Color, 1969, 130/115/92m.
Directed by Radley Metzger
Starring Daniele Gaubert, Nino Castelnuovo, Eleanora Rossi-Drago, Roberto Bisacco, Silvana Venturelli, Massimo Serato, Zachary Adams, Philippe Forquet
Arrow (Blu-Ray & DVD) (UK R0 HD/PAL) / DTS-HD Mono, Cult Epics (Blu-Ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC), e-m-s (Germany R2 PAL) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9), First Run, Image (US R1 NTSC), Umbrella (Australia R4 PAL) / WS (2.35:1)
The '60s turned out some delicious cocktails of elegant erotica, but Camille 2000 is a splashy epic unlike any other; filling its two hours with gorgeous pop art visuals captured in magnificent three-strip Technicolor, it's a feast of visual style, sensitive performances, and rapturous music that will tickle the fancy of anyone who loves retro-Euro cinema. Director Radley Metzger had played around with adapting classic stories into a modern context before (Carmen, Baby), and here he transformed a classic Alexandre Dumas Fils romance best known as a Greta Garbo tearjerker vehicle into a sumptuous, jet-setting tragedy filled with beautiful, self-centered people whose nobler virutes are invariably destined to clash with their stations in life. While Camille 2000 is packed with memorable images and haunting scenes (including a remarkable obsession with mirrors), the highlight is undoubtedly a ten minute party sequence in which the voluptuos Olympe (Venturelli from Metzger's The Lickerish Quartet) vies for Armand's affections at a lavish underground party decked out with a gold prison motif; arguably the greatest setpiece in the Metzger canon, the inevitable sex scene is powerful and erotic, tragic and delirious at the same time, with much of its power owed to the fantastic score by Pierro Piccioni, one of the finest ever composed for an Italian film. The astonishing locations and production design constantly delight the eye while perfectly evoking the film's period and skewed outlook; likewise, Metzger's keen editing sense is in fine form, particularly in the startling moment when he cuts from a syringe plunging into skin to a close up of drums being played in a music combo. Also, here Metzger begins to explore the playful cinematic self-awareness (the film begins with a clapboard appearing over the opening shot) which eventually exploded in several of his subsequent films.
As with many of Metzger's other films, Camille 2000 was critically dismissed upon its release but soon regarded as a high point of its kind. (A young Roger Ebert, way before he became an excellent writer, gave it a particularly innacurate and baffling thrashing.) The film was circulated in a variety of versions around the world including two different endings and a variety of different censorship wranglings. Some American prints conclude abruptly with the tragic hospital finale, while others feature a sequence with Armand, Olympe, and company partying into oblivion at night in a circular nod to the film's opening. This scene was repositioned about thirty minutes earlier in some prints, but it really feels right as the closing moments before the credits roll. Meanwhile in Italy all of the references and visuals involving drug addiction were trimmed, while in Germany the film was hacked down the barely over 90 minutes including the removal of several seconds at the heads and tails of almost every scene. However, the German version also included a minute-long extension of Marguerite and Armand's first love scene with her performing implied oral sex, a bit featured in no other country's prints.
Both endings have been featured on home video in America; the First Run transfer issued first through Image and then from the copmany itself presents the film's Panavision framing precisely and looks better than its cropped predecessors, though print damage is rampant and skin tones have turned an icky shade of brown among all the desaturation. The same transfer was previously available from Audubon Video (the one with the hospital ending), which opened the matte up at the top to expose distratcing splices and dirt. This version also runs much longer than the horrendous VHS release from Magnum Video, which excised the end credits and, strangely, one minute from a very darkly lit, mild love scene in the middle of the film. Like the other First Run titles, the DVD also includes the trailer, in this case a collection of stills that play like a splashy version of La Jetee accompanied by Piccioni's score. A subsequent German DVD features the most abridged cut of the film but features wildly saturated colors, making it the best-looking standard def incarnation of the film for several years. Finally Umbrella rehashed the First Run transfer again, but their release was distinguished by another unique feature: a little over ten minutes of deleted scenes, looking pretty terrible but at least in scope. More on that in a minute.
Cult Epics' acquisition of the rights for some of Metzger's finest titles in 2011 had to include this one, and thankfully their treatment does it justice. The HD master created from the original negative is leaps and bounds above any other releases, with extremely natural skin tones, perfectly rendered reds and blues, and no visible digital tinkering with the picture. The opening wide shots look a bit gritty and some minor flecks and specks are visible, but overall it's a majestic and much-needed restoration of a film that desperately needs to be seen on its best behavior. The mono audio (lossy Dolby Digital) sounds okay, with the Gaubert and Castelnuovo (among others) providing their real voices in English. Their Blu-Ray edition is actually available in two variants with the same extras: the theatrical American cut (just under two hours and also included in the three-title Radley Metzger's Erotica Psychedelica set) and a newly-created extended version, which clocks in at 130 minutes. There's an argument to be made for either one as the pacing of the theatrical version is definitely tighter and more friendly to newcomers, but the extended one is definitely the version fans will go to for repeated viewings as it incorporates all of the cut scenes from the Australian release (but looking far, far better here) along with the extra German erotic snippet as well. This is also the only English-language version with the full presentation of the scene in which Armand is invited to Olympe's party, whose opening few seconds were confusingly hacked off due to print damage in First Run's version.
The same transfer was used in the UK for the film's Blu-Ray / DVD dual format edition in 2013 from Arrow Films, released in conjunction with Score and The Lickerish Quartet. The Arrow edition contains only the extended 130-minute cut, which is just as well, and shares the same extras. Image quality appears to be identical, but there are two nice additional pluses: a lossless DTS-HD mono soundtrack (which gives some extra oomph and breathing room to that fantastic score) and optional English subtitles, which are actually quite handy deciphering a few heavily-accented lines of dialogue. There are a couple of minor transcription hiccups (like mistaking the word "sensualist" for "sensualness"), but most viewers probably won't notice.
So, what else is in the extended cut? Plenty, and it adds a great deal of depth and context to the film. Among the highlights are an early introductory scene with Armand first reuniting with his gold-digging sister and Gastion (who just appears randomly in the shorter cut) and two crucial sequences involving Armand's romantic rival, the Count De Varville (Forquet): a langorous love scene with Marguerite and a semi-comical fight scene following the casino sequence. With the longer running time the film feels more expansive in scope with greater character detail, and the rewards are considerable. In either incarnation though, it's a treat worth savoring on repeated viewings. As for extras, the biggest is another excellent commentary with Metzger and Michael J. Bowen, who previously moderated Score and The Lickerish Quartet. The commentary was apparently recorded to the theatrical cut given some gaps here and there, and it has a lot of ground to cover including the extremely presitigious European cast (with the established Rossi-Drago apparently insecure about her supporting nature in the film), the essential contributions of the ingenious production designer Enrico Sabbatini, and wildman Piccioni's unusual scoring methods. As for video extras, a half-hour featurette containing a wealth of behind-the-scenes footage (with fleeting injections of scenes from the film for context), "On the Set of Camille 2000, looks pretty rough but makes for fascinating viewing as it covers many key scenes in the film. Also included is an alternate take of the "cube" love scene (shot almost entirely in close-ups), and a much more revealing striptease shot for the first big party scene (which is much more explicit than anything in the feature itself). The original trailers for the aforementioned Metzger titles round out an essential title that couldn't be more highly recommended.