Tag Archives: Go-Go dancers

‘Tura! The Tura Satana Documentary’ Kickstarter Campaign

31 Mar

The Kickstarter campaign for the long-awaited documentary on Russ Meyer star and B-Movie legend Tura Satana is finally underway! The film, the release of which was Satana’s deathbed wish, is being produced by longtime manager and friend Siouxzan Perry and produced and directed by Cody Jarrett, with support from the YOMYOMF Foundation. With eleven days to go, the duo still need to raise roughly over $30,000, but there are some fantastic rewards up for grabs if you choose to back! Plus the end result of the documentary itself!!

tura doc

I, for one, am very excited for this project! Tura stunned audiences when Meyer’s cult film Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! was released in the 1960s and became a firm fan-favourite when the film became a midnight movie darling and cult favourite on the drive-in circuit. She left a lasting impression in cinema and pop culture with her dynamic depiction of Varla, the dominant, fast-driving, karate-chopping lesbian leader of a small girl gang, but unknown to some fans, also had a dynamic and turbulent life, including a childhood spent in a WWII Japanese relocation camp and a racially motivated rape that she would later avenge. It goes without saying that Tura was one hell of a woman, and her story deserves to be told.

There is some great involvement so far in this project, with contributions from Dita Von Teese, Ted V Mikels (who directed Tura in Astro Zombies and The Doll Squad), Margaret Cho (who will be providing the documentary’s narration), Shannon Lee, fellow Pussycat actors Lori Williams and Dennis Busch, and, of course, director John Waters, whose early championing of ‘Faster, Pussycat!’ in the 1970s helped elevate its cult status. As he so eloquently puts it; ‘Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! is beyond a doubt the best movie ever made. It is possibly better than any film that will be made in the future’. 

tura model

Covering Satana’s personal life, career and the impact she left on the worlds of film, art, fashion, music and pop culture, Tura! looks set to be a rollercoaster of fun, and an eye-opening look into one of cinema’s unforgettable women of power.

Please, please donate where you can and help support this project to get off the ground. Tura had and continues to have so many fans, and if we all chipped in $5 each we could get this made and her story out there. I know personally how hard Siouxzan and Cody (and Helen!) have worked to get to this point, and all the work they have done to date to keep Tura’s memory alive and maintain and restore her estate. This has been a long time coming, and I have absolutely no doubts that it’s going to be great. This project could not be in the hands of more capable people, and I really wish them all the best with this.

You can contribute to the Kickstarter campaign here, and keep up to date with news on the project by following Tura Satana Productions on Twitter and Facebook!

MEYER MONTH – ‘Blaxploitation and Russ’ by Dom O’Brien

11 Mar

As a fan of strange and depraved cinema, I’m not adverse to a bit of Russ Meyer from time to time. While having never been a huge fan, I was impressed by a collection of his previous features; more specifically films such as Motor Psycho and Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!. It’s these two films from 1965 that I feel were an influence to anti-hero women in exploitation features. In Motor Psycho the lead hero has a female sidekick bent on vengeance, while in Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! a group of go-go dancers (with a penchant for thrilling drag racing) decide to rob the ranch of a lecherous old man and his two sons.

As a fan of the Blaxploitation sub-genre it seemed that Meyer’s influence and foundations were now stretching into more experimental features. It’s with these handfuls of features that I believe his imprint is found. Meyer also made his presence felt during the short film movement, most notably with his release of Black Snake in 1973. It featured a cruelly strong slave owner on a Caribbean Island who tormented both black and white slaves, leading to an island revolt.

black snake

By providing the archetype of the strong and beautiful female dominator in his previous features, it seemed only fitting Meyer should make an appearance in a genre he partly helped to inspire. His strong ethnic females where, in a sense, the first female action stars of exploitation cinema – just look at Varla (Tura Satana) from Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! for instance. With her judo throws and no-holds barred fisticuffs, she was a force to be reckoned with for both sexes. In the case of aggressive and hard-bitten female characters, Blaxploitation cinema has gun totting and powerful sista’s such as Coffy and Cleopatra Jones (both released in 1973). These were liberated female action heroes for a new generation and it’s clear that some of their cinematic DNA is shared with Meyers original deadly females.

