Tag Archives: Grindhouse

‘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 – Top Ten Meyer Homages

22 Mar

#10 – PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE  (1974)
So not a homage or direct reference but similarity and sort of brotherhood, Phantom of the Paradise and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls have two of the best film soundtracks of the 1970s, if  not the entire history of film. Brian De Palma’s 1974 release also features a scene in which a bevy of beautiful ladies (and one man) are are lying on top or around each other on a circular bed, draped in underwear just like the promotional shots for Meyer’s Beyond. Both also happen to have a singer taken under the wing of a big music producer…

#9 – AMAZON WOMEN ON THE MOON (1987)
Okay, so maybe not a reference so much as a cameo, but this top ten wouldn’t be complete without Meyer’s fifteen seconds in the 80s comedy anthology Amazon Women on the Moon in which he plays a video rental store owner trying to persuade a guy to rent a video date VHS. With a giant Supervixens poster visible in the background, one can only imagine some of the X-rated wonders Meyer would have had in his video store if he’d owned one. Well, we can wonder because we know there wouldn’t be any hardcore and everyone would have big boobs…


#8 – SPICE GIRLS – SAY YOU’LL BE THERE (MUSIC VIDEO)
As much as a lot of us probably don’t want to admit it, the Spice Girls music video for Say You’ll Be There has plenty of Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! lashings on its back. The desert, girls chasing boys, leather, fast cars, costume aesthetic, girl power. Whilst I admit that I learnt more about feminism from Meyer than this band of half wits, this has a more deserving place in a top ten than Lady Gaga’s Telephone which owes FAR more to the women in prison genre.

#7 – THE DOUBLE D AVENGER (2001)
If Russ Meyer were to do a superhero movie, it would probably have gone something like The Double D Avenger. The only film which has a ‘reunion’ of-sorts of Meyer stars Kitten Natividad, Raven De La Croix and Haji, the picture see’s an incredibly busty woman fight crime with her breasts. Laced with tonnes of exaggerated cleavage, incredibly bad lines and a scene involving giving a plant/banana a blow job, I have no doubt in my mind that had Meyer been asked to keep doing films in his later years, he would have churned out something like this. In an incredibly polite way, it isn’t worth checking out.

#6 – SLEEPAWAY CAMP (1983)
At the end of the film we find out the killer has gender issues. No Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, no Sleepaway Camp.


#5 – SUPERVIXENS (1975)

It’s well known that Meyer liked to reference his own work and one of the instances of this is his reference in 1975’s Supervixens of the snake bite scene from earlier release Motorpsycho (1965). After being bitten by a rattlesnake out in the desert, the bitten men then shout at their female companions to ‘suck out’ the poison. With lots of emphasis on the ‘sucking’ part. Not that you’d expect anything less from the director of sleaze…

#4 – SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD (2010)
A small town band of three members find their way into a music scene run by a hot shot producer who drives a wedge between each member and crushes their dreams of stardom, the film’s soundtrack is music by the said fictional band, the band’s biggest fan starts out being their friend before being ostracised and returning for the final battle at the end of the picture, the lead girl gets led astray by the record producer, there are parties and gigs. Yep, its pretty much Beyond the Valley of the Dolls without the murderous ending. Although the producer does die at the end…

#3 – GRINDHOUSE (2007)
Both films in Grindhouse riff off Meyer’s masterpiece Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!. Rodriguez’s opening to Planet Terror is an inverted copy of the go-go club opening of FPKK. Instead of hypersexual, gyrating women dancing to salivating, screaming men, Rose McGowan’s character pole dances to a barely packed room and cries tears of unhappiness at the end of her routine. Tarantino’s effort Death Proof is a more obvious love letter to the feature, taking the cars, the women and the attitude and putting them all back on the big screen to kick some sweet butt!


#2 – PERVERT! (2006)
A film which has a stupid amount of Meyer references, so much so that your stick will be snapping after ten minutes of shaking, Pervert! is a perfect example of how to take the grindhouse/sexploitation genre tone/feel and play it out right. Boobs, porn stars, fast cars, desert ranches, hypersexual women, familial bed swapping, dinners filled with innuendo, yes, it’s all there. If you like Meyer, chances are you’ll love this.


