Tags: Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Black Snake, Cherry Harry & Raquel, Common Law Cabin, Europe In The Raw!, Faster Pussycat Kill Kill, Finders Keepers Lovers Weepers, Mondo Topless, Mudhoney, Russ Meyer, Supervixens, The Immoral Mr Teas, Up!, Vixen
HONOURABLE MENTION – Z-Man’s Superwoman costume (Beyond the Valley of the Dolls)
One of the sharpest dressed characters of 1970 release Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, it’s Z-Man’s final outfit that stands out the most; his Superwoman outfit. Forget a costume akin to something Wonder Woman might wear, this is a regal ensemble that makes as much impact as the declaration he makes; that he is in fact a she. With a colour scheme that tries to add some legitimacy to his claims (purple as a colour has often been related to monarchy and money as if he can buy his gender through money or respect), he tops the outfit off with a simple gold crown which says he/she’s in charge. For those that stand in his way he has the answer of a sword, one of the ultimate phallic symbols which also represents his willingness to castrate his male identity.
HONOURABLE MENTION – Vixen’s yellow bikini (Vixen!)
An instance where costume reflects the character’s personality, Vixen’s bright yellow bikini is as fun-loving, outgoing and confident as she is. Standing out against the natural colours of the forest, the bikini ensures that she is the one that stands out amongst the small community in which she lives making her all the more desirable.
#5 – Ashley St Ives crochet dress (Beyond the Valley of the Dolls)
Ash St. Ives (Edy Williams) is a superficial porn star out to sleep with whoever she wants, whenever she wants. So it’s hardly surprising that one of the most memorable costumes from Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is Ives’ beige crotchet dress, which leaves very little to the imagination. Consisting of pants and a dress that comprises a bikini top with a panelled body piece, the dress is the perfect visual representation of Edy Williams’ character; superficial, vapid and attention seeking.
#4 – Varla’s black jumpsuit (Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!)
Second only to Supervixens in terms of iconography (see below), Tura Satana’s black get-up in Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! is one of Meyer’s most recognised and imitated visuals. The all black, skin-tight catsuit combined with her lethal moves effectively shows her off as the sleek killing machine that she is, as well as representing the dichotomy of gender stereotypes that she represents. The boots and leather gloves she wears are masculine traits to identify with whilst the fact that she doesn’t mind getting her clothes sweaty and dirty shows she isn’t afraid to be involved in some rough and tumble. Whilst the catsuit is certainly figure hugging, Satana as Varla is pretty much covered up in comfortable racing gear that wouldn’t be out-of-place on a man. The plunging neckline and exposed cleavage (Satana wore a custom-made bra to make sure she stayed in) are the only indication of her female sexuality which she always uses to her advantage. Meyer took a similar approach with Charles Napier’s serial killer character Harry Sledge in Supervixens, kitting him out in all black and gloves to be a male counterpoint to Varla.
#3 – Mr. Teas’ jumpsuit and straw hat (The Immoral Mr. Teas)
Inspired by Jacques Tati’s character Mr Hulot, Mr Teas’ brightly coloured jumpsuits and straw hat make him visually all the more detached from the world he is already emotionally scared of. Whilst the scantily clad and nude women he stumbles upon seem relaxed in their environments and at one with nature, Mr Teas in his absurdly loud orange jumpsuit looks more like an astronaut stranded in a world that he doesn’t really understand which links him in some way to his viewing audience who would have been viewing the film as new territory themselves.
#2 – Casey and Roxanne’s fancy dress costumes (Beyond the Valley of the Dolls)
He may have had a few issues but Z-Man’s choice of costume for lesbian lovers Casey (Cynthia Myers) and Roxanne (Erica Gavin) to wear at his costume party in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was the perfect visual metaphor for their relationship. Roxanne was very much the Batman figure to Casey; rescuing her, taking her under her wing and clearly being the dominant figure in the relationship. In return Casey was the perfect Robin, happy to always be by Roxanne’s side. Whilst Gavin stays in her Batman gear for a while, Myers only wears her Robin outfit briefly but it makes an impression. This is one of the best instances in Meyer’s work where costume really reflects the characters wearing them. Making it even more fun, the outfit Myers wears is one that Burt Ward wore himself in the 1960s Batman television series.