I’ts clear his empowered female template was carried over into the leading ladies from the Blaxploitation movement, with women such as Pam Grier, Tamera Dobson and Gloria Hendry showing men just how it should be done. These were hard-hitting gender role reversals and at the time were unflinchingly violent in their actions. In Coffy a nurse decides to wreak vengeance on the drug dealers whose product killed her sister and in the process manages to hold her own with some of the best action icons. Of all the female-led Blaxploitation features, Coffy is the one that is still unflinchingly brutal in its depiction of violence and revenge.

coffy

Not only does Coffy use her seductive charms to retrieve valuable information, but she also won’t hesitate in shoving a double barrel into a dealers face and pulling the trigger. She embodies all of the attributes from the go-go dancers of Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! in just the one individual. Educated, deadly and not to be tampered with – Coffy is the ultimate Blaxploitation protagonist. To a lesser extent so is Foxy Brown (again played by Grier and directed by Jack Hill), but she has lost some of the raw aggression that made Coffy so fierce. With this handful of features, Grier (along with director Hill) provided Exploitation with a collection of believable and grounded female anti-heroes, helping to be the basis for others of this ilk.

This goes doubly for Tamera Dobson’s secret agent hero Cleopatra Jones, who convinces most as a trained superspy. In Cleopatra Jones, sensuality gave way to thought-provoking messages of communities being united in stopping local crime. Dobson’s Jones was a tough heroine with the emphasis more on family entertainment and empowerment, rather than titillation and extreme violence. With Jones, fans of Blaxploitation had a heroine that was as wholesome as the movement was likely to get. What also sets it apart is an element of high camp, most notably from Shelly Winters as the lesbian drug dealer Mommy. The over the top performances bring down the overall seriousness that was found in the revenge context of Coffy and Foxy Brown.

cj

It’s clear that the basis of the anti-heroine structure were carried over from some of Meyers back catalogue. These were often strong ethnic characters to root for and ones that have since been ingrained in the memories of exploitation fans alike. With the previously mentioned Black Belt Jones, Gloria Hendry’s Sydney is as much an equal as Jones, using her skill and rarely becoming a damsel in distress. These were characters that would be equal in every department with the men of Blaxploitation. It’s still refreshing to see it now and it’s even clearer that Meyer’s influence was felt in the material.

Of course Meyers female archetype can be seen in a wider variety of grittier Blaxploitation cinema that has elements of Sexploitation peppered throughout it. Films such as Black Mama, White Mama, The Big Bird Cage and Sugar Hill continued to build on the foundations laid by Meyer. At the end of the day this could all be considered a filmic coincidence – as a side note connection Grier was also in Meyers Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. But I like to think that Meyers empowered female characters were the progenitors of the strong, Blaxploitation female anti-hero. Have a watch of some of the features mentioned and see if you agree, it’s certainly interesting to see the wealth of comparisons.

Dom O’Brien is a London based film blogger who can be found writing on his own site as well as for others. He can be followed on twitter here!

MEYER MONTH – Top Ten Meyer Homages V.2

2 Mar

#10 – LADY GAGA – TELEPHONE (MUSIC VIDEO)
Whilst Gagaliscious’s video owes more to women in prison films than the sexploitation genre per se, there’s no denying the visual influence of Tura Satana’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! character Varla on Beyonce’s attitude and costume design.

blog 1

#9 – SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD (2010)
Putting all other references aside, director Edgar Wright includes one nice little reference to Meyer’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls in his 2010 feature. When Lucas Lee (Chris Evans) cracks his neck we hear the musical signature of Universal Pictures, the studio that made his picture, just like when Z-Man beheads Lance Rock and we hear the Fox Studio fanfare, the studio that made Meyer’s first studio release.

#8 – NRA – SHE’S DRIVING (MUSIC VIDEO)
This cool little song not only visually pays respect to Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! but lyrically too.

rocky horror

#7 – THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975)
Not quite an homage but Rocky Horror shares a very similar dinner table scene to Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! Both scenes include a dimwitted muscular blonde who continues to eat meat at an awkward dinner  party after a revelation has disturbed all else at the table.

blog 1

#6 – SCOOBY-DOO! MYSTERY INCORPORATED – IN FEAR OF THE PHANTOM (2010)
The recent episode of this popular television show includes the manager of a band who looks a lot like Z-Man, the manager of the girl band The Carrie Nations, in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.