#1 – THE PIPETTES – PULL SHAPES (MUSIC VIDEO)
One of the best homages to Meyer’s work, the music video for The Pipettes single Pull Shapes riffs Z-Man’s party scene in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Introduced exactly like The Carrie Nations, the band have got all the points in the scene down to a T, starting off with a backing group that are wearing similar clothes to The Strawberry Alarm Clock in Meyer’s feature. All the major characters are there; The Pipettes playing The Carrie Nations role, the Harris-esque boyfriend/manager, a Z-Man type party host, the Emerson Thorne bartender, the attention seeking Ashleigh St. Ives. Even the minor characters and bit players are referenced such as the dancing hippy, Princess Livingston’s Matron, the Nazi bar man, Z-Man’s assistant Natalie (wearing what looks like a total knock off of the gold dress actually worn in the film), Porter Hall, the girl who’s dancing naked. Top it off with a 60s sound and some great dance moves and even Meyer would be proud. Well, maybe with a little more tit action…

MEYER MONTH – Jimmy McDonough interview

9 Mar

Writer Jimmy McDonough is a big deal in the world of Russ Meyer. This is the man who wrote Meyer’s biography, a feat that probably wouldn’t have happened when it did if Meyer hadn’t have been unwell. Big Bosoms and Square Jaws: The Biography of Russ Meyer is an illuminating portrait of the director with some great stories from all of those who were nearest and dearest to him. The book has been a bible for me since it’s release and I’m very grateful to Jimmy for taking some time out to answer some questions and talk about the great man. To say that this is a personal life-greatest-moment for me is an understatement and my sincerest thanks go out to the guy. His latest biography, Tragic Country Queen, on Tammy Wynette is out now and previous biographies include Neil Young and Andy Milligan. The film rights to Big Bosoms were bought last year and a biopic is currently in the works with director David O. Russell linked to the project.

How did you first become aware of Russ Meyer and his career?

At some point I spied an old girlie mag calendar with photos Meyer had snapped of Lorna Maitland and June Wilkinson. Kablam!  His photos were so much better than nearly all the competition.  There was an X factor present–a crazed euphoria, a palpable sense of whoopie…One felt it in the grinch, as RM would say.
 

What was the first thing of his that you saw and what were your first impressions of it?

I think it was Supervixens at an Indiana drive-in when I was a teen.  Seeing Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens during its theatrical run at at a decript old Jersey City movie palace is what really blew the back of my head off, though. The way the camera just locked onto Kitten Natividad and didn’t let go.  The barrage of closeups: lips, eyes, breasts, radios, pinatas, and the wiggling wheel beneath a bedframe.  An insane attention to the details, down  to the garish set painting.  Meyer appears in the end of the film, addressing the audience as he packs up his film equipment.  The guy came at you with the con-man confidence of a car salesman who has you in a bear-hug and won’t let you leave the lot until the deal is sealed.  It felt so personal, so maniacally single-minded. Once the lights came up I felt as if I’d hallucinated the whole thing. Everything about the film was wacko.  Yet it’s strangely heartfelt.  Beneath was a tribute of sorts–a love letter to Kitten.  
 
How have these impressions changed over the years (for better or worse) and did doing the research for the book radically change how you felt about his work (film or photography)?
 
Not that I can think of.  Doing the book only enhanced my appreciation of his work.  And underscored how undeniably cuckoo RM was.  Crazy family + combat photography + big bosoms + industrial photography + fear of insanity…it all made sense, really. 
 
Where did the idea for the biography come from?
 
It was in the back of my mind for years.  I had worked in the exploitation business for that other RM exploitation king on the opposite coast–Radley Metzger–and knew the lay of the land.  My first published book was on Andy Milligan, who was the grimy, gritty low-down opposite of Meyer in every way.  I wanted to go to the glossy end of the exploitation spectrum, say a few more things and get the fuck out.  Plus I knew the book would be a million laughs.
 

Was it something that you’d always had in mind after discovering Meyer?

Yes.  I spend a long time thinking about projects before I do them, because once I jump in I won’t quit until it’s done.
 
What was or is so special about Meyer that made you want to undertake the project?
 
I am attracted to people who are helpless in the face of an obsession. I can relate. Obsessions drove Meyer.  And in the end they did him in. For better or worse, I see certain things in the same way as RM.  Not everything, thank Christ, but…certain things. My wife Natalia could be a Meyer star. All the right curves…long, flaming red hair…the same bad attitude.  She could hold her own with any of the Faster, Pussycat gang, believe me.
 
During the project, did you at any time feel like you may have taken on too much, in terms of trying to contact those closest to him, going through his extensive archives, the fact that he was, at the time, ill?

No, I wish I had found more interviewees, actually.  I never went through RM’s archives, unfortunately.  This was a completely unauthorized project.

 
Did you have any real difficulties along the way, in terms of contacting people or getting permission from his estate?
 
It took a bit of time to convince some people of my sincerity.  A zillion nutcases have chased after these women.  I actually had a number for Uschi and when I left a message I got so carried away I probably sounded like perv #4,567.  I’m not 100% certain it was still her number but when I called back a few days later it was disconnected.  Needless to say I never got to speak to her.  A great loss for the book, unfortunately. I sought no permission from the estate nor was any granted.  
 
Was there anyone in particular who really needed to be persuaded or talked around into contributing? You mention in the book how difficult it was to try and arrange meeting with Erica Gavin and how Alaina Capri had abandoned the business all together and never really talked about her time with Russ.
 

