‘Feminism and Male Inadequacy in the Films of Russ Meyer’ by Syvology

10 Nov

A belated post but as part of this years MEYER MONTH I was forwarded this nice little article via twitter. The original post can be found here but I’ve included it below, and you can also follow its author Syvology on twitter here!

 

A dual biopic exploring the friendship between Roger Ebert and Russ Meyer is apparently in the works. Simpsons/SNL writer Christopher Cluess penned the script, which focuses on Meyer and Ebert’s formative collaboration on Fox’s big-budget fiasco Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970). Though it will be fun to see young Ebert in his humble side-burned glory, the most interesting character in this story is Russ Meyer.

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An ongoing fascination of mine, Russ Meyer is one of the most misunderstood figures in film history. To fans of sleaze and camp, he’s a deity. He invented the sexploitation genre as we know it with The Immoral Mr. Teas (1959), a hallucinatory exploration of compulsive voyeurism. According to John Waters, the iconic Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965) is “beyond a doubt, the best movie ever made. It is possibly better than any film that will be made in the future.” To other, more genteel audiences however, Meyer is often thought of as a seedy proto-pornographer whose films trade in adolescent prurience, irredeemable violence, and general bad taste. Meyer himself subscribed to the latter characterization, rejecting intellectual interpretations of his work and insisting that he only made movies for two reasons: “lust and profit.” But as any true student of his films can attest, Meyer’s bizarre career encompassed much more than that. To appreciate the thought-provoking complexities inherent in Meyer’s work, one must first confront its most frustrating contradiction: that his films are simultaneously misogynist and feminist.

Meyer’s career unfolded concomitantly with second-wave feminism, but it’s primarily third-wave (or so-called “sex-positive”) feminists that appreciate his aesthetic. B. Ruby Rich famously labeled Meyer “the first feminist American director”, praising his progressive sense of female empowerment in Faster, Pussycat! and his bold rejection of hetero-normativity in Vixen! (1968). Similarly, quasi-feminist cultural critic Camille Paglia laments, “his women had an exuberance and vitality you rarely see in film anymore.” Roger Ebert has always been Meyer’s most high-profile apologist on this point, encouraging critics to appreciate “the quintessential Russ Meyer image: a towering woman with enormous breasts, who dominates all the men around her, demands sexual satisfaction, and casts off men in the same way that, in mainstream sexual fantasies, men cast aside women.” Indeed, Meyer himself credited much of his success to the fact that many women enjoyed his movies just as much as men. But things get tricky once you contrast these progressive interpretations with some of the director’s own words. He described his ideal target audience as “some guy…in the theater with semen seeping out of his dick.” When asked whether his films exploit women, Meyer responded plainly, “I’m prone to say, yes, I do exploit women. I exploit them with zeal and gusto.” On feminist thought itself, Meyer was pretty vile: “I don’t care to comment about what might be inside a lady’s head. Hopefully it’s my dick.” There’s really no question that Meyer was at all times primarily concerned with delivering male sexual gratification, not promoting feminist ideology. But he was the first American filmmaker to consistently depict and celebrate women who were in charge of their own sexuality. So what, then, was the connection?

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Whatever is incidentally pro-feminist in Meyer’s work was likely an accidental, albeit fascinating, side effect of his idiosyncratic sexual appetite. The theoretical disconnect in his treatment of gender may be explained by the extent to which Meyer’s films are exceedingly personal, one might say solipsistic, expressive vehicles for exploring his own masturbatory fantasies. Describing his creative process, he once said, “each film must begin with me. I am the idea. I’ve got to have the hard-on.” The relationship between his sexual personality and the feminist overtones of his work gets clearer once one acknowledges that Meyer’s obsession with female dominance was always complemented by another, perhaps even more continual thematic hallmark of his narratives: male inadequacy. Themes of sexual impotence permeate his entire career. In Lorna (1964), the title character’s husband is a sexually inept wimp that bores her into infidelity and recklessness. In Common Law Cabin (1967), a female character cuckolds and basically murders her husband as ostensible punishment for being, essentially, a pussy. Meyer’s failed attempt at First Amendment proselytizing, The Seven Minutes (1971), features a rape defendant vindicated at trial by the stunning revelation that the crime was physically impossible for him to commit. Charles Napier’s utterly despicable villain in Supervixens (1975) brutally murders a woman after she taunts his inability to perform. Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens (1979) is a preposterous and anarchic profile of a hopeless idiot who can’t bring himself to have anything but anal sex.

