Tag Archives: Lorna

‘Feminism and Male Inadequacy in the Films of Russ Meyer’ by Syvology

10 Nov

A belated post but as part of this years MEYER MONTH I was forwarded this nice little article via twitter. The original post can be found here but I’ve included it below, and you can also follow its author Syvology on twitter here!

 

A dual biopic exploring the friendship between Roger Ebert and Russ Meyer is apparently in the works. Simpsons/SNL writer Christopher Cluess penned the script, which focuses on Meyer and Ebert’s formative collaboration on Fox’s big-budget fiasco Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970). Though it will be fun to see young Ebert in his humble side-burned glory, the most interesting character in this story is Russ Meyer.

Russ Meyer

An ongoing fascination of mine, Russ Meyer is one of the most misunderstood figures in film history. To fans of sleaze and camp, he’s a deity. He invented the sexploitation genre as we know it with The Immoral Mr. Teas (1959), a hallucinatory exploration of compulsive voyeurism. According to John Waters, the iconic Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965) is “beyond a doubt, the best movie ever made. It is possibly better than any film that will be made in the future.” To other, more genteel audiences however, Meyer is often thought of as a seedy proto-pornographer whose films trade in adolescent prurience, irredeemable violence, and general bad taste. Meyer himself subscribed to the latter characterization, rejecting intellectual interpretations of his work and insisting that he only made movies for two reasons: “lust and profit.” But as any true student of his films can attest, Meyer’s bizarre career encompassed much more than that. To appreciate the thought-provoking complexities inherent in Meyer’s work, one must first confront its most frustrating contradiction: that his films are simultaneously misogynist and feminist.

Meyer’s career unfolded concomitantly with second-wave feminism, but it’s primarily third-wave (or so-called “sex-positive”) feminists that appreciate his aesthetic. B. Ruby Rich famously labeled Meyer “the first feminist American director”, praising his progressive sense of female empowerment in Faster, Pussycat! and his bold rejection of hetero-normativity in Vixen! (1968). Similarly, quasi-feminist cultural critic Camille Paglia laments, “his women had an exuberance and vitality you rarely see in film anymore.” Roger Ebert has always been Meyer’s most high-profile apologist on this point, encouraging critics to appreciate “the quintessential Russ Meyer image: a towering woman with enormous breasts, who dominates all the men around her, demands sexual satisfaction, and casts off men in the same way that, in mainstream sexual fantasies, men cast aside women.” Indeed, Meyer himself credited much of his success to the fact that many women enjoyed his movies just as much as men. But things get tricky once you contrast these progressive interpretations with some of the director’s own words. He described his ideal target audience as “some guy…in the theater with semen seeping out of his dick.” When asked whether his films exploit women, Meyer responded plainly, “I’m prone to say, yes, I do exploit women. I exploit them with zeal and gusto.” On feminist thought itself, Meyer was pretty vile: “I don’t care to comment about what might be inside a lady’s head. Hopefully it’s my dick.” There’s really no question that Meyer was at all times primarily concerned with delivering male sexual gratification, not promoting feminist ideology. But he was the first American filmmaker to consistently depict and celebrate women who were in charge of their own sexuality. So what, then, was the connection?

costume 6

Whatever is incidentally pro-feminist in Meyer’s work was likely an accidental, albeit fascinating, side effect of his idiosyncratic sexual appetite. The theoretical disconnect in his treatment of gender may be explained by the extent to which Meyer’s films are exceedingly personal, one might say solipsistic, expressive vehicles for exploring his own masturbatory fantasies. Describing his creative process, he once said, “each film must begin with me. I am the idea. I’ve got to have the hard-on.” The relationship between his sexual personality and the feminist overtones of his work gets clearer once one acknowledges that Meyer’s obsession with female dominance was always complemented by another, perhaps even more continual thematic hallmark of his narratives: male inadequacy. Themes of sexual impotence permeate his entire career. In Lorna (1964), the title character’s husband is a sexually inept wimp that bores her into infidelity and recklessness. In Common Law Cabin (1967), a female character cuckolds and basically murders her husband as ostensible punishment for being, essentially, a pussy. Meyer’s failed attempt at First Amendment proselytizing, The Seven Minutes (1971), features a rape defendant vindicated at trial by the stunning revelation that the crime was physically impossible for him to commit. Charles Napier’s utterly despicable villain in Supervixens (1975) brutally murders a woman after she taunts his inability to perform. Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens (1979) is a preposterous and anarchic profile of a hopeless idiot who can’t bring himself to have anything but anal sex.