I specialize in difficult characters.  Look at my books. Gavin is the Howard Hughes of the Meyer women, and the most psychedelic. She’s impossible to pin down on anything, even going to the Quickie Mart.  But once gotten Erica was fantastic.  She even flashed her cans at me, albeit in a brassiere.  That chick should write a book–she’s been a lot of weird and wondrous places. Alaina was nervous about talking after all these years.  She didn’t want to be laughed at.  I hope I did her justice. Capri’s tops in my book.

Do you think (without sounding incredibly cruel) that his illness worked in your favor at the time of compiling research? 

I had no idea what kind of shape RM was in when I started the research.  I thought about chucking it once I knew the extent of the situation.  His friends encouraged me to plow ahead, though, which was inspiring.  But I have to say if RM had been in cognizant of my project there is no doubt in my mind that after my third question he would’ve punched me in the nose and unleashed the lawyers.  Believe me, I would’ve loved to have picked that strange brain but Meyer wasn’t an introspective guy.  I think he would’ve find my approach to be an assault on the fantasy.  Needless to say I don’t see it that way.  The women are what interested me, anyway.  They hadn’t talked all that much. RM had ample opportunity to tell his story and spent three self-published volumes doing so–A Clean Breast.  What an achievement–over a thousand pages and nary an insight to be found.  Fantastic photos, though.

On ‘A Clean Breast’, do you think (if he’d completed it) his original idea of doing an autobiographical film would have been somewhat more insightful?

The bit of The Breast of Russ Meyer floating around is just fantastic.  That was the last Meyer project of any interest, in my opinion. Insightful?  I don’t know if Meyer was capable.

Did his illness or seeing him ill change your view or opinion on him in any way?

I felt for RM.  Again, in the end his obsessions were his undoing.  He’d become a feeble mark begging for mammary salvation, a pathetic john who’d empty his wallet to snuggle up to any big tit.  Curiously it was a position not all that far from the weak males he’d mocked in his films.  And then Meyer lost his mind–literally.  The details are in the book, and it really is like something out of one of his mid-period films.  His old screenwriter John Moran couldn’t have penned a more sordid tale. 

Do you have a favourite/s Meyer girl and did your opinion of her change after you met her (if you did)?

Tura and I really hit it off.  I mean really hit it off. Had circumstances been different…Kitten was absolutely fantastic.  I nearly proposed to her after six questions.  Unfortunately I was already married at the time.  Hanging out with Erica Gavin was a mind-bender.  They were all great and it was a thrill of a lifetime meeting them.  Is there a grifter in the bunch?  This is the world of Russ Meyer, what do you think?

What do you think it is about them that have made them so endearing amongst Meyer/film/sexploitation/cult film fans?

Their spirit.  Dare I say they seem almost pure and innocent these days.

Do you think that that’s part of the charm of Meyer’s work, that by today’s standards of explicitness there’s a great deal of innocence in some of his portrayal’s of sexuality and some of his characters themselves?

Yes. The humor, which doesn’t always work, is another big part.  Sex can be such a heavy, oppressive topic. Meyer lets you laugh at it.  

Did any of them disappoint you in any way in reality?

No.  If anything they were even more impressive.  Life hasn’t been easy for them and they’re not easy dames to live with. Forget the physical attributes, these women vibrate with an energy that could charge 1000 Teslas. There’s a blinding light behind the eyes. Never a dull moment!

What do you think it is about Meyer himself that has kept the girls so loyal and proud of their work and association with him?

However much an asshole Meyer could be, he immortalized these women.  How flattering is that?  Last time I checked nobody’s building me a shrine.

There are a number of instances documented where he has fallen out with his actresses or treated them badly at some point. Is there anyone you think he was particularly harsher on?

Oh, I don’t know, everybody got the short end of the stick sooner or later.  Meyer’s right-hand man George Costello was banished forever when Meyer discovered he’d been consoling Erica Gavin behind his back during the making of Vixen.  During the shoot RM had a secret stash of Treesweet orange juice and Costello was brazen enough to filch one can and slip it to Gavin behind the boss’s back.  RM took this as a great betrayal and never spoke to Costello again. Meyer made little plaques commemorating each film.  And what was on the Vixen plaque?  A can of Treesweet orange juice.  A symbol of Costello’s treasonous behavior.

Did any girl surprise you in any way in reality?

Tura was ultra-right wing, which didn’t exactly surprise me, but it did crack me up.  Very patriotic, loved Reagan and Bush, torture and kill the terrorists, etc. She was very loyal, very sweet and had a way of getting to you. She signed her letters “Always” and she meant it. Tura was just too big for the movies. Too bad.

Out of all the girls featured in his films, who you do think is or are the most memorable/most typically Meyer/most overrated or underrated? Are there any that you think he should have worked with more or less? 

