Russ Meyer and sexploitation fans owe a lot to Arrow Films, the film distribution company known for putting out comprehensive DVD releases of cult and foreign films. Arrow have just re-released their Russ Meyer box set, well worth getting for two reasons. Firstly, these are the most detailed releases of Meyer’s back catalogue, complete with commentaries by the director and extras featuring his famous leading ladies. Secondly, the new re-release features Meyer’s 1963 picture Europe In The Raw, a film pretty much out of circulation since its initial theatrical run.
Filmed and released in 1963, Europe In The Raw was the first in Meyer’s ‘documentary’ trilogy (followed by Mondo Topless and Pandora Peaks, the latter more of a mockumentary…), shot as a reaction against what Meyer saw as anti US sentiment in the film Mondo Cane and the booming ‘mondo’ craze. His response was to go to Europe and shoot a sex shockumentary that showed up the continent as a sexually depraved, lust filled land. Shooting the footage himself and using both actual shots and faked scenes, Meyer had to limit himself to using cheap equipment and short film reels to pass off as a tourist and not a filmmaker to foreign officials. It shows. Whilst there are some fantastically framed compositions, the film isn’t as polished as his later efforts. All the hallmarks of his filmography are there but it feels significantly less accomplished in comparison to other features, especially Mondo Topless which successfully nailed the points that Meyer was trying to hammer when released three years later.
Travelling with wife and producer Eve Meyer, Russ managed to get some lovely shots of European burlesque dancers filmed on the cheap equipment, a lot of which later ended up being recycled into Mondo Topless. Certainly more teasing than tantalising, watching Europe In The Raw now is a slightly boring affair but it’s wonderful to see extended footage of dancers such as Veronique Gabriel, Gigi La Touche and Denise Duvall whose scenes appear in Mondo albeit slightly shorter and cut. Intercut amongst these performances are a few staged scenes which feel very out of place and stick out like a sort thumb; the faked nudist camp in Holland being the prime suspect. In an attempt to salvage the production, Russ hid a small camera in a bag with a cut out window and filmed reels of various red light districts across Europe. Needless to say, both he and Eve ran into a couple of bouts of trouble after a few prostitutes smelled a rat… After being chased out of one hookers apartment and failing to capture any noteworthy film, Meyer re-created walking up the flight of stairs to her room back in the comfort of the US with a well-stacked American model.
Completed with scenic images of Europe and footage shot by Meyer during the War, Europe In The Raw was withheld from public circulation as Meyer believed it wasn’t one of his best pieces of work. Honestly, I don’t blame him. It’s not his best but it certainly isn’t terrible and is in fact very interesting to watch to see the formations of his filmmaking techniques develop. The pompous narration is there, although not filled with as much innuendo as would later become staple. What is great is that Meyer’s career as a pin-up photographer is evident from the way the women are captured and framed. The dance routines of the burlesque performers play out like moving image Playboy pictorials, similar to the set-ups in Meyer’s first feature The Immoral Mr. Teas, with the editing fetishising their accessories and heightening the tease. It might not be Meyer’s best but for completest fans it’s a must.