What’s more is that his focus on male inadequacy was no doubt a highly personal topic. In addition to his reputation for being decidedly wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am in the sack (corroborated by multiple former lovers), one particular episode of performance anxiety is instructive. Just as his filmmaking career was getting started, Meyer’s obsession with busty burlesque icon Tempest Storm caused him to abandon his first wife and nearly ruin his own life. But when it came time to go to bed with Ms. Storm, Meyer’s manhood was nowhere to be found. He described it thus: “When I first met Tempest Storm I was so in awe of her great big cans that thoughts like performing badly or ejaculating prematurely ran through my mind –all connected to the dick bone. So when I made my move to hump the buxotic after the last show in her Figueroa Street scatter, I felt inadequate, plain and simple. Fuck, what can I say?”.

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Tempest Storm happens to be the star of Meyer’s first short film (now lost), The French Peep Show (1954), and her breasts make a cameo in his first feature-length film, The Immoral Mr. Teas (1959) (As far as I’m aware, this isn’t actually true. It was June Wilkinson’s breasts that had an uncredited cameo, Storm was not involved in the film at all – Lydia). To a significant extent, she was the sex symbol that launched his whole career. So quite literally, feelings of sexual inadequacy were at the very root of his development as an artist.

Meyer’s brand of transgressive femininity may be thought of as the natural result of his own self-loathing, which subliminally translated into deep skepticism for contemporary masculinity at large. It’s likely he viewed female sexuality as something hopelessly out of his personal control, and ultimately out of society’s control as well. That’s why his work exhibits what UC Irvine film professor Kristen Hatch called “an ambivalence toward the traditional authority figures that classical Hollywood had helped to reinforce, showing masculine social authority to be in a state of disarray.” Characters like Varla and Vixen don’t just transgress rules associated with physical gender norms like strength and sex drive; they represent the rejection of all rules that paternalistic society is stupid enough to rely on. At its best, Meyer’s work subverts traditional sexual power dynamics and celebrates the disorienting sexual chaos that results. Female liberation in Meyer’s universe is not the product of paternalistic sympathy or cliché moral epiphany. Rather, he depicts female sexuality as being by its very nature violently irrepressible and self-actualizing. Socio-masculine anxiety about this threat to male sexual hegemony is the principal component of Meyer’s continuing subversive appeal. But as Ebert once put it, that’s only apparent to viewers “if they can see past the heaving bosoms.” Not likely.

MEYER MONTH – Advert Pictorial

9 Nov

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MEYER MONTH – ‘The Immoral Mr. Teas’ (1959) review by Jonathan Henderson

13 Sep

Lets be honest, I spend a lot of hours surfing the web for anything Russ Meyer related, sifting through the good, the bad, and the wierd. During some model investigating (which I hope to share soon) I stumbled across this great review of Meyer’s first feature The Immoral Mr. Teas which I had to share. Written by Jonathan Henderson, the original link can be viewed here, but I’ve also copied it below.

The Immoral Mr. Teas might not be the first film title that comes to mind when the name Russ Meyer is mentioned, but it may have been the most important in his career and, indeed, the most important for the genres in which he’d spend most of his career working in. Released in 1959 with a budget of just $24,000, Mr. Teas eventually grossed $1.5 million, which helped to finance Meyer’s subsequent films outside of the help of the major studios. But it was also a watershed (on a relative level) in the world of film as it was the first film to unapologetically feature nudity in a film that wasn’t completely underground and pornographic, or under the guise of a “naturist/nudist” film. It essentially opened up the floodgates for what would become sexploitation, but Mr. Teas itself seems harmless by today’s standards.