I just wish there was more of all of ’em.  More Tura, more Lorna, more Uschi, more Kitten, more Alaina, more, more, more…I’m not a big Edy Williams fan but she certainly clawed out her place in the Meyer oeuvre.  RM wasn’t interested in helping his stars build a career.  He was always lusting after next year’s Cadillac. I really, really wish Eve had done more film work.  And I wished somebody had properly interviewed her.  What a dame.  

I’m sure some will consider this heresy, but Beyond the Valley of the Dolls isn’t my favorite, either.  I admire the achievement but it’s a little too chilly, a little too arch for me.  Give me Mondo Topless/Common Law Cabin/Faster, Pussycat…

RM’s last couple of films are just an embarrassment.  His taste was of course vulgar, but exuberantly so.  At the end it turned grotesque, tired, creepy.  The women seem factory-made, joyless. You feel embarrassed for the guy, cringe at his pathetic fetish.  This wasn’t the case previously, at least not for me.  He made it all seem fun.  And funny.

At what point do you think his career really peaked?

In 1968 Vixen made a pile of dough, so much so that a desperate 20th Century Fox came knocking on Meyer’s door to make Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.  A Hollywood studio INVITED an exploitation filmmaker into the kingdom and let him run amok.  Unheard of!  The joke was definitely on them for once.  And the moolah was in the Bank of Meyer!  Fantastic.

Mentioning Eve Meyer, how important do you think she was in relation to Meyer’s early career? She seems to have played a big part on the finacial side of business, helping Russ out on a few occassions…

From what his friends told me, Eve really understood Russ.  And could stand up to him.  Eve was a very sharp dame and a fantastic businesswoman–she distributed his films.  I think RM’s life can be split into BE and AE.  Russ seemed increasingly rudderless After Eve.  But nobody was going to tell RM what to do.  Look where it got him.  Heaven.  And hell.  Had he been a little more humble…but who wants a humble Meyer anyway? His life was like his movies.  Absolutely nuts from beginning to end.

Women are the obvious topic to discuss when it comes to Meyer but he also had a lot of male friends and actors around him from his service during WW2 and the films he made. Which of them stand out as being the most memorable and loyal towards him?

Undoubtedly the most loyal was Anthony James Ryan AKA The Handyman.  He helped create the movies, appeared in them, and cleaned up many a Meyer mess.  He was loyal until the end.  He knew how crazy Russ but was loyal until the end.  A hell of a guy, Ryan.  I loved visiting his dusty old photography store to shoot the shit. Little bits of Meyeribilia were everywhere, like shots of Kitten Natividad appearing in a local parade.  I’d rather have a colonoscopy than attend such an event, but a parade with Kitten.  Now that’s exciting.  I hope she threw candy to the kids from the back of the Caddy.

How much of an impact do you feel Meyer had on cinema in terms of depicting sex and sexuality on screen?

He kicked down the door and did it with panache and wit.  However crude and bizarre the point of view may be, RM was there first.  He fought many an expensive battle in court defending his films.  Everybody who came after benefited from his ballsy and brazen approach.  To what end, one may ask.  Nowadays anything goes and how dull is that?

As an independent filmmaker, do you think he is successful in what he did?

Are you kidding me?!?  The guy saw his demented fantasies come to life on the silver screen, had incredible broads throwing themselves at his feet and he made a shitload of dough–the kind of loot that allows you to tell the world to take a fucking hike.  He circled the globe attending tributes to himself.  And outside of the films for 20th Century Fox RM owned everything he created and controlled how it was presented down to the minute details.  He got away with everything,  answered to nobody.  I don’t know about you but I’d trade places in a second.

The bulk of sexploitation is really tedious unwatchable crap.  Dave Friedman was a hell of a guy, but his posters and trailers were far better than most of actual movies. And that’s in keeping with the exploitation con.  Moviemaking was no laughing matter to Meyer.  He gave it his all.  Experiencing Meyer’s work is akin to listening to Little Richard belt out “Keep A-Knockin’.” A runaway train–you either get on board or get the hell out of the way! 

RM nearly killed himself getting shots as a combat photographer in WWII; he nearly killed his cast and crew making these films.  Nobody told me making these films was fun.  Raven De La Croix tore up her feet running like a maniac barefoot and naked through the woods.  You think Meyer cared?  Naaah. RM demanded take after take.  He just wanted it to look good.  So somebody dies, so what?  Filmmaking is war!

My one wish is that Meyer would’ve made a 3D movie.  But the medium wasn’t technically ready for somebody like Meyer.  Could you imagine if he were still around?  Scorsese made Hugo.  Meyer could’ve done Huge-O.

Do you think the content of his films has stopped him from being celebrated or his achievements in independent filmmaking from being recognised at all?