#5 – FROM DUSK TIL DAWN (1996)
So vampires never appeared in a Russ Meyer film but From Dusk til Dawn features a similar bar, stripper and ensuing madness to the one shown in Up!

Norah Jones Mudhoney

#4 – NORAH JONES – LITTLE BROKEN HEARTS
In a visual homage to the poster for Mudhoney, the album cover for Norah Jones’ Little Broken Hearts is almost a replica.

#3 – BENNY BENASSI – SATISFACTION (MUSIC VIDEO)
Girls with big boobs and lots of cleavage? Check. Power tools that clearly stand in for sex? Check. Monotonous narration full of double entendre? Check. It’s as if Russ Meyer took his core elements of Mondo Topless and made a music video.

#2 – WHITE OF THE EYE (1987)
White of  the Eye shares a fair amount with Supervixens. Aside from the beautiful lush locations of both, you have a girl unknowingly bedding a serial killer, a serial killer targeting women, an attempt to kill someone at the top of a rocky area and lovers being chased in an attempt to murder them.

#1 – STAR AND DAGGER – YOUR MAMA WAS A GRIFTER (MUSIC VIDEO)
The music video for Your Mama Was A Grifter by Star and Dagger has Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! written all over it. Three girls, sound waves at the start of the video, black and white photography, a Go-Go bar location, near identical costumes, a fast car, a ride out in the desert, a desert ranch… You do the maths.

Russ Meyer’s ‘Lorna’ (1964)

22 Sep

1964, the year of Lorna and the start of director Russ Meyer’s Gothic period and obsession with social redeeming value (aka the morals that make smut acceptable). This black and white beauty, Meyer’s first film shot in 35mm and with live dialogue, marked the end of a successful run of nudie cutie features (The Immoral Mr. Teas, Eve and The Handyman, Erotica) and the beginning of his first ‘proper’ foray into theatrical filmmaking. Opening with a shot that tracks a long winding road, we are suddenly met with a maniacal preacher. Spewing the directors first morality tale, the gentleman asks us ‘Do you know where this road leads?… Do you do unto others as they do to you? Do you judge as others judge?… Pass on… There is no return’. And right he is. There is no return from Lorna.

With the tagline ‘Ever wonder why wives WANDER?’ it’s not too difficult to see where Meyer was going with the narrative. Oft referred to as the female Tom Jones, the story focuses on Lorna (Lorna Maitland), a sexually unsatisfied housewife who is married to nice guy Jim (James Rucker), a miner studying to be a CPA. Jim loves Lorna very much but when it comes to bedroom antics he leaves her completely exasperated. Lorna has to be persuaded to have sex with Jim, and not only reluctantly gives in, but has a face like a slapped arse during and after. Cue a cute monologue where Lorna stares out of the window and expresses her disappointment; ‘I’m a woman, not just a tool’. She dreams of another life, one full of excitement and a lot of topless go-go dancing (real footage of Maitland that would also crop up in films Europe In The Raw! and Mondo Topless, not surprising given that she was a Vegas dancer before the film). Instead, Lorna goes for a nude swim one day and gets raped. But instead of being a victim, the attack finally brings her rampant sexuality to the fore.

And what a town to commit adultery in. The picture was shot in Locke, a depressed town in a run down area of Sacramento, with boarded up shops and grimey bars. This is a town that harbors the worst in people and stifles those that genuinely have some good about them. A real boiling point for morals to play out, it was the perfect environment for Meyer’s melodrama and makes the religious element of sinners being punished seem all the more fitting (apparently an added piece of cinematic insurance so it played well within the Bible Belt). Upon viewing it’s hard to ignore the influence of Italian neo-realism, something that Meyer both acknowledged and dismissed quickly along with other academic theories related to his work. In Meyer’s eyes, it was a melodramatic piece shot in black and white because he couldn’t afford colour film stock. That said, like environments in other Meyer feature films, the location is beautifully shot and incredibly lush; run down shops and small houses juxtaposed with lush lakes and shrubbery.