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Its relative tameness perhaps has to do with the fact that it’s less sexploitation and more “nudie cutie”, which exchanged actual sex for simple nude eye candy. Mr. Teas is likely typical of such a film; it stars Bill Teas as Mr. Teas, a door-to-door dental supply salesman who’s frustrated by the drudgery of his daily life. During his day, Mr. Teas encounters three hot women: a Coffeeshop Waitress (Ann Peters), a Dental Assistant (Marilyn Wesley), a Secretary (Michelle Roberts), a girl on a beach (Dawn Danielle), and a Burlesque Dancer (Don Cochran). As his day wears on, Mr. Teas begins fantasizing about the women, seeing them in various situations unclothed. Fearing that something might be “wrong” with him, he goes to a Psychiatrist (Mikki France) who is quite hot herself.

If this doesn’t sound like much of a plot… well, who am I kidding? It’s not. But—and perhaps it sounds odd to say this—there is a peculiar charm to the film. Meyer doesn’t even attempt to present a dramatic narrative; instead, the film is shot with a narrating voiceover (Edward Lasko) and a revolving jukebox of jazzy music numbers (a mid-tempo march, a sexy sax refrain, and a few up-tempo pieces) that accompany the images as if it was a silent film. In truth, the film plays out like what would happen if Jacques Tati shot a nudie cutie; the film even has Tati’s sense of social satire. But while Tati was purely visual in his parodying of modern grossness and confusion, Meyer uses the voiceover which mimics the “informational” voiceovers in the exploitation films at the time that tried to preach a moral by presenting the “dark side” of what certain actions lead to.

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But there’s also a certain innocent joy in the film’s appreciation of the female form. Perhaps the most successful scene in the film doesn’t even feature nudity, but has Mr. Teas attempting to go fishing at the local beach when he spots the “Beach Beauty” who seems insistent on taking off her top. But this is probably where the homophonic “Teas” (as “tease”) comes into play as Meyer’s camera never actually catches the woman naked. Perhaps the most extraordinary bit in the sequence has the “Beach Beauty” playing in the ocean as the tide rolls in; there is a definite but intangible beauty to the scene. It almost brought to mind those first few moments when I became unconsciously aware of the female form. It’s hard to call such a scene “exploitation” because there’s no sense of the woman being exploited. Rather, this is Meyer taking in the beauty of nature no differently than if someone were to film a sunset.

While not every scene has that level of (dare I say) aesthetic grace, Meyer keeps it light, comical, and satirical enough that it would be hard for even the most rigorous Puritan—Ok, maybe a moderate Puritan—to ever feel ashamed. It’s perhaps telling, though, that Meyer never actually shows his gallery of busty beauties naked in reality, but rather only in the imagination of Mr. Teas. The film also takes its time (relative to its already short 63 minutes) before it even gets to the nudity. This allows the majority of the first 2/3 to play out as a comedic satire of both modern society, and the types of exploitation films that preceded Mr. Teas. The absurd voiceover certainly has its genuinely hilarious moments as it plays counterpoint to the witless Mr. Teas.

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For all its pleasantries, the film is far from perfect; even at a slim 63 minutes it feels a bit repetitive and “light”. The constant musical accompaniment eventually goes from humorous to annoying (though, thankfully, it’s never egregiously so), and Bill Teas himself seems a particularly unappealing “hero” for the film. I don’t know, there’s something about him that just doesn’t make him a sympathetic everyman. Meyer may do everything he can to frame the film like a Tati, but Bill Teas utterly lacks Tati’s carefully measured, but seemingly effortless, physical gifts for comedy and his innate charm. If anything, he makes the film appear much sleazier than it is. Meyer does just about everything he can, but he’s yet to develop his cinematic talents that will serve him much better in his later films.

Even with the complaints, this is still an interesting film from a historical standpoint, and a rather enjoyable film in-and-of itself. It’s certainly not superb from any angle, but it’s undeniable that the film has more substance and quality than the vast majority of its ilk.

