2012 saw another of Russ Meyer’s early films finally get a home viewing release for the first time, 1963’s Heavenly Bodies. This was one of the directors early films, alongside This Is My Body and Erotica, that had been out of circulation since its original 60s theatrical run. Like Meyer’s other early films, Heavenly Bodies is essentially a moving image pictorial, a brief glimpse at the life of a glamour photographer and the pin-up model at work. Opening with up close shots depicting the contours of the female body, or as Meyer has it in his narration ‘the component parts of a woman’, the picture eventually shows us the printing process of the glamour magazine before moving on to show different segments of various known photographers (Ken Parker, Fred Owens, Charles Schelling) conducting their own photo shoots. Shot over a long weekend to make Meyer some cash after having some time off for being in hospital, one gets the feeling that those involved didn’t really have to do an awful lot to make the whole picture come together.
There isn’t a lot going on in the picture and it serves more as a nostalgic treat into how things were done in the past. With each segment, the narrator goes through the exact specifics of what camera and what lenses each photographer is using and what they change to during their session if light or their subject focus changes. As interesting as it is, it probably won’t mean anything to those watching who know little about photography, cinematography and cameras themselves. The way shoots are conducted however is quite interesting (the financial, mental and physical benefits of using two models at the same time for instance). For a film that sells itself as an expose on glamour photography there are, of course, some beautiful shots, namely the shoot with the two models at the start of the film which takes place in and around a home swimming pool. Another fun little segment shows how pin-up photography has changed over the years, with film stock turning black and white to play out a cute little scene in the days when models wore a lot more clothing and photographs took longer to capture (it stars the wonderful Princess Livingston in her first Meyer film cameo, which I had wrongly attributed to Wild Gals of the Naked West).
Part of the charm of Heavenly Bodies is seeing the camaraderie of director Meyer and his war buddies who he frequently enlisted to help him over the years with his various film projects. There is one scene in particular where Russ takes his fellow 166th Signal Corps photographers on a photo field trip to the woods to shoot two buxom models (Althea Currier and Monica Liljistrand) amidst the lush scenery. Whilst the models are putting on their make-up and doing their hair, all of the director’s buddies are setting up and cleaning their cameras and lenses. Eventually they find a nice spot to shoot pictures of the two girls, all whilst fighting each other over taking turns and getting the best angles. It’s quite sweet to see them almost worshipping the pretty models knowing that they must have come across some really challenging stuff between them when working out in the field during World War II.
It’s not going to be to all Meyer fans taste, no doubt a large number of people will find it very boring, but for Meyer completists and photographers Heavenly Bodies is an interesting little snapshot into two different but very similar work practices that took over Russ Meyers life. If you’re going to bother watching his early films, you best include this in your viewing as its one of the more significant in the batch that have finally been released.