What’s more is that his focus on male inadequacy was no doubt a highly personal topic. In addition to his reputation for being decidedly wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am in the sack (corroborated by multiple former lovers), one particular episode of performance anxiety is instructive. Just as his filmmaking career was getting started, Meyer’s obsession with busty burlesque icon Tempest Storm caused him to abandon his first wife and nearly ruin his own life. But when it came time to go to bed with Ms. Storm, Meyer’s manhood was nowhere to be found. He described it thus: “When I first met Tempest Storm I was so in awe of her great big cans that thoughts like performing badly or ejaculating prematurely ran through my mind –all connected to the dick bone. So when I made my move to hump the buxotic after the last show in her Figueroa Street scatter, I felt inadequate, plain and simple. Fuck, what can I say?”.

tempest 1

Tempest Storm happens to be the star of Meyer’s first short film (now lost), The French Peep Show (1954), and her breasts make a cameo in his first feature-length film, The Immoral Mr. Teas (1959) (As far as I’m aware, this isn’t actually true. It was June Wilkinson’s breasts that had an uncredited cameo, Storm was not involved in the film at all – Lydia). To a significant extent, she was the sex symbol that launched his whole career. So quite literally, feelings of sexual inadequacy were at the very root of his development as an artist.

Meyer’s brand of transgressive femininity may be thought of as the natural result of his own self-loathing, which subliminally translated into deep skepticism for contemporary masculinity at large. It’s likely he viewed female sexuality as something hopelessly out of his personal control, and ultimately out of society’s control as well. That’s why his work exhibits what UC Irvine film professor Kristen Hatch called “an ambivalence toward the traditional authority figures that classical Hollywood had helped to reinforce, showing masculine social authority to be in a state of disarray.” Characters like Varla and Vixen don’t just transgress rules associated with physical gender norms like strength and sex drive; they represent the rejection of all rules that paternalistic society is stupid enough to rely on. At its best, Meyer’s work subverts traditional sexual power dynamics and celebrates the disorienting sexual chaos that results. Female liberation in Meyer’s universe is not the product of paternalistic sympathy or cliché moral epiphany. Rather, he depicts female sexuality as being by its very nature violently irrepressible and self-actualizing. Socio-masculine anxiety about this threat to male sexual hegemony is the principal component of Meyer’s continuing subversive appeal. But as Ebert once put it, that’s only apparent to viewers “if they can see past the heaving bosoms.” Not likely.

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.

The Marvelous Mrs. Meyer – Eve Turner (1928-1977)

9 Aug

Behind every successful man, there is a woman. Director Russ Meyer had three wives in his lifetime but it was his second wife, Eve Meyer (nee Turner), who really stands out from the crowd. Russ and Eve were a hardworking team, one that knew how to work with and bring out the best in each other. Even after they divorced, Eve remained a formidable force in his life. She was his original pin-up queen, the star of one of his films, the producer of countless others and a savvy business woman who knew how to deal with the sexploitation film market as much as her husband did. Eve Meyer, one of a kind.

Evelyn Eugene Turner was born into the world on December 13th 1928 in Atlanta, Georgia. After working a while for Western Union she was eventually transferred to San Francisco where she became a legal secretary for Pepsi.  Turner always knew she could handle men and match them as an equal, being a great poker player and having a keen interest in fishing. She also has a vivacious sexual appetite, once even throwing Russ Meyer out of her house after a date when he (of all people!) suggested that they wait until their wedding night! A woman ahead of her time, her friend once said of her, ‘Eve was the first person that I ever saw wear pants and heels’.

As soon as Meyer set his eyes on Turner he knew she was the one for him. With a bust described as ‘conically maddening’ (a good thing for our breast loving director), Russ admitted that he knew he’d marry her the minute they’d met and he’d even go on to name his filmmaking company Eve Productions. She was the secretary of a lawyer, he was a divorce client of the said lawyer. He was given her number and the rest is history. After a tempestuous engagement, the two were married on August 2nd 1952 in San Francisco.

Eve was an incredibly beautiful woman and it wouldn’t take long for her to become a pin-up superstar in front of Russ’s camera. Her looks photographed well and her personality shone through in all her pictures; a woman that was able to be a girl-next-door one minute and a sultry vamp the next, Monroe crossed with Turner and then some. She already had some modelling experience behind her when she first met Russ, but it would take him months of persuasion to try to get her to pose for him. It’s not surprising that she eventually became one of the most popular pin-up models of the 1950s, constantly appearing in magazines like Adam, Fling, Modern Man and Frolic. Mr. Meyer even told stories that actress Ava Gardner had the hots for Eve (Mrs. Meyer accompanied her husband on one of his early jobs as a studio stills photographer and Gardner was his first assignment). In 1955, Eve appeared in Playboy as Miss June, in a fantastic spread photographed by her husband. The pictorial is electric and the gatefold in particular is more arousing then any porno picture I’ve seen that’s been shot in the last twenty years or so. The spread featured Eve by the fireplace, wearing a sheer gown that shows just about the right amount, with a look on her face that screams ‘Well, are you gonna come get it or not?’. I have always maintained that she was and is one of the most beautiful creatures to have ever graced this Earth, this spread being proof (a nice selection of some more gorgeous photographs from across her career can be found here).