MEYER MONTH – Russ Meyer and his Ladies Pictorial

7 Sep

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MEYER MONTH – ‘TURA! TURA! TURA!’ Art Show, October 2008

6 Sep

As a huge Russ Meyer fan and an art lover, I was both gutted and excited to read about the Tura! Tura! Tura! exhibition that was held back in October 2008. I’ve always wanted a Meyer-related piece of original art to sit alongside my posters and this collection of prints and paintings, curated by Mitch O’Connell, was amazing and inspiring. Held at the Tattoo Factory Gallery, the charity group show displayed art inspired by the legendary B-movie actress Tura Satana, star of Meyer’s famous Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, and her career. I’ve included as many pictures as I could find of the art that was featured below and tried to credit everything to the correct person, but as always please get in touch if I’ve left a credit out or credited wrong. There are many other pieces of work that I was unable to find a clear picture of so if anyone has any images of any of the art that isn’t featured, please contact me so I can add them in. Otherwise, scroll down and enjoy some killer art…

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Exhibition flyer by Mitch O’Connell

My beautiful picture

By Dave Dorman

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‘The World of Suzette Wong’ by Alex Wald

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‘The Key To The Carrera’ by Shag

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Artist Aron Gagliardo and his painting (photo courtest of Gagliardo)

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By Thorsten Hasenkamm

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‘Tura: Black and White and Red All Over’ by Terry Beatty

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By Lance

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Artist Alex Wald with Tura Satana (photo by Mitch O’Connell)

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By Mitch O’Connell

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‘Violent Planet’ by Alex Wald

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By Dr. Alderete

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Artist Marc Nischan with his piece of art

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‘Nice Kitty, Tura!’ by Lou Brooks

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By Mark Atomos Pilon

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‘Tura Satana‘ by Molly Crabapple

Buxom Bosoms Back On British Screens? – Showing Russ Meyer Films In The UK by James Flower

6 Nov

So, you’re a UK-based film club/film society/cinema and want to show a Russ Meyer film at your venue? Splendid! You truly haven’t seen all those big heaving bosoms until you’ve seen them on the big screen, where they belong.

Tracking down screening rights to cult films can often be quite a laborious process, especially films made independently; since, however, Meyer retained the copyright to most of his films, it is relatively cut-and-dry here. The issue of who can grant licenses to legally screen the films in the UK, however, is somewhat more thorny. I’ve written the below in a FAQ format that should be easy to follow for both new and experienced film programmers.

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If you’re new to film programming and the below text confuses you completely, I would highly recommend getting in touch with the Independent Cinema Office, who offer excellent advice to both cinemas and amateur programmers alike.

Can I license the Russ Meyer film I want from Arrow Films/Video, since they released it on DVD?

Until earlier this year, it was possible to put on a screening – as long as you didn’t mind showing from DVD in most cases – of basically any of Russ Meyer’s films in the UK (1964′s Fanny Hill, a German-financed director-for-hire job for Meyer, is an exception as its worldwide rights are much more complex. But who in their right mind wants to show that?!). As well as having released an essential, comprehensive DVD boxset of Meyer’s work, Arrow Films also held theatrical rights to many of these films, licenses for which would be granted via Park Circus. This enabled Meyer’s work to stay active on the repertory cinema circuit well into the 21st century, often 50 years after these films were produced.

Unfortunately, Arrow‘s rights to the Meyer films lapsed in early 2013, which means that most of Meyer’s films are now unavailable to screen (at least easily) in the UK.

I still really want to show the film.  Is there someone else who can grant me a screening license?

To clarify for those who don’t know much about copyright: the primary worldwide rights holder for most of Russ Meyer’s films is RM Films International, who sublicensed the UK rights to Arrow. Now that Arrow‘s rights have expired, RM Films are by default the UK copyright holder, at least until they sublicense the films to someone else. If you want to show one of the Meyer films previously distributed by Arrow, you will have to approach RM Films via the following contact details:

RM Films International

P.O. Box 3748 Hollywood, CA 90078 tel. (323) 466-7791 rmf@rmfilm.com

This writer contacted RM Films for a statement on UK rights availability, but a response from either Janice Cowart or Julio Dottavio was not forthcoming. If you do get a reply from them, it’s worth bearing in mind that their price would probably be considerable; think about your budgets, and whether the expense, time and effort to put on such a screening are factors you’re happy to incur. (Incidentally, Park Circus‘ site still lists a few Meyer films as being available for the UK; this is erroneous, and I would not recommend attempting to book the films through them.)