Cast wise, the feature has some memorable creations made all the more comically large by the actors playing them. James Griffith played the formidable preacher; the bearded and somewhat morally rabid provider of the films prologue and epilogue. Griffith also wrote the screenplay, in four days no less, going on to provide Meyer with the story for Motorpsycho the following year before having a long career in as a supporting actor in film and television. The role of the poor, naive husband Jim is played like a total wet blanket by Rucker. His sin is that he could never satisfy Lorna and by the end of the film you end up feeling both sorry for him and his wife; sympathizing towards his wife because bad sex is bad towards him because he genuinely loves her. The real stand out amongst the crowd in Hal Hopper in the role of Luther, Jim’s sadistic co-worker. So slimy and horrible (watch him rape and beat a woman in the opening fifteen minutes of the film in a scene that sets the moral tone for the rest of the picture) that he steals the role of the villain away from the real rapist himself. With rather menacing eyes and a sickly smile, Hopper doesn’t have to do much to get under your skin and it isn’t remotely surprising that Meyer cast him in Mudhoney in a similar role (what is surprising is that he sung the film’s title theme).

The crown jewel of the entire film though is Lorna herself, played by Barbara Popejoy. Meyer christened her with the name Lorna Maitland when he finally cast her in the film, giving her the name that she would eventually be most known for. It’s not hard to see why the sexploitation director liked Maitland so much. With a 42D bust size and breasts that were swelling even more (to 50 inches) with the hormones of a pregnant woman (Maitland was three months pregnant at the time the film was shot), the star also had the wholesome looks that made her attractive to all sorts of clientele that the film would be watched by. It’s hard to believe that Maitland wasn’t the first choice for the role. Meyer had cast another actress, Maria Andre, whom he had used in Heavenly Bodies at the insistence of Griffith. Maitland had made very little in terms of an impression went she went to the casting call for the picture and it was only thanks to her manager who handed Meyer’s producer wife Eve a few Polaroids of her that she ended up with the gig. Eve eventually found them, the day before they were meant to start shooting, and showed them to Russ who knew instantly that Maitland was the one.

That said, it would seem that Maitland and Meyer never quite saw eye to eye, with both parties apparently hating each other and Maitland being quite vocal about it. Lorna would go on to star in Meyer’s feature Mudhoney which was shot and released the following year, somewhat of an expansion on the themes that were explored in Lorna itself. Not that Meyer seemed to care. He complained and told a large number of people that Maitland’s figure had gone post-pregnancy and that her now 42 inch chest was intolerable due to its sagginess. It seems no love was lost between either of them, just as some states in America found it hard to love Lorna as a picture. It was deemed obscene and prosecuted in Florida, Maryland and Pennsylvania, despite making a tonne of money on the Drive-In circuit. Meyer even had his appeal to have the seized print returned to him denied by the Florida Supreme Court who decided that it should be burnt instead. Watching it now is hardly shocking in comparison to subsequently released features but it still packs a punch, a rare mix of remotely genuine emotion, sex and the dark side of morality. One of Meyer’s classics.

MEYER MONTH – Meyer and me.

1 Mar

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.

Scala Forever & ‘Mondo Topless’

23 Oct

As part of the recent Scala Forever film season, London film club Filmbar 70 screened a fantastic Russ Meyer double bill of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and Mondo Topless. Filmbar 70 co-founder Justin Harries shares a few words on the night and Mondo Topless

‘When approached by the Roxy to programme a season celebrating the enduring myth of the sadly defunct but fondly remembered Scala cinema, we knew that the works of certain directors would have to be highlighted. One such luminary was Russ Meyer, whose randy, rambunctious and riotous petitions to pulchritudinousness regularly graced the Sala’s sagging screen.

The choice of main feature was certainly a no-brainer, a personally loved film that I have longed to view in the company of a stoked audience, but previously denied due to Filmbar70’s remit of championing lesser-known artefacts. That film was the melodrama / sex / horror / nudie / musical crossover ‘Beyond the Valley of the Dolls’. But what to pair with this genre bending gargantuan? After all, the Scala was committed to the double-bill, a factor that had to be emulated. Meyer’s features were high on energy and long on long, so we had to be careful not to dilute ‘Beyond’s spiky mania. The answer came in the spectacular shape of the non-narrative faux doc ‘Mondo Topless’, a film that pares down Meyer’s obsessions to the bare essentials – namely mammaries. All manner of monumental mannaries.

