love, despite his lack of riches. The rest of the film follows their doomed love story amidst hedonistic nights at palatial mansions in the Italian countryside. Definitely not thought-provoking material, but the technical aspects—cinematography, set design, and musical score—are simply stunning. And let’s face it, no one watches porn for the storyline.
Critics canned Camille 2000 at the time of its release, likely due to the negative connotations the genre evokes, of seedy old men in dark movie theatres. Radley Metzger went on to eventually direct hardcore pornography, which didn’t help his reputation in the mainstream film world. Camille 2000 was one of the best, highly-stylized, ‘porno chic’ films Metzger made before his career (and, some would argue, his morals) plummeted.
The film presents the beautiful elite and their opulent fantasy life as they party and sleep around in glamorous villas. Although their lifestyle is unattainable for most, their woes in love are universal. The acting is wooden at times, but the drama of the story overshadows the sex in the film. Considering the genre, the film is not as exploitative as one would expect, with the sex scenes being nothing more than standard Hollywood fare. Camille 2000 succeeds in telling a love story, albeit in a very superficial and stylized way. The fact that it doesn’t pretend to do anything else is what gives it gravitas.
Visually, the set design is a standout, and is further enhanced by the beautiful cinematography. Stylistically, it is the 1960s films of Fellini and Antonioni meets a Vogue photoshoot. Everyone in the film is outrageously attractive and this is only enhanced by the meticulous costumes (or lack thereof) and camera work. The locations in Rome and the surrounding countryside are postcard-perfect.
The absolute highlight, however, is the musical score. Composer Piero Piccioni provides sultry mood music that completes the vibe. The soundtrack is a mixture of mid-century classical Italian music, with hints of psychedelic jazz, Bossa Nova, and keyboard synths that evoke The Doors. It’s a melting fondue pot of styles which heightens the drama while also keeping the mood playful.
The sexploitation genre has the reputation of producing empty films that look beautiful. However, this type of film has served as inspiration to many modern filmmakers, even if only stylistically. It can be argued that superficial cinema plays a large part in the film industry. The current landscape of cinema has changed to laud films that provide a deep meaning, or at least make the viewer feel as if they have felt something substantial. That being said, there is still a fair share of empty films out there. For example, take any of the multi-billion dollar action blockbusters released each year. More often than not there is rarely a message to be taken away from these films, and in the end all they do is breed destruction and violence. The message in sexploitation films may only be style over substance, but all they breed is love. Rather than being dismissed simply as a precursor to pornography, the bigger picture of these films should be taken into account, and credit given where it is due.
After Paul Thomas Anderson released his successful—though equally taboo—film Boogie Nights in 1997, he discussed how sex films could have been a legitimate genre of cinema if it weren’t for the turn towards hardcore pornography. There is nothing wrong with fantasizing about sex in cinema, as Hollywood knows all too well.
Camille 2000 is an interesting film, to say the least: it is beautiful, seductive and empty, somewhat like Hollywood itself. Even though it appears tame by today’s standards, Camille 2000 achieved cult status as one of the higher quality sexploitation films of the era. At the least, it’s an entertaining film to watch, and it doesn’t pretend to be anything more.