Over the years, one thing has never changed. The reaction I get from people when I tell them that my favourite director is Russ Meyer. It’s a strange mix of disbelief, hilarity, disgust, shock, surprise and complete bewilderment. The impression that I get from these people is that they don’t believe me, as if I’m saying something just to get a response out of them. What usually follows is a barrage of questions; ‘Are you serious?’, ‘Really? Russ Meyer, what’s so great about him?’, ‘How can a girl like you like his movies?’. The thing is, no-one has had more of an influence or effect on my life than the man himself.
I still remember vividly my first Meyer experience. I was ten and watching Channel 5 not long after it had launched in the UK. The station, which now plays nothing but CSI repeats, used to have awful soap operas on during the day and softcore pictures playing during the night. No doubt the plethora of tits and ass that I watched during this time contributed to the love and interest I have in human sexuality and sex in cinema now, but it was the first picture of this kind that I ever saw that stuck with me for years. That film was Meyer’s 1968 release Vixen!.
I can remember everything about that night. Sitting in my room now, as it is in 2012, I can picture exactly how it was back then in 1998 and can see my ten-year old self sitting in the dark, my wide eyes illuminated by the television screen. Firstly, I was mesmerised by the gorgeous Erica Gavin in the lead role, her long dark hair and cat-like make-up a look I’ve wanted to achieve ever since. Secondly, I was hooked by what she was doing. I’d not long before had sex education at school but it was nothing like this! What seemed monotonous, gross and distinctly biological (in terms of the emphasis on ‘having babies’) looked magical and enjoyable. Plus she was making it with a woman! That was something they didn’t tell us about at school! I’ll never forget that mix of surprise, excitement and awe that came with the knowing that I was watching something I shouldn’t have been.
Amongst all the films I watched, and trust me there were a lot, the images from Vixen! were the only ones that ever stayed with me. I never forgot about that beautiful woman in the yellow bikini who would come and haunt my dreams over the following seven years, my first ever girl crush. During my teens, I went through a phase where I was totally into feminism and women’s rights and I hated men (for no absolute real reason either, thank God that changed…). I’d read book after book after book on female politics and commentaries on society, with one thing always sticking out for me; the conflict between groups of women who would argue over female sexuality. I read articles that blasted women for enjoying sex, having lots of it and letting themselves be used by men as male tools of consumption. Then I’d go and read another on how women should be allowed to express and explore their sexuality to whatever degree it suited them. As a teenager, I found it all a bit confusing. I didn’t want to be used and I didn’t want a slutty reputation, but at the same time all the experiences I was having were pretty damn rubbish. I continuously kept thinking about how much fun Vixen looked like she was having. How could that be wrong? I couldn’t understand why something inherent in all species and a key part of human character was considered so negatively when it came to women. Needless to say, all this reading and thinking ended up leaving me with a huge interest in human sexuality, which rivals only my love for film…
Which is where Russ Meyer and my moment of enlightenment finally come in. When I hit seventeen, I spent one whole summer doing nothing but watch movies. I rented films every day, bought dozens of TV guides and went through a tonne of Biro pens circling films to record. It was then that I stumbled across what I thought was one of the best film titles I’d ever heard, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. There was no way I was missing that. Except that I did, sort of, in that I missed the first half of the film, tuning in at the exact moment where lesbian lovers Casey (the fabulous Cynthia Myers) and Roxanne finally get it on. I watched the second half all the way to the end, my heart thumping and a big smile across my face. For me, this was a film. There was sex, violence, beautiful women, gender bending men, fantastic music, drugs, morality tales, horror and true love all wrapped up in this terrific satire on the 1960s as a decade. As soon as it finished I got straight on Amazon and bought the Criterion steelcase edition knowing that this was going to be one of my favourite films until the day I die, and that the woman who played Roxanne looked more than a little familiar…
Once the DVD turned up, my love affair with Meyer began. Where the hell did a film like Beyond the Valley of the Dolls come from and who would direct such a picture? I did my research, a lot of it, and started buying Amazon out of Arrow‘s brilliant DVD releases of Meyer’s films. I bought Good Morning and… Goodbye! and Common Law Cabin falling in love with lead actress Alaina Capri, marvelled at Meyer’s gothic soap operas of Mudhoney and Motorpsycho, came across the cult classic Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! which I’d read about in countless film books and bought a little film called Vixen!. I can’t begin to describe the surprise and amazement I felt when I realised that this was the film I’d watched all those years ago.
So where am I now? Six years after first proclaiming that Meyer is my favourite director and thirteen years after he first entered my life, at twenty-three I’m still being met with surprise and bewilderment! Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe that he made some of the best films ever, that he is one of the greatest directors or should have been lauded with Academy awards, but no other director has connected with me in the way in which he has. My interest in gender and sexuality sparked from those first images of his I saw as a kid. My love for sexploitation films, sex flicks and how sex and society has interacted and influenced each other both on and off screen is all his fault. I went to University with the purpose of writing about his work in assignments, and I made sure I did. If I ever went back, it would be on the condition that I could study and continue to write about his work in modules. This blog? Inspired by the man.
I know that for some people, Meyer is just a director who shot and sold sleaze. For me, he’s one of the most successful independent filmmakers in cinema history, he was a smart and incredibly savvy businessman, he showed intelligence and humour where he denied he did, he was incredibly talented at photographing women in all their unique beauty, he’s incredibly influential and responsible in terms of bringing in the amount of sex and nudity we see on today’s screens and he understood women. Where women scorn at his depiction and treatment of the female sex on-screen, I rejoice. As a curvaceous girl myself, I’m glad to have found someone who was so committed to putting big, buxom women on-screen. As a person, I’m thankful and love the fact that he was one of the first directors to openly show and explore a positive female sexuality, showing that women weren’t always passive, that female sexuality wasn’t always ‘vanilla’ and that we can rival a man’s sexual appetite.
I could go on but we’d be here all day. All I know is I’m set for life. Big bosoms and square jaws? I wouldn’t have it any other way.