Welcome to The Olympia Ballroom. It's New York's hottest new restaurant, and with good reason: the waiters and waitresses there are also on the menu.
Overseen by owner Barbara (Annette Haven), the Ballroom's employees are only too happy to oblige the whims of their paying customers. Diners are fellated at their tables, fuck in open view of passive onlookers and perform cunnilingus on passing waitresses with casual grace.
Fresh to this setting is journalist Roberta (CJ Laing). She's there to interview high class prostitute-turned best-selling sex author Barbara about her successful career. Barbara is a willing interviewee, in-between being distracted by watching customers blow her waiters and feasting on a semen-drenched salad.
After observing several sex acts with growing curiosity, Roberta takes a break from the interview to tour the restaurant. Venturing into the steamy kitchen area, she's immediately attracted to a hot-and-bothered dishwasher (Wade Nichols). He watches incredulously as she pulls up her skirt and pisses into a pot, and then buggers the living daylights out of her.
Back in the restaurant, Roberta is in the mood for more action, and so doesn't need to be asked twice when Barbara invites her to a local disco. It's here that the pair meet up with Barbara's business partner (Jamie Gillis) who, naturally, gets it on with Roberta - as well regaling her with tales of a time when he had to discipline a prissy prima donna (Misty Beethoven herself, Constance Money). Cue a hot S&M sequence that eerily prefigures Richard Kern's THE EVIL CAMERAMAN, which was originally filmed for use in THE OPENING OF MISTY BEETHOVEN but considered too dark for that film.
Well, that's something I don't normally do. I've just outlined practically the whole 'plot'. But, such is BARBARA BROADCAST's virtually plotless nature, being as it is structured as a series of thinly linked vignettes, I can hardly be accused of administering spoilers. Besides, it's not the story that propels this film - there isn't one! - it's the action. And that is something I've barely described, as you really need to see it for yourself.
Directed by Radley Metzger under his hardcore pseudonym of Henry Paris, this 1976 effort was his follow-up to the phenomenally successful MISTY. Whereas that film was shot across three continents and revelled in impressive production values, a witty script and as much focus on being a "proper" film as sating the rainmac brigade's needs, BARBARA is a much simpler affair.
Exhausted by MISTY's schedule, Metzger decided to film largely in one location this time (the Royal Manhattan Hotel) and keep the requirements of his screenplay basic. The ambition is less, but as a consequence BARBARA is more fun than its predecessor. It's also genuinely erotic, featuring a couple of the best sex set-pieces ever lensed.
There's an early blowjob performed on Peter Andrews by Susan McBain which ranks as one of the most energetic ever committed to celluloid. Suitably, it culminates with a huge cumshot. Then there's the climactic bondage scenes, all chains, cuffs and nipple clamps, which utilises mirrors for added kinkiness and provides a great illustration of the very real chemistry shared between Gillis and Money. Seriously hot stuff.
Best of all, though, is the kitchen dalliance between Laing (looking bizarrely like a young Barbra Streisand) and Nichols. Set to the music-free clatter of pots and pans while dry ice cloaks the pair in steam, this is a slow-burning tour de force in terms of erotica and explosion.
As with much of the sex in the film, this scene plays out in full view of passers-by. The public nature of the fucking and the impassive responses of those around it is surely a commentary on the porno industry by Metzger ...? Well, maybe not, per the commentary track on this release. But it DOES make for an interesting analogy regardless...
Boasting nicely-lit interiors, colourful costumes and make-up, and fine use of stirring library music, BARBARA BROADCAST also benefits tremendously from a witty script filled with cheeky one-liners and an all-star cast (also featuring Bobby Astyr, Zebedy Colt, David Savage ...) clearly having a ball.
Impossible to resist.
At the back-end of last year, Distribpix released MISTY onto blu-ray and 2-disc DVD. The results were staggering and their release justifiably found itself sitting proudly on many, many end-of-year "Best Of 2012" lists.
Remarkably, Distribpix have come up trumps again, serving up another contender for "disc of the year" with this sterling combo release of BARBARA BROADCAST.
This release contains three discs: a blu-ray, and two DVDs. For the purpose of the film presentation review, I've concentrated on the blu-ray.
For years the film has been difficult to see in its full uncut form. Some territories thought it was too much to witness Laing relieving herself on screen, and so those precious moments were excised from a lot of prints. Money objected to the unauthorised use of her MISTY outtake footage and swiftly filed a lawsuit against Metzger. This was eventually settled out of court, but in the meantime her scene with Gillis was also removed from many prints. Even when it was reinstated, a lot of distributors were queasy about the mixing of sex and restraint - and the scene remained cut.
