MEYER MONTH – Meyer, the Industrial Filmmaker.

5 Mar

Long before director Russ Meyer started making his own films, he had the opportunity to practice his editing and cinematography techniques in two key areas that would shape his later career. Firstly, Meyer enrolled as a combat photographer during World War II, travelling over Europe in the 166th Signal Photographic Company who were appointed to film General Patton’s Third Army. Upon his return, the photographer needed a job and to supplement his popular hobby of taking glamour photographs, Meyer managed to get a job at Gene K. Walker Films, the second place in which he would have the space to hone his filming skills.

Owned by a man called Gene Walker, Gene K. Walker Films were a San Francisco based company that produced 16mm promotional films for companies like Standard Oil and The Western Pine Association. Starting in 1946, Meyer worked there for roughly eight years as one of its chief cinematographers and it was here that the budding filmmaker learnt how to create a film; ‘Industrial films, that’s where I learnt my craft. You’d go out with three people and do everything’.  Through editing his own raw footage, adding soundtracks and creating a narrative story Meyer created a template that he’d continue to use for the rest of his cinematic endeavours. One only needs to think of the mundane, monotonous narrations, quick paced editing and picturesque landscapes (it’s impossible to watch This Is My Railroad, see below, and not think of the scenery in Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, Vixen! and Up!) and it’s easy to see the influences of this type of industrial filmmaking upon his work. The small crew ethic also stuck and fellow employees were recruited to help work on his later features (Charles G. Schelling and Bill Teas), whilst there can be no doubting that part of what Meyer learnt about marketing and publicity came from the company offices.

Eventually Meyer’s sideline in glamour photography caught up with him and it turned out that some of Walker’s clients didn’t like a skin photographer working on their films. Walker offered Meyer a financial incentive to quit the photography business but Russ turned him down and with his wife Eve‘s support he left the company. Not that he ever forgot this period in time. Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens pays more than a generous homage to this part of his career. Meyer is credited as having worked on quite a few industrial features but the only one I can find is This Is My Railroad which was made for Southern Pacific which I have posted below.

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