New York lovers, get yourself to Metrograph on Ludlow Street for two Valentine’s Day menus of decadent delights: a choice of six movies that offer different views of love and sex, and a sumptuous four-course meal in the commissary. These are the films:
Ball of Fire (1941)
(2:45 p.m.) Howard Hawks’ raucous screwball comedy, inspired by Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and co-written by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, concerns the sex education of sheltered professor Bertram Potts (Gary Cooper) by worldly stripper Sugarpuss O’Shea (Barbara Stanwyck).
Sugarpuss is on the run from police, who want to question her about her mobster boyfriend (Dana Andrews), so she hides out in the New York City residence of Bertram and his six fellow profs. Since lean and lanky Coop plays Bertram, Sugarpuss falls for him, of course: “I love him because he’s the kind of a guy that gets drunk on a glass of buttermilk, and I love the way he blushes right up over his ears. I love him because he doesn’t know how to kiss, the jerk!”
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)
(3 p.m.; 9:30 p.m.) The German Expressionist master F.W. Murnau made astonishing use of superimposed imagery, dissolves, and sound effects in this stylized late silent melodrama. It tells the story of a rural Man (George O’Brien) seduced by the worldly Woman from the City (Margaret Livingston) and tempted by her to drown his innocent Wife (Janet Gaynor).
Frequently found on critics’ lists of the top ten films of all time, Sunrise exerted enormous influence on American directors—notably John Ford—who were keen to make films as sophisticated as their European counterparts. At the first Academy Awards in 1929, it won Oscars for Best Picture (Unique and Artistic Achievement), Cinematography, and Best Actress (Gaynor).
Love Me Tonight (1932)
(7:30 p.m.) Rouben Mamoulian’s naughty, frothy, and compellingly rhythmic pre-code musical stars Maurice Chevalier as a lower-middle-class Parisian tailor, quick with risqué banter, and Jeanette MacDonald as the initially aloof princess who recognizes that he doesn’t just talk the talk—indeed, that she’ll find bliss in his arms.
Made between The Love Parade (1929) and The Merry Widow (1934)—the dazzling Ernst Lubitsch classics starring MacDonald and Chevalier—Love Me Tonight is epic in scope and visually and musically inventive. Take, for example, the relaying of Rodgers and Hart’s “Isn’t it Romantic?” from Chevalier in a city shop via a taxi cab, a train, and a gypsy camp to the castle where the lady lives and sings operetta style. Look out, too, for Myrna Loy as a sexy, man-hungry countess.
Pleasures of the Flesh (1965)
(5 p.m.) Director Nagisa Oshima’s foray into the Japanese soft-core “pink” film is more notable for its surrealism and social commentary than for its tame sex scenes. It tells the story of Atsushi (Katsuo Nakamura), a young tutor whose unrequited love for his student Shoko (Mariko Kaga) prompts him to murder the man who abused her when she was young.
Atsushi is subsequently blackmailed by an embezzler to safeguard 30 million yen while the latter serves a short prison sentence. Haunted by fantasies of Shoko, Atsushi fatalistically decides to blow the money on other women—an actress-model owned by the Yakuza, a housewife, a medical student, a prostitute—knowing he will have to kill himself or be killed by the embezzler. Oshima’s hallucinatory film addresses the void and ennui left by romantic failure—and the emptiness of the Japanese society of the time.
Wild Things (1998)
(5 p.m.; 9:30 p.m.) Talk about swamp fever! School guidance counselor Sam (Matt Dillon) cooks up a successful extortion scam with posh student Kelly (Denise Richards) and white trash outcast Suzie (Neve Campbell), then gets it on with them. After Sam and Kelly plot to kill Suzie, Suzie attacks Kelly, then gets it on with her in, famously, a swimming pool…
Full of improbable twists and turns, John McNaughton’s sultry, glossy thriller, set in the Miami area and the swampy Everglades, has the mood of a poisonous dream you don’t want to end. It’s also political incorrectness personified—the guiltiest of guilty pleasures. Kevin Bacon, Theresa Russell, Daphne Rubin-Vega, and a hilarious Bill Murray co-star.
(12:30 p.m.; 9:30 p.m.) It’s all very well for high-class Parisian dominatrix Ariane (Bulle Ogier) to dish out extreme sado-masochistic punishments to her wealthy clients in her customized torture chamber, but how does it affect her emotions? The hunky young burglar (Gérard Depardieu) who becomes her lover and helper is troubled after Ariane suffers a panic attack. Her crisis meshes with his growing desire to possess her.
Does power inevitably damage those who exert control? Eschewing eroticism entirely, director Barbet Schroeder took a formal approach to his exploration of the world of sexual madness. The film was X-rated in the US and also in Britain after nearly five minutes were cut from it. One of the excised scenes shows a penis being nailed to a plank. The act was not faked and was not performed by Ogier.
Metrograph is at 7 Ludlow Street, New York, NY 10002. Tel: (212) 660 0312,
In the upstairs commissary, Valentine’s Day visitors are offered a four-course, prix-fixe menu at $65 per person. It includes a lamb’s lettuce with corned duck breast, candele terrine or timpano with pheasant, and a choice of angel food or flourless chocolate cake. The signature cocktails are the spicy mezcal Ball of Fire and the Maîtresse, with vodka, lillet blanc, lemon, strawberry and thyme.