#1 – SuperLorna’s red shirt (Supervixens)
Christy Hartburg only ever starred in one Russ Meyer film and it wasn’t a long appearance either but when it comes to the iconography of Meyer’s cinematic career, it’s Hartburg’s costume from Supervixens that tops the list. Tiny white shorts, hair in bunches and a pinky-red shirt tied at the waist, exposing a massive cleavage that one can’t help but notice in all its glory. Whilst Satana’s costume is visually just as iconic, it’s the above picture of Hartburg that is regularly used to advertise Meyer’s work (from DVD box sets to t-shirts, mugs to book covers and usually to accompany articles in magazines and film books) and was the main image used in the Supervixens publicity campaign. The perfect image to sum up the women that Meyer liked to portray in his features; outgoing, fun and provocative. Oh, and very top-heavy.
It would be an understatement to say that director Russ Meyer’s world was dominated by women, but it would also be a misconception to think that this was entirely the case. Just as much as there are women that shaped and characterised parts of Meyer’s life, in equal measure are the men that also coloured various points in his career. So, for once, lets forget about the big bosoms and celebrate those with the square jaws!
#10) German men
A big generalisation to start this countdown with but it’s well-known that Russ Meyer disliked Germans, probably as a reaction to his time spent in Europe during WWII. The director hated the Nazi regime that swept over Germany during the 1930s and 40s and frequently derided Adolf Hitler (yes, I know he was Austrian…) and Martin Bormann in his later pictures. Meyer’s long-absent father was also German, leaving his mother to raise him alone. Go figure.
#9) Harry Sledge
Mean. Ruthless. Vile. Murderous. Chilling. Impotent. Harry Sledge is the nastiest guy in the history of Russ Meyer’s career and the instigator of the most violent scene in the whole of the directors career, the infamous bath scene in the 1975 release Supervixens.
#8) Anthony James Ryan
Many of Meyer’s female stars stayed loyal to him until the very end but if there was ever a male counterpart to all of those combined it would be Anthony James Ryan. A friend since he toured with the sexploitation director in WWII, Ryan was the titular male star of Eve and the Handyman (1961), a producer and writer on several other Meyer projects and looked after the legend during his illness in his last years.
#7) The Old Man
Sleazy, creepy, deceitful and a family man?! Stuart Lancaster’s portrayal of The Old Man in Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! ensured his infamy in Meyer-verse by creating one of the most popular villains in his filmography. Confined to a wheelchair, the bitter and twisted man looks after his two sons on an isolated ranch in the middle of the Mojave Desert. Traumatized by his wife’s death, hiding all his wealth in his chair and raising a disturbed and mute son into a muscular vegetable drive this man to eventual insanity and death at the hands of some dangerous and beautiful women. Camp, hilarious and vile. Perfect.
#6) David K. Frasier
Another personal friend of the director, Frasier helped Meyer archive his library for his autobiography A Clean Breast and again for Frasier’s reference book Russ Meyer: The Life and Films. Frasier’s opening chapter ‘Russ Meyer: American Auteur’ remains one of the most comprehensive and informative accounts of the directors career and filmography and Frasier recently wrote an excellent booklet to accompany Arrow Films re-release of their Russ Meyer box set. More must read literature for serous Meyer/sexploitation film fans and scholars.
#5) Charles Napier
The one and only square-jawed actor, Napier was to men what actress Tura Satana was to women in Meyer’s films. Napier was the epitome of the male, Meyer’s archetype for the sex and most loved character actor. Friends since they met on the set of 1970 release Cherry, Harry & Raquel!, Napier went on to star in a further three of Meyer’s pictures; Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, The Seven Minutes and Supervixens.
#4) Ronnie ‘Z-Man’ Barzell
One of Russ Meyer’s greatest male (or should that be female…?) creations, Z-Man is a legendary character within the world of cult film. Loosely based on music producer Phil Spector, Z-Man is the villainous producer at the heart of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls; host of the best partes, full of theatrical antics and spouting some of the best quotes cinema has to offer with Shakespearean deftness.
#3) Jimmy McDonough
Succeeding where many failed, McDonough is the author of Meyer biography Big Bosoms and Square Jaws, currently being adapted for screen. Prior to becoming ill, Meyer had already stopped one writer from publishing a biography on him and no doubt had Meyer not been ill, he would have stopped Jimmy too. Big Bosoms is an honest and interesting account of the directors life, amplifying his legacy and illuminating light onto the mans character. A must have for fans.