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Are there any Russ Meyer films not owned by RM Films International that I can screen instead?

There are two main exceptions, however, and it’s no coincidence they are both titles not included in Arrow‘s boxset. Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls and The Seven Minutes were both made for 20thCentury Fox, who own all rights to both films in perpetuity, including for the UK. You can organise single screenings of both films via Hollywood Classics, who handle theatrical and DVD rights on library titles from Fox, MGM and other studios.

Are 35mm prints available for either of these films?

No 35mm prints of Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls are in active circulation in the UK, but one was shipped from Fox in LA specifically for a Somerset House screening in 2012; this may also be available should you want to pay for it. There are no materials available in the UK to screen of The Seven Minutes (not even a DVD or a DigiBeta tape), so unless you know where to find a print or you’re happy to screen one of the many fuzzy bootlegs of the latter, BVD is your easiest option for legal UK-based big-screen Meyer thrills. A license to screen either film from Hollywood Classics will usually cost you a £100 minimum guarantee (MG) and a 25% take from the box office, not including print hire or transport if this is applicable.

I want to screen BVD but in a pub/alternate screening space from DVD than a cinema. Does this require a different type of screening license?

If you are just screening BVD from DVD in a pub or similar venue and require a ‘non-theatrical’ screening license, you can also book it via Filmbank (which will normally cost around £100 inclusive of VAT), or it will be covered by an MPLC license.

I know where to find a 35mm print of one of the Meyer films previously released by Arrow. Can I screen it anyway, without a license?

Unfortunately not. Ownership of a film print is very different from ownership of the film’s copyright.; you will still need permission from RM Films to show the film, even if you own a print or have permission from someone who does.

If I don’t get a response from RM Films, can I just go ahead and screen the film anyway?

You can try, but it is at your own risk. If you are caught out by RM Films, there is nothing to stop them from demanding a penalty fee from you (even after the screening has taken place), or even threatening legal action. Having had a US-based rights holder do this to me in the past, I would strongly advise against it!

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One hopes that RM Films will eventually sublicense the rest of the Meyer oeuvre back to Arrow (or some other enterprising UK distributor) so classics like Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and Supervixens can be put back on UK screens.

Links

RM Films International: http://www.rmfilms.com/

Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls on Hollywood Classics: http://hollywoodclassics.com/Movie/Beyond_the_Valley_of_the_Dolls

The Seven Minutes on Hollywood Classics: http://hollywoodclassics.com/Movie/Seven_Minutes_the

Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls on Filmbank: http://www.filmbank.co.uk/film_details.asp?id=50620

James Flower runs Savage Cinema, a London-based cult night that has shown films such as William Friedkin’s SORCERER, the UK premiere of Bill Gunn’s GANJA & HESS and a night devoted to British filmmaker Philip Ridley. By day he works for UK independent film distributor Soda Pictures, and by night he thinks about how to win the annual FrightFest quiz, after coming second place in 2013.

Geek To Geek Chic – Happy Friday the 13th!!

13 Sep

I love Friday’s where the thirteenth day of the month falls on them! Am I superstitious? Not really. I just love the slasher franchise Friday The 13th! Last year I spent one Friday the thirteenth in my favourite cinema watching a marathon of films featuring the iconic killer Jason Voorhees. It was a lot of fun, but ultimately left me with little will to live by the early hours where I was struggling with the latter films which, lets face it, aren’t that great. Knowing a lot of people like cake, this year I thought I’d do something different! So here are a few of the best Friday The 13th themed cakes I could find online! If any of these are one of your cakes let me know so I can give credit!

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