Not really. Love him or hate him, Meyer was recognized as his own genre.  Sure he was vilified by the conservative and the humorless, but RM demanded and got different consideration than most smut peddlers.  Meyer was also lucky–powerful critics like Roger Ebert (it must be said, a fellow tit man) championed him in the mainstream press.  And being hilarious and endlessly quotable made RM great copy and earned him endless ink. He was great at playing all the angles and knew controversy only enhanced box office.  He’s been fully absorbed into our culture–these days you can buy Faster Pussycat t-shirts and lunch boxes at the mall.  Unfortunately the films themselves have become harder and harder to show theatrically or buy in a store and that, I think, has been the worst thing for his longevity.  Nobody’s really promoting or taking care of his work, except for draining the last easy dollar to be made.  Go look at the website for RM Films.  Is it still 1982?

Is there anything about him personally and professionally that you think he isn’t but should be remembered for?

I just think he should be remembered, period.  Everybody agrees that the estate has missed the boat.  No Blu-Rays containing state-of-the-art transfers of his films?  Meyer would’ve been on top of that from the get-go.  Rumors that the negatives are rotting away?  It’s a disgrace.  I think RM would be appalled at the state of his archive.  This is a guy who turned his own home into a museum to himself–where are all his treasures?  Why can’t the world experience them?  There should be a Russ Meyer Museum.  How great would that be? You think people wouldn’t visit, write about it, put it on TV?

It does seem a real shame that for someone who embraced the VHS market so early on, his films haven’t been transferred to BD yet. Who is in charge of his estate? I know that Arrow had some difficulties when they released his films on DVD which seem to be the best and most definitive way of getting hold of them.

Meyer’s secretary and contractor joined forces to become the, ahem, finely-tuned machine that runs the empire.  Everything I have to say about the estate is in the book, specifically the “Janice and the Handyman” chapter.  I’d rather not give them any more attention, they’re a bit internet-excitable when it comes to me.

In regards to his house, the descriptions of it in the book are incredible. What was it like being in that environment where Meyer is literally coming at you from all directions?

I was never in the house, unfortunately.  All my knowledge comes from those who had been there.
 
What do you think of the homages and imitations of Meyer’s work that are raising his profile? Have you seen films like ‘Pervert!’ and ‘Bitch Slap!’? What, if you’ve seen them, do you think of Tarantino and Rodriguez’s references to his work in ‘Death Proof’ and ‘Planet Terror’?
 
Haven’t seen any of these and don’t feel compelled to catch up.  That whole referencing-films-past has become a little cliche, don’t you think?  The TV set on in the background showing Kiss of Death?  You’ve seen a few movies, we get it.  Go teach a class. If I need a jolt of Meyer I just turn on Mondo Topless for ten minutes. What’s that line from The In Crowd–“The original is still the greatest.”
 
In terms of his treatment of women (both on screen and off screen in his personal relationships and friendships), how much do you think he cared for/respected the opposite sex?
 
As great and fun a guy as RM was, he treated everybody like crap sooner or later. There was always suspicion, a plot, a betrayal. Women were certainly no exception.   And yet despite himself he recorded a certain greatness about them, however absurdly specific it is.  I think this talent was beyond his control.  Obviously he never got over dear old mother Lydia.  Interesting that a frequent Meyer POV is a low-angle, I’m-way-down-here-looking-way-up-there at these towering femme infernos.  A child’s eye view, perhaps? It should come as no surprise Meyer came from a demented family.  He was surrounded by a couple of crazy women; enemas were involved.  Need I say more? 

What do you think his honest opinions on male/female sexuality were? 

As Jane Hower–one his last paramours–told me RM was “very straightforward–hug, kiss, touch put it in.”  There’s a picture in the book of Meyer’s spartan bedroom  that says it all. Box of Kleenex on the nightstand, no-frills bed…It might as well be army barracks.  Sex to Meyer was like backing up a Mack truck, dumping a load and  heading straight back to headquarters to hang out with the fellas.  A very old-fashioned guy.  To him oral sex was a commie plot.  Just the word “sexuality” would’ve been met with derision from RM. He couldn’t have cared less about anybody’s needs except his own. “Making love”? “Sensuality”? That was for sissies, Yes-Dear men.  Meyer approached sex the way he tore into a steak: not a lot of finesse and blood dripping off the knife.

How do you think Meyer will be remembered in 50 years time? What do you think people will see as his legacy by that point?

He was a complete original.  How many filmmakers are?  Not many, if you ask me.  A minute or two of Meyer and you know you’ve fallen through a hole in the universe.  A little more interesting than another Spike Lee retrospective or the complete oeuvre of Jonathan Demme.

Lastly, I don’t know whether you can or can’t talk about the film? Not in terms of where it is in production or who is being considered for casting but your view on it. Did you ever think that this would be an opportunity that would happen to you and how deserving do you think Meyer is of a film biopic?