#2) Roger Ebert
Life-long friend of the sexploitation director, legendary film critic Roger Ebert wrote the screenplay for Meyer’s studio masterpiece Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Not that the collaboration stopped there. Ebert, under a pseudonym, also went on to write a further two screenplays for the filmmaker, Up! and Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens, whilst also writing the script for the ill fated Sex Pistols film Who Killed Bambi?. Script-writing aside, Ebert was also important for being one of the first film critics to publicly praise Meyer’s work, draw attention to it and describe him as an auteur, championing the director until hs death.
#1) Mr. Teas
The man who started it all, Mr. Teas was the titular character from Meyer’s feature debut The Immoral Mr. Teas (1959). A simple man who starts seeing women in various stages of undress after an anaesthetic, Mr. Teas was the voyeur that Meyer knew existed in most men and who Meyer decided to make films aimed at. Rather innocent in nature compared to later male Meyer specimens, Teas was almost scared, if not terrified, by the beautiful creatures he kept seeing before him, his surprise echoing the shock of the male audience who had never seen nude women in anything other than nudist documentaries or in illegal pornography. Certainly one of the most important male characters in the history of sexual depiction in Western film, without Teas there would have been no sexploitation genre and the later pornography market probably wouldn’t have flourished as quickly as it had.
My personal favourite and one of Russ Meyer’s more well-known pictures, 1970 release Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was his first film as part of a three picture deal with 20th Century Fox. Following the story of an all girl rock group trying to make it big in 60s Hollywood, the film has achieved a cult status for numerous reasons including it’s fantastic soundtrack which is arguably one of the best film soundtracks ever recorded. First named The Kelly Affair and then re-named The Carrie Nations, none of the actresses who play Kelly, Pet and Casey (Dolly Reed, Marcia McBroom and Cynthia Myers) actually sing nor play any of the instruments on the tracks.
These duties instead fell onto composer Stu Phillips (The Monkees, Battlestar Galactica, The Amazing Spider-Man, Knight Rider) who Meyer specifically brought into the project against Fox Studios wishes. Phillips had previously co-written and produced the title track to Meyer’s film Cherry, Harry & Raquel which was released the previous year. Also on board were Bill Loose, who would wind up doing later Meyer soundtracks in the 70s, and vocalist Lynn Carey who did the voice work for the character Kelly McNamara that Dolly Reed was to lip-sync to. Carey’s vocals are incredible and were sadly replaced on the film’s soundtrack album with those of another singer, Ami Rushes, due to a dispute over royalties. Simply put, Rushes just don’t compare and are notably inferior to Carey’s who Phillips apparently had to stand on the other side of the room from the mic during recordings as her voice was so strong.
Whilst Phillips did the soundtrack and the score, I’ve decided to instead focus on the film’s soundtrack with this being my personal top ten…
#10 – ‘ONCE I HAD LOVE’ – THE CARRIE NATIONS
A rousing rock ballad by composer Stu Phillips, Once I Had Love is the perfect song for The Carrie Nations, an ode to all the friendships and relationships that they have lost. Interestingly not included in the film but on soundtracks that have been released over the years.
#9 – INCENSE AND PEPPERMINTS – STRAWBERRY ALARM CLOCK
The number one hit from 1967 gets played by the band themselves at record producer Z-Man’s first party (he owns them). A perfect example of psychedelic rock/folk music that epitomizes the whole tone of the film, the lyrics fit perfectly for the moment the song is heard in the film. The party is the first time that band members Kelly, Pet and Casey get to taste the hedonistic lifestyle that being in a successful rock group can bring them and start to question who they are personally and where the band is going under their current manager Harris, Kelly’s boyfriend. The irony in the lyric ‘Little to win, but nothing to lose’ is brilliant, there really is little for these girls to win in Hollywood but there’s everything to lose.
#8 – FIND IT – THE KELLY AFFAIR
Our first introduction to The Kelly Affair are the roaring vocals of lead singer Kelly McNamara (Dolly Reed) although it’s actually singer Lynn Carey doing the duties. This is the group before they take the trip to Hollywood, doing their own set-up, lighting effects and playing small town shows, hungry for a shot at fame; ‘I’ve got to find a direction to follow, Something that’s mine not something I borrowed’. What’s great about this scene are the subtle beginnings of the story of resentment between Harris and Kelly that Meyer hints at using some well-timed editing skills (listen to the lyrics, watch which face they fall on…). Phillips actually taught Reed, Myers and McBroom to lip-sync and play instruments to a degree that they could pass off playing them when acting (maybe not all of McBroom’s drum bashing…) which he’d never done before. Whenever the girls weren’t shooting, Meyer made sure they were practising in an empty studio with Phillips. This was a track that Phillips and Carey wrote together, in five minutes, with Phillips writing the music and melody and Carey providing the lyrics.
