Thursday, November 09, 2006

Great Film Icons #5: Russ Meyer

"I love big-breasted women with wasp waists. I love them with big cleavages."~ Russ Meyer

The son of a police man and nurse, Russell Albion Meyer was born on March 21, 1922 in San Leandro, California. Developing a great interest in film at an early age, Russ's mother pawned her wedding ring in order to buy him his first camera and by the age of 15 he had already made a number of amateur films. Although he briefly attended junior college, he admitted that he was pretty much self taught as a photographer and filmmaker.

In 1942, at the age of 20, Meyer joined the Army Signal Corps where he spent most of World War II filming combat footage in Europe, developing life long friends and his cinematic skills, some of the footage he shot can be seen in 1970's Patton. It was during the war, when, according to Meyer, he found himself at a French brothel with Ernest Hemingway, who, upon finding out that Meyer was still a virgin, offered him the prostitute of his choice. Meyer picked the one with the largest breasts.

After the war, Meyer went on to become a very successful professional still photographer, eventually moving on to pin-up photography and shooting pics of some well-known beauties like Tina Louise, Lili St. Cyr, Mamie Van Doren, Jayne Mansfield, June Wilkinson... the list goes on. He even shot some of the first and most memorable layouts for Playboy magazine.

Despite his success as a photographer Meyer heard the call of the silver screen and in 1959, Meyer made his film debut with The Immoral Mr. Teas, the story of a door to door salesman for dentists' appliances. Everywhere he goes he encounters beautiful "well-developed" nude women, which of course stir his interest. The only sound in the film is the voice of a narrator and a very monotonic musical theme played on the clarinet or some similar instrument. Teas is soft-core by today’s standards, but it was quite provocative at the time and is considered by many to be the first American porn film.

Teas was a financial success and Meyer used the proffit to make his next film Eve & the Handyman. Dressed in a long raincoat Eve (played by Meyer's then wife of the same name) follows the handyman around as he makes his appointed rounds. Voyeristically she watches as he has humorous run-ins while cleaning toilets, taking scrap metal to the dump, cleaning windows, delivering a tree, climbing poles, and remaining a gentleman while trying to help a topless hitchhiker. Eve premiered May 5, 1961 the first ten thousand customers were promised free bathroom plungers, and members of plumbers' union got in free and it was another financial success for Meyer.

A string of successful black and white nudie cutie movies followed eventually leading to a movie that would become one of the biggest cult films of all time, Faster Pussycat Kill, Kill. Three strippers (Tura Satana, Lori Williams & Haji) seeking thrills encounter a young couple in the desert. After dispatching the boyfriend, they take the girl hostage and begin scheming on a crippled old man living with his two sons in the desert, reputedly hiding a tidy sum of cash. They become houseguests of the old man and try and seduce the sons in an attempt to locate the money, not realizing that the old man has a few sinister intentions of his own.

Pussycat was unrelenting, sublime and had a tone that was serious as death. Critics of the time hated the movie and it was a financial failure that nearly destroyed Meyer's production company. Exhibitors were uncomfortable with the lesbian overtones and black and white pictures, even low budget ones were on the way out.

Click here to watch the trailer:

Meyer's next big hit was 1968's Vixen starring Erica Gavin. Erica Gavin stars as Vixen a Canadian mountain resort owner living with her naive pilot husband. While he's away flying in tourists, she gets it on with practically everybody including a husband and his wife, and even her biker brother. She is openly racist, and she makes it clear that she won't do the wild thing with her brother's biker friend, who is black.

Click here to watch the preview for Vixen:

Inspired by the sexually explicit movies being imported from Europe at the time Vixen is explicit but not hardcore, you wouldn't find a Meyer girl spreading her legs. Vixen was such a liberated girl you could almost hear the outrage of a million conservative and religious organizations. Meyer claimed he had endured 23 prosecutions in one year defending Vixen with a cost of over $250,000. Meyer even faced persicution from the infamous conservative figurehead Charles Keating. Keating claimed Vixen was obscene, and by way of an Ohio nuisance law demanded an injunction to prevent the picture from being shown in Ohio. After a long court battle Keating won his injuction and it is still illeagal to this day to show Vixen in Cincinnati.

There is a happy epilogue to the Vixen story not only was Vixen a box office smash earning over 26 million but Keating got his spiritual comupence. In the years after the Vixen case Keating would go on to become a very rich and powerful man in the banking industry, it all went to hell however in 1993 when Keating was convicted of fraud in the Lincoln Savings and Loan scandal. Countless people lost their life savings and Keating was sentenced to 151 months in jail.