I can tell you that the actress attached to play Eve Meyer was my first choice–she’s a dead ringer for Eve and can convey the mountain of moxie required. Some very talented people are connected to the project.  But it’s Hollywood.  I’ve been through this before.  Of course I wish them the best.  How will they recreate those women, anyway?  CGI, or your dread porn cyborg types?  I hope not.  These were one-of-a kind women.  Hard cups to fill. 

MEYER MONTH – Russ Meyer, the Gothic Year (1964-1965)

3 Mar

The lovely Vince D’Amato expresses his thoughts on Russ Meyer’s black-and-white ‘Gothic period’ of filmmaking…

Very arguably the highlight of Meyer’s career, though if the films contained within this one-year period are not his definitive work, they are doubtlessly his most famous. Lorna (1964), Mudhoney (1965), Motorpsycho (1965) and the epitomic Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965) have all been immortalized into pop culture consciousness, even for those who haven’t seen his films. But for those of us who have been lucky enough to bear witness, the immortality strikes us because these films are just so fucking loony tunes, throwing images into our faces from the screen that are forever seared into our brains while burning into cinematic culture simultaneously (Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and Motorpsycho specifically). Fourteen years after having seen these films, I can still recall numerous shots from them. For people only beginning to experience their love of cinema, even if they haven’t seen these films, they undoubtedly want to see them because they’re familiar, at least, with these films’ iconic imagery and still-moments from their motion picture origins, immortalized for decades on t-shirts, posters, flyers, blogs, band names, graphic media and illustrated cinema books, and paid homage to in many later films (Wild at Heart, Bring me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, Grindhouse and Bitch Slap, to name a few famous ones). In other words, infused indefinitely into pulp culture.

I would be surprised if someone’s first Russ Meyer experience wasn’t one of the films from this era (likely Faster, Pussycat!), just as my own was. Who couldn’t resist the allure and pop-culture pounding of the image of Amazonian Tura Satana, her feet planted into the desert ground as she hauls a guy through the dirt and snaps his arm backwards. Three buxom women, car races, go-go dancing, attempted kidnapping and general mayhem all ensue in the stark desert locale. One really needs to say nothing more before Faster, Pussycat! is in some cinephile’s hot little hands running up to the cash register. Well, that was back in my day of brick-and-mortar video stores and VHS rentals. Now, I suppose the curious cinephine would just order from Amazon or download it.

So, yes, my own introduction to Russ Meyer’s cinematic world was via Faster, Pussycat! and Mudhoney circa 1997 (my time, and as I’d mentioned, via VHS) and I can say that he had me hooked forever at the wickedly dutched camera angles and luminously photographed black-and-white images of the go-go-dancers that open up the first few seconds of Faster, Pussycat!. No amount of exposure to the runaway pop-culture imagery of this film can prepare you for the film itself. And that, in itself, is saying something monumental. Riffing on this original opening is exactly what Robert Rodriguez got right with Planet Terror (forty years later in 2007) and the idea of having three amazing chicks running afoul of bad-ass cars and bad guys is what Grindhouse partner-in-crime Tarantino riffed on, also successfully, for his Death Proof segment. I sure hope they remembered to give Meyer his due credit, as should many other influenced filmmakers and rock bands of the last thirty years. 

What these filmmakers could never replicate, however, is really the sheer lunacy of Meyer’s cinematographic sensationalism – though many have tried, most notably former Corman staffer Rick Jacobson in his pastiche Bitch Slap (2009). Sure, in Meyer’s films, the voluptuous women are something to behold on their own, but really, whatever Meyer was photographing in this time period (with cinematographer/camera operator Walter Schenk), be it water-logged catfights, sand-strewn catfights, busty sunbathing beauties, chick-on-car action, motorcycle gangs, or even an excavated tree stump in the desert, it all seriously looked like a black-and-white live-action Warner Brother cartoon as gothic films noir – for adults. Of course the horn-blaring big-band go-go soundtrack of Faster, Pussycat! helped with that, too. And for ages I thought this cartoon aspect was some highly introspective revelation of my own intelligent devising, until I recently discovered that even Meyer’s latest works of the seventies (and in full colour) were unofficially dubbed “Bustoons”, named for the big-breasted women who starred in them as well as the “cartoonish” use of colour and framing compositions. Well, at least I wasn’t the only one who noticed. Cartoonish or not, his films were undoubtedly electric. 

Russ Meyer, over the course of his lengthy and successful independent film career, was his own self-made one-man film crew and studio, something that he has yet to be dragged from the shadows of fellow indie men Corman, Lewis, Band, and Kaufman to be properly lauded for. Or perhaps he just needs to be yanked from the cast shadows of his own big-breasted films and actresses. Yet somehow, wherever he is, I’m sure he’s just fine with his place in cinematic history.

Vince D’Amato is a filmmaker with independent production company Creepy Six Films and Brivido Giallo. He has just finished shooting his current feature, the neo-giallo Reversed, and has completed the screenplay for his next film to shoot next year. Vince also writes for Videotape Swapshop and the fiction site Creepy Six Tales, and is currently writing a cinema book.