#7 – BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS – THE SANDPIPERS
This track is used to soundtrack the growing relationship between lesbian lovers Roxanne and Casey every time that they are alone on-screen, the sweet and tender music making their sex scene seem loving and natural and adding to its intimacy. Also used at the end of the film for its resolution scenes, the song perfectly sums up the idea of giving love a second chance, which practically most of the main characters do. I do love happy endings!
#6 – LOOK ON UP – THE CARRIE NATIONS
Another moment in the film where Meyer’s editing, the composition of the shot and the lyrics of the song really come together and play the story out well. This is also one of composer Stu Phillips favourite songs from the whole soundtrack. The Carrie Nations are successfully on the rise, caught between hot-shot popular producer Z-Man and their previous manager Harris, who has become an envious mess of a man. The girls are blossoming whilst Harris is stagnating, and this scene sure as hell makes the audience aware of it. He is literally looking up from the bottom. Watch Dolly Reed’s eyes when she’s singing. Those are the eyes of a woman on a mission to ridicule a man (trust me, I know). The decline downhill suddenly just got steeper…
#5 – I’M COMING HOME – STRAWBERRY ALARM CLOCK
This is another track that the Strawberry Alarm Clock are playing at Z-Man’s first party, again fitting in well with The Kelly Affair’s first appearance on the Hollywood party scene. You can see the enthusiasm and excitement in the girls eyes as they are being introduced to people and the idea that they have found their ‘home’ in this crowd is a strong one. Little do they know…
#4 – IN THE LONG RUN – THE CARRIE NATIONS
Newly christened The Carrie Nations and still looking somewhat more wholesome than they do in later performances, this is the start of Z-Man’s takeover and the eventual pushing out of Harris from the friendship group. Look at the composition of the shot; the overly happy and excited Harris versus the scheming Z-Man. He knows what’s good for the girls and it doesn’t involve nostalgic relationships getting in the way. Z-Man is on a mission to become the one that the girls will lean on in the long-term, if only the plan will work… Also used to musically illustrate each new relationship a character develops with another, helping the extend the guessing game of whether these relationships will provide any amount of longevity or crash and burn.
#3 – THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE – STU PHILLIPS/PAUL DUKAS
One of Meyer’s many references to other cinema in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Phillips adapted Dukas’s legendary piece of music to add to the trippiness of the ‘private party’ that Z-Man holds towards the end of the film. It’s a sinister scene, with Z-Man gleefully enjoying getting drugs into Casey’s blood stream despite her obvious apprehension. The naughtier cousin to Kenneth Anger’s Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, it all goes rapidly downhill from here. Nothing will ever be the same again.
#2 – COME WITH THE GENTLE PEOPLE – THE KELLY AFFAIR
And so it begins… This is the journey that The Kelly Affair take to Hollywood and drag the audience along with them, using that much-loved 40/50s film cliché of having the map superimposed onto the screen (remember folks, as much as Meyer denied it, this is one of the best satires on the 1960s as a decade to hit the film medium). They are the ‘gentle people’ wanting to spread love and trying to persuade Harris that it’s all a good idea. His apprehension is well noted, if only they’d listen and take note of his sarcastic peace sign. They feel out-of-place in their hometown, Harris feels out-of-place in his disregard for the idea of taking the trip to the West Coast and little do they know that they’ll all find Hollywood a bit out-of-place too…
#1 – SWEET TALKING CANDY MAN – THE KELLY AFFAIR
Without a doubt this is the best song from the whole film. They came to Hollywood to be heard and, boy, do you hear them in this scene. Tensions are already running high between Kelly and Harris, Casey is beginning to show signs of boredom with the whole scene, Z-Man has begun plotting his takeover of the group and the break-up between Kelly and Harris, everyone’s flirting with each other, the group become The Carrie Nations… With lyrics the singer really should be listening to herself, this is the one number I can’t help but belt out whenever I play the soundtrack at home and features some of Lynn Carey’s best vocals.