Well, Distribpix have gone back to the original 35mm blow-up internegative (the film was shot on 16mm and then blown up onto 35mm for theatrical screenings) and restored the film to its full uncensored glory in the meantime. Having received the benefit of a 2k scan, the film looks excellent. Scratches, dirt and dust have been removed while a fine layer of natural grain remains and a nicely filmic quality is retained. Colours are vivid, flesh-tones are natural-looking, scenes are bright and warm throughout. Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and enhanced for 16x9 televisions, this MPEG4-AVC file enjoys a healthy bitrate and looks simply great. Just look at the fine detail during close-up scenes: the sweat on Nichols' face! The wiry pubes on just about every performer!!
English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio is equally impressive, offering a clean, clear and consistent playback. Well-written optional subtitles are also provided in English, Spanish, French, German, Portugese and Italian.
An animated main menu promises cheeky fun from the offset. From there, a pop-up scene-selection menu allows access to the film via 12 chapters.
Bonus features on the blu-ray disc begin with an excellent commentary track from Metzger and "adult film historian" Benson Hurst. Both proffer an impressive amount of detail about the making of the film - the locations, the shooting schedules, backgrounds of the performers, the critical reception and much more. Metzger speaks most highly of Haven while dispelling any reputation she had of being a diva, and is struck by Nichols' good looks. He's a little more vague on some of the other players, and admits he didn't really get to know Laing too well. Hurst fills the gaps handsomely with an amazing amount of trivia.
The film's original trailer looks pretty rough in comparison to the main feature but is an enjoyable 3-minute romp nevertheless.
An alternate English-language subtitle track provides "Film Facts" throughout playback when selected. This includes more information on the performers, the New York hotel location and even the samples of library music used on the score.
A couple of brief radio spots are nice additions, and a generous slideshow of stills and posters is graciously received.
Over on the two DVDs, you get all of the above - and a little bit more...
Disc two presents the uncut film in 16x9 standard definition. Flicking through it and resting on a few key scenes, this is the same restoration as on the blu-ray and looks great for DVD.
Along with the director commentary track, optional subtitles and "Film Facts" track, this disc also includes a spiffing 15-minute "Making Of" featurette. Hurst narrates through a fast-moving mix of stills and archive footage, admittedly repeating some of the trivia we've already by this point seen or read. But it's still a great watch, capable of packing an insane amount of information into its short running time. Some very scratchy footage of Metzger's early films (SCORE etc) also features.
An interview with actor Michael Gaunt sees him reminiscing over his scene with Haven (shot in one of the hotel's bedrooms). He's honest and open about his career, has a good memory for detail and is a friendly host. Towards the end of this 17-minute featurette he offers a picture-in-picture commentary over some of his 12-minute scene with Haven. This is a tad cringe-inducing, but fun all the same.
Over on disc three, we get the "soft version" of the film. Far from just being a censored version of the film, this was an alternate cut specially prepared by Metzger in anticipation of cable TV screenings. It features key scenes shot from different angles, some different dialogue sequences here and there, and even a wholly new scene featuring Robert Kerman in a cinema. As with the "hard" version, this has been scanned in 2k and is presented in 16x9 widescreen with English 2.0 audio.
The slideshow and radio spots turn up here too.
A short reel of outtakes makes for fascinating viewing, while trailers for Metzger's other hardcore films - THE PRIVATE AFTERNOONS OF PAMELA MANN, MISTY, NAKED CAME THE STRANGER and MARASCHINO CHERRY - leave the viewer salivating for more.
Disc three also gives us a 17-minute featurette which pays tribute to the players, offering more narrated insight into their backgrounds and where they went from here onwards. Nichols was a pop singer and soap opera star, would you believe, prior to his untimely death in the mid-80s. Some great archive footage accompanies this most worthy supplement.
That's the discs, all of which are region free.
The package - a custom 3-disc keepcase housed in an outer slipcase - also comes with a few extra goodies.
We get a postcard with a colour photo of the lovely Haven in her prime. There's also a BARBARA BROADCAST bookmark (!) and 4 inlay cards which between advertise Distribpix's other Metzger releases along with their release of the MISTY soundtrack on CD.
Finally, there's a superb 28-page colour booklet to contend with. This beautifully produced gem is chock-full of sexy photographs, along with liner notes from Hurst, "film music historian" Ian Culmell and uber fan Storm Rider. We also get a one-page tribute to CJ Laing from 'Cinema Sewer' genius Robin Bougie, and some notes on the transfer. Nice.
BARBARA BROADCAST is as fun as it is erotic. As with the rest of Metzger's Henry Paris films, it stands the test of time as one of the best adult films ever made. And it's never looked better than on this awe-inspiring, comprehensive dual-format from Distribpix.
Also available on 2-disc region free DVD.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Distribpix|
|see main review|