Ever Fallen In Love With Someone You Should’nt’ve – Jonathan Yudis’s ‘Pervert!’ (2005)

29 Feb

I bloody love Amazon. It recommends me all sorts of exploitation goodness and sexy stuff thanks to what I buy every month. Sometimes Amazon gets it completely wrong and sometimes Amazon hits the nail on the head so perfectly I want it in plush form so I can give it some massive cuddle. The latest gem it pointed out to me was the 2005 Russ Meyer tribute Pervert! directed by Jonathan Yudis.

The film see’s college student James (Sean Andrews) return to his family’s desert ranch to help out his father, Hezekiah (Darrell Sandeen), for the summer. James finds that Hezekiah has gotten remarried to the rather busty Cheryl (porn star Mary Carey) but it doesn’t take long for Cheryl and James to hook up, only for Hezekiah to find out and fight with his wife over it. Then Cheryl disappears… Old man Hezekiah returns home from town with another voluptuous broad attached to his arm, Alisha, who also quickly falls for James. Then one night Cheryl turns up and dies in front of James, the same night that Hezekiah finds Alisha dead. What follows is a bizarre romp including bouncing breasts, a witch doctor, sculptures made of meat and a homicidal penis.

Pervert! is a horror-comedy-sexploitation film that Film Threat is quoted as saying ‘Smells like Russ Meyer’. Except that it doesn’t just smell of Meyer, the film reeks of it and for all the best reasons. For the seasoned Meyer fan, the film is full of references that will make you squeal with delight. The film opens with a mad preacher introducing the story that reminds you of Mudhoney (1965) and the evangelical preacher of Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens (1979). Then there’s the desert ranch itself, a near copycat of the ranch in Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965), complete with its own water tank (and, yes, Yudis even includes a scene of his leading lady washing by it that is shot exactly like Meyer’s shots of Lori Williams and Tura Satana doing the same). Mary Carey even has a scene which completely takes Satana’s corn on the cob eating scene from Faster Pussycat! and raises the bar a good fifty miles in the air. Not content with keeping the Meyer references at that, Yudis includes desert shots that look like they could have been lifted from Cherry, Harry & Raquel! (1969) and Supervixens (1975) and a rattlesnake gag and cool pick up truck that wouldn’t be out-of-place in Motorpsycho (1965). Those were just the really obvious references, I couldn’t be bothered to list all of them when making notes!

It’s not just the very well done references to Meyer’s films that make the film so successful but the realised grindhouse/exploitation tone of the whole piece. The script is great, full of one liners and innuendo that are found across the sex comedy and sexploitation genre’s in general; ‘I’ve handled a lot of fruit in my time. It’s one thing I’ve never minded, it’s a little bruises and spots’ (Hezekiah when spanking Cheryl), ‘You’re a rotten constitution in the court of man!’. There is, of course, plenty of nudity with female forms that hark back to a time when stick thin wasn’t the ‘in thing’ and breasts that Meyer would obviously stamp with a seal of approval. In other words, beautiful, bouncy and big. Even the film’s opening, with the grainy and faded logo for production company Stag Films and campy Horny-14 (‘Approved for all perverts by the director of this film. Pregnant women and men with an erection at this point in the film should leave now.’) feels legitimately vintage in exploitation glory.

Let’s not forget to mention the acting which is tongue-in-cheek in all the right places. Andrews as Sean is fantastic playing the naive and possibly cursed (?) role that so many cute boys played in 60s/70s sex-horror films, all puppy dog eyes and innocence craving life experience. Carey is great as the spunky (excuse the pun) and sex-fuelled Cheryl, pulling the innocent girl next door card when necessary and who would have been a perfect Meyer candidate if we were still in the 70s. The rest of the female cast are also terrific, their slightly wooden delivery perfect for a film of this ilk with special mention going to Lucia whose role as the Uschi Digard/Kitten Natividad montage girl is nailed perfectly. Best of all is Sandeen as Hezekiah who is clearly channeling Stuart Lancaster’s role as The Old Man in Faster Pussycat! but still manages to put his own memorable spin on it.

The real star of the show, however, has to be the stop-motion murderous penis who wrecks havoc in the last half of the feature. This is definitely where Yudis’s previous experience working in comedy and animation really come to shine, the penis animated with much personality and a rough and ready style that suits the spirit and tone of the picture.All in all, a fabulous homage to the B-movies of sexploitation and horror and a wonderful tribute to the ‘King of the Nudies’ Russ Meyer, Pervert! is a must watch for any fan who enjoys what exploitation and grindhouse cinema used to bring to the big (and small) screen!