Click here to watch a steamy scene from Vixen:

After seeing the incredible success of Vixen and Meyer's next film Cherry, Harry and Raquel; 20th Century Fox approached Meyer to make a sequel to one of their biggest movies Valley of the Dolls. Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was intended to be Meyer's indictment of the love generation; an all-girl rock band goes to Hollywood to make it big. There they find success, but luckily for us, they sink into a cesspool of decadence. This film has a sleeping woman performing oral sex to a gun barrel. It has women posing as men. It has lesbian sex scenes. It was also written by a fellow lover a big busted women Roger Ebert, who had become friends with Russ Meyer after writing favorable reviews of several of his films.

Budgeted at a modest $900,000, the film grossed ten times the amount in the US market, qualifying it as a hit for the beleaguered 20th Century-Fox. Though tame by modern standards, Dolls was slapped with an "X" rating, and there was much negative publicity generated by the fact a major studio had allowed the "pornographer", Russ Meyer (labeled "King Leer" by the mainstream press at the time) make a Hollywood film for it's studio. Grace Kelly, who was a member of the board of directors of Fox, was outraged and lobbied to have the studio's contract with Myers terminated. After his next Fox film, The Seven Minutes flopped at the box office (possibly due to its lack of nudity and titillation), the studio terminated its relationship with Myer. He never made another film for a studio.

Click here to watch a preview for Beyond the Valley of the Dolls:

After 1973's Blacksnake Meyer returned to his sex-and-violence roots with 1975's Supervixens; Clint Ramsey (Charles Pitts) has to leave his job working at Martin Bormann's gas station and flee after his wife (Shari Eubank) is murdered by psycho cop Harry Sledge (Charles Napier), who tries to pin the murder on Clint. Crossing America, Clint gets sexually harassed on all sides by various voluptuous nymphomaniacs, and it all ends in a literally explosive climax.

1976's Up! Kicking off with the murder of one Adolf Schwartz (who bears a striking resemblance to another famous Adolf) by placing a ravenous piranha fish in his bathtub. Who did it? No-one knows or cares, as they're too busy being distracted by busty Margo Winchester (Raven De La Croix), who hitch-hikes into# town and gets involved with all the local men. It all ends with a series of complicated plot twists that reveal that just about everyone is really someone else. And if it gets too confusing, Russ Meyer helpfully arranges for a one- woman nude Greek chorus (Kitten Natividad) to pop up at intervals to explain what's going on.

And his last theatrical feature 1979's Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens; Levonna (Kitten Natividad) & Lamar (Ken Kerr) could have the perfect relationship if it were not Lamar's obsession with rear entry. After submitting to the one last time Levonna comes up with a plan. While Lamar is trying find other tail to try his technique on, Levonna becomes Lola with aid of a wig and a Mexican accent. A Mexican cocktail later Lola finally has Lamar straight, but he wasn't awake for it. The gay marriage counselor, attracted to Lamar's problem, couldn't help them and Lemar must finally seek redemption at the church of Rio Dio Radio and the laying on of hands by Sister Eufaula Roop (Ann Marie).

In 1977, Malcolm McLaren hired Meyer to direct a film starring The Sex Pistols. Meyer handed the scriptwriting duties over to Roger Ebert, who, in collaboration with McLaren, produced a screenplay entitled "Who Killed Bambi?" According to Ebert, filming ended after a day and a half when the electricians walked off the set after McLaren was unable to pay them. McLaren has claimed that the project actually died at the behest of main financier 20th Century-Fox, under the pretext that "We are in the business of making family entertainment".

Meyer spent the 1980s working on various autobiographies, both in film The Breast of Russ Meyer, a proposed bio-pic/ documentary based on his WWII experiences and in print, his three volume, 1,213 page magnum opus A Clean Breast. Click here to order.

Meyer died at his home in the Hollywood Hills, of complications of pneumonia and dementia, on September 18, 2004. Meyer's grave is located at Stockton Rural Cemetery, Stockton, San Joaquin County, California. His headstone reads:


"King of The Nudies"

"I Was Glad to Do It"


MARCH 12, 1922

SEPT. 18, 2004

And as a special bonus check out the video for The Killers' All These Things filmed as an homage to Faster Pussycat and the movies of Russ Meyer:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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