‘Mondo Topless’ is a carnival of buxom delights, an exacting exploration of the more rounded points of the female figure, informed by a barking, yet poetic near stream of consciousness narration that straddles the salacious and the reverential. The film is pure Meyer, allowing this most visual of directors to play with composition, texture and space, unfettered by the limitations of a cohesive narrative. His approach to the subject is confident, unapologetic and unashamed, dismissing distain to revel in the voluptuous. Most importantly, he allows the gyrating gals on show a voice (admittedly with some hilarious juxtapositions), which renders the experience bizarrely wholesome.

Of course, Mr Schofield (my accomplice in Filmbar70) and I have to admit to some juvenile delight about unleashing such a brazen barrage of breasts upon a not suspecting enough audience, and were particularly interested in seeing how they would cope with this storm of skin. The results were not entirely unexpected. The ladies, responding to Meyer’s loving approach, were generally unperturbed. The blokes, (altogether more amusingly) caught like rabbits in the headlights (and what headlights!), were altogether more bewildered and uncomfortable. Those with female partners in tow were particularly concerned with how they were viewed while viewing such material, reducing them to teenagers caught by their mums during the extraction of nocturnal emissions.

All in all, we think ‘Mondo’ was the correct choice, not only as its free flowing form contrasted nicely against ‘Beyond’s densely plotted serpentine structure, but also it offered distilled Meyer – unabashed, uninhibited and unhinged….’

Filmbar 70‘s next event is The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion at The Roxy Bar & Screen on October 25th.

Here, There and Everywhere – Russ Meyer’s ‘Mondo Topless’ (1966)

20 Oct

Russ Meyer‘s Mondo Topless is proof of two things. One, if you were ever unsure that the director had a breast fetish then this is the film for you, approximately sixty minutes of breasts and not a lot else. Two, that it is actually quite possible to get bored with boobs. Yes indeed.

Meyer’s vision of San Francisco sits perfectly with his ideal woman…

The premise of Mondo Topless is incredibly simple. Cashing in on the ‘mondo’ documentary craze that was common through the 1960s and 70s, Meyer made his own documentary focusing on breasts (what else?) and exotic dancers and models that he had come to know through his career. It wasn’t easy. The year before Meyer had released Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! which tanked commercially and made Meyer and his producer wife Eve little money. Scraping together $12,000 and shooting over five days, they filmed footage for the final feature. In 1963 Meyer had travelled to Europe to shoot footage for a documentary called Europe in the Raw! and recycled some of that into what would become Mondo Topless. Opening with a typical Meyer montage of the city of San Francisco, complete with a commentary full of innuendo, Meyer makes his intentions known from the outset; ‘Situated on precipitous peaks above yawning canyons… Precariously perched and poised on the tip of a peninsula’. After a few shots of strip joints and the reassurance that the topless craze is everywhere in 1960s America, Meyer introduces us to his girls and their assets. And boy do some of them have assets.

 The dancer with the hippy-chick vibe, Sin Lenee

First up is Pat Barringer, aka Pat Barrington, a platinum blonde topless dancer who also appeared in a handful of sexploitation pictures throughout the 60s. Second is Darlene Grey, the only girl from Britain in the picture and possibly Meyer’s bustiest find (a whopping 36H bra size). Go Go dancers Sin Lenee and Darla Paris show their frenetic moves in the forest, whilst Diane Young tries to bury herself in the sand with her energetic routine. Donna X, aka Trena Lamar who also appeared in earlier Meyer flick Wild Gals of the Naked West (1962), gets slow and sexy in a motel room and Babette Bardot (‘French and Swedish, fifty-fifty where it counts!’), star of Meyer’s 1967 feature Common Law Cabin, drives around San Francisco nude and dances to a passing train. Add a handful of performers from Europe (dances by performers Veronique Gabriel and Gigi La Touche were inserted from aforementioned Europe in the Raw!) and a few others from America and you’ve got your cast, dancing and jiggling their way across your screen.