Fast Cars and Kick Ass Girls; ‘Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!’ (1965) & ‘Death Proof’ (2007)

17 Aug

Anyone who knows me personally or reads this blog will know one of two things; that I absolutely love Russ Meyer and that Death Proof is my favourite Tarantino film so far. So you can imagine my excitement when I saw that the Ritzy Cinema in Brixton were screening a Grindhouse double bill of Meyer’s Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and Death Proof  as part of the Scala Forever Film Season.

It’s not surprising that Tarantino references and emulates Faster Pussycat! in Death Proof as it’s well-known that the director loves his films, especially B-movies and exploitation fare. What may interest some people is just how much he uses elements from Meyer’s 1965 masterpiece, from the obvious, a Faster Pussycat! t-shirt used in costume, to the slightly less obvious (depending on how big a fan you might be), such as plot and characterisation points.

The first thing that struck me when I saw Death Proof for the first time years ago was the fetish versus fetish angle. Everyone knows that Russ Meyer had a breast fetish which he practically and successfully based his entire career around. Although Tarantino hasn’t based his entire career so far around his fetish for feet, like Meyer he doesn’t exactly hide it in his films. So just as Faster Pussycat! has its female leads clad in tight tops, bikini’s and sees Tura Satana’s cleavage lovingly and impressively exposed to the world, Death Proof shows us that feet are damn sexy. Need a reminder? There’s the feet that get wet when they’re exposed to the rain, the close up of Butterfly’s feet as she walks across the bar, Stuntman Mike gently tickling Abernathy’s feet, Jungle Julia’s feet at the start of the film and Butterfly’s feet that perfectly place themselves in Stuntman Mike’s crotch during his lap dance.

So whilst I’m sure Meyer and Tarantino aren’t the only directors to show their fetishes so blatantly on-screen, Tarantino certainly owes his depiction of overt female sexuality in Death Proof to Meyer’s characterisation. Faster Pussycat! was one of the first films to portray strong sexually charged women with no apology, paving the way for women to be shown as more than the clichéd innocent and gentle virgin. Just as Varla seduces everyone and anyone she can, knowing full well when it will end on her part, Butterfly makes sure that she is the one with the upper hand when it comes to her relationship with Nate. Both films have the guys chasing after the girls with the girls being the ones in control. Just remember, we have a sexuality too! As Butterfly says, ‘No whining, no begging’.

It’s not just sexuality that Tarantino copied from Meyer but behavioural traits and plot similarities. Tura Satana’s Varla would probably have had a violent war of words with Sydney Poitier’s Julia or Tracie Thoms’ Kim, both of whom Tarantino uses to reference Varla’s bad ass attitude and speech. Satana’s infamous fights in Faster Pussycat! are all emulated in the final fight scene in Death Proof, where the three remaining girls, Kim, Zoe and Abernathy, all beat the crap out of Stuntman Mike. Note the further visual references to Varla in the costume of these three characters, where Zoe is wearing similar gloves and boots, Kim is in leather and Abernathy has lashings of eyeliner and a straight cut  fringe. In terms of Varla’s dominance within her group as the leader, Tarantino continues this with Poitier in his first group of girls and Thoms and Bell in his second bunch of chicks, all three being the ones that coerce their friends into acts and determine where they will be going.

The other female caricatures in Meyer’s picture are made up through the rest of Tarantino’s casting. Haji’s exotic beauty Rosie is channelled through Vanessa Ferlito’s Butterfly and Zoe Bell and the all-American good girl up for a bad time, Billie as portrayed by Lori Williams in Faster Pussycat!, is played well through Rosario Dawson’s Abernathy, the single mum who has boundaries but knows how to have fun. Even Susan Bernard’s irritating character of Linda gets a double in Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Lee. Both play the naive younger girl in the group left to fend for themselves against men whilst the other girls leave them (Abernathy leaves Lee just as Billie leaves Linda). That and the fact they are both sexually objectified in their costume; Bernard in the bikini and Winstead in the cheerleader outfit.

Lastly, and ridiculously obviously, lets not forget those beautiful babes that are the fast cars that make both these films. Tarantino harks back to the Grindhouse era of the 60s and 70s by featuring old American cars, such as Stuntman Mike’s 1970 Chevy Nova and 1969 Dodge Charger, whilst the girls get to drive a 1970 Dodge Challenger towards the end of the film. My personal favourite would have to be Kim’s Ford Mustang Mach I, the gorgeous car with the yellow and black paint job which I have lusted after ever since seeing Death Proof for the first time. Meyer’s girls can be seen drag racing a Porsche 356, an MG-A and a TR-3 Triumph across the Mojave Desert with power and style, whilst the unfortunate drag racer Tommy drives an MG-B. In both instances, it’s the girls who drive more fearlessly, crashing through any gender stereotypes about female drivers.

For those who went, I hope you all found the double bill enjoyable! I couldn’t have picked something more perfect myself, although I may have added Vanishing Point and made it a triple bill! There are another two Russ Meyer screenings as part of the Scala Forever Film Season which I will be attending and I look forward to seeing some of you there…