Pat Barringer taking it low… I’m sure Lady Gaga saw this film in her early days, it’s just too obvious…

That is essentially it for the whole film, a group of women dancing and showing off the routines they would perform for men in strip joints and bars. Except that Meyer takes this one step further and adds an audio commentary by each girl over their performance, giving insights into their individual personalities, minds and attitudes towards their work, bodies and life. What began as a soundtrack of question and answer sessions between Meyer and his subjects was eventually dropped for the comments by the dancers themselves. The result is a bunch of random comments, some tedious, others unintentionally hilarious (‘Colour makes me feel sex’ is a great one-liner), juxtaposed with the images of the topless dancers, making for some rather odd moments. Judging by the bust of a few of the ladies and the manner of the film, you’d expect comments on their breasts, how difficult it is to buy swimsuits or find a bra the right size; ‘I didn’t really need to wear a bra ’til I was half way through junior high school. It all came late but it was there boy! No denying it!’. But much of the comments reflect the time in which the film was made, with defense cases made against their careers, what they think of feminism, their hopes for having future families and their opinions on the sexual revolution. As ‘insightful’ as it is, at the end of the day it all feels a little weird. After all, you don’t normally go and watch strippers or exotic dancers hoping to hear them speak…

Donna X, aka Trena Lamar, and Meyer’s trusty tape recorder…

Impressive soundtrack aside (I joke somewhat), Meyer’s girls are the real sight to behold in Mondo Topless, each memorable in their own unique way. Statuesque Babette Bardot drives around the city nude before exclaiming the difficulties in keeping a womanly appearance with childlike qualities during her strip routines. Take note too of the bruises up her thighs as she reclines to pull her stockings off whilst sucking her thumb. Dirty bitch. Pat Barringer proves that you can dance anywhere when duty calls, shaking her assets at the top of a telephone tower, out in the desert and in Meyer’s own swimming pool. You won’t remember Darlene Grey’s face but you’ll never forget her rather impressive bust. Arguably one of the most voluptuous girls Meyer has ever used throughout his entire career, the director managed to get shots of her rolling around in the mud before she left and was never seen again by the crew. Dancers Sin Lenee, Diane Young and Darla Paris have about as much impact as each other, all very much energetically into what they do but not so different. A result of working at the same club perhaps.

Darlene Grey and her eye-popping 36H bust

It’s very easy to tell the difference between the footage of the girls shot in America and the earlier European footage that’s intercut just on the appearance of the women themselves. Gigi La Touche is arguably the most naturally attractive girl in the whole picture, looking incredibly cute with just a sparkly guitar covering her modesty. Veronique Gabriel looks gorgeous but her routine amounts to nothing. Only with Meyer’s fetishistic camera angles on her costume and figure does she become alluring. Sadly most of the footage from Europe feels this way and contrasted against the later film shot in America it all seems a little tame and slightly passionless. Also shot and placed between clips of the girls dancing is footage of a pin-up having her photograph taken which feels slightly out-of-place, the static of her poses placed alongside the movement of everyone else. The final gem amongst all this is the test footage of Lorna Maitland before she filmed Lorna with Meyer in 1964, looking gorgeous in colour film stock which she never got to experience (Lorna was shot in black and white).

Babette Bardot takes the wheel in San Francisco

Pretty girls aside, it’s very easy to see how audiences now would get tired of this film really quickly, for it is essentially a one trick pony playing the same trick way too many times. In a society that has a huge placement on instant gratification, Mondo Topless represents the dying art of the tease. The film amounts to images of women dancing (and I know a lot of people who wouldn’t even consider it that these days), baring their breasts and not a lot else. No full frontal nudity, no sex. For generations bought up on the more explicit sex that Deep Throat (1972) help usher into cinemas and pornography that has become more accessible over the last ten years, films like Mondo Topless have become redundant. Their purpose to arouse long since reduced to a bygone era where titillation and the idea of ‘less is more’ once held more meaning and power. In a time when many aspects of culture and society are sexualized, Meyer’s film feels a little tame. It’s the beginning’s of foreplay that doesn’t lead anywhere else and, in all honesty, when you’ve seen a couple of pairs of boobs, the rest aren’t that different. Even as a major Meyer fan, I’ll openly admit that it’s a rather boring film, with a run time of sixty minutes feeling hugely inflated.

And yet its typical Meyer, the pure concentration of his fetish distilled onto celluloid. Upon viewing, you can’t deny that Meyer knew how to photograph the female form well and its evident that the camera loves it’s subjects. If you’re a keen exploitation film fan, its worth watching once for its place in sexploitation history but if you’re a big Meyer fan, it’s an absolute must.