Not content with being just a model, Eve also did some film work, predominantly working again for Russ in front of the camera. In 1954 or 1955 (dates vary according to sources) Eve starred in Russ’s first involvement within the exploitation movie business, an expose on abortion entitled The Desperate Women. Circling around innocent women and a shady backstreet abortionist (a clichéd character that Meyer revived for his studio picture Beyond the Valley of the Dolls in 1970), the posters showed an angst ridden Eve under the tagline ‘Shall I Take The ‘Easy’ Way Out?’. An uncredited role followed in 1955 as a model in Artists And Models and four years later Eve landed a lead role in war drama Operation Dames aka Girls In Action (1959). Difficult to find on home video format, the only video I’ve seen (posted below) shows that she is just as good in this as she was in her later picture with her husband, her natural good looks standing out and her enviable figure making more than an impression.


It would be Russ Meyer’s 1960 release Eve and The Handyman which saw Eve finally become her husband’s moving-image muse. Eve had been upset that Russ had ignored her whilst filming The Immoral Mr. Teas. Used to working as a team, Eve wasn’t the star in his first feature and was upset that some of the interiors were filmed inside the couples actual home. Russ made up for it by writing his second feature for his wife and, wow, does she shine in it. Using the scenes like Playboy photo shoot set-ups, Eve looks beautiful as she marches around in a trench coat and underwear following the Handyman, played by long-term Meyer friend Anthony James Ryan. By this point already used to Russ’s way of directing and shooting, Eve is one of the few women most comfortable in front of the directors camera throughout his entire filmography. The two could really work well together and it shows. He knows all the right angles to film her at and she knows just what the camera, and audience, are after. It’s just a shame that Handyman would be her last acting role. God knows where she would have gone had Meyer used her as an actress over and over.

It wasn’t just in front of the camera that Eve felt comfortable but behind it too. When Russ Meyer ran into trouble with Bill Teas over the distribution of sexploitation classic The Immoral Mr. Teas (the distribution of which Eve oversaw), it was his wife who came to the rescue, buying Teas out of his 2% share in the film. She also accompanied him to Europe in 1963 to help him shoot the footage that would comprise Europe In The Raw and eventually show up in a recycled form in Mondo Topless. She put up half of the bankroll for the production of Mudhoney. It’s no secret that she hated Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and had to be talked into co-financing it, only for it to bomb on release and drain Eve Productions dry. Eve even bailed out Russ during the production of Vixen! after he ran out of money, a bail out which saw very hefty returns in profit. Basically put, no Eve, no sexploitation/cult film classics from the 1960s. In total she produced fourteen of her husbands films, both his independent and studio releases. What do you expect from the girl who learnt to develop photographs so she could develop her husbands own pictures of her!

Once things started heating up for Russ in the mid-sixties, things in his marriage began to cool down. Eve reportedly didn’t like the direction his career was going in and was terrified of him getting involved with other women. Eve also began to drink, and by drink I mean really drink, which Russ detested. The two eventually divorced in 1968. An amicable separation (apparently even using the same attorney), the two still remained friends up until Eve’s tragic death in 1977. She was the distributer of all Russ’s films and produced a significant number of them after their divorce, including the studio pictures made under 20th Century Fox. Ever the savvy businesswoman, in 1970 she sold the entire catalogue of Meyer’s films to Optronics Laboratories for home video viewing. In 1971 she produced her only non-Meyer feature, The Jesus Trip, a drug/religion drama that involved motorbikes concealing heroin and a nun that doesn’t know whether she wants love or the Church. In 1975 there was a rumour that Eve was planning to write a book about her years collaborating with Russ that was to be titled This Doll Was Not X-Rated. Sadly the book never materialised but one wonders that it might have been full of juicy stories about the pair.

Eve Meyer died on March 27th 1977 in one of the deadliest aviation accidents in history. Arriving in the Canary Islands from Los Angeles for a holiday, Meyer’s plane was hit by another Boeing aircraft. Due to dense fog along the runway, neither plane nor Air Traffic Control could see that two planes were about to collide. In total, 583 people died with one plane being wiped out in its entirety. Despite their divorce, Russ was reportedly beside himself.

There is no doubting that Russ and Eve were meant for each other and loved one another very much. Not that their marriage was an easy one, with a fair few infidelities on Mr. Meyer’s part and a few alleged lesbian dalliances on Mrs. Meyer’s side. She also wanted children, whilst he was adamant that a family would only get in the way of his career. During the shoot for Lorna, Eve checked herself into a hospital for an unknown infection. Her words to Russ when he finally visited her were apparently ‘I can never have a baby, now. I hope you’re satisfied’. God knows how Eve would have felt if she found out that Russ actually had an illegitimate son with one of his starring ladies. No doubt their explosive marriage would have been far shorter. Differences aside, the two were a force to be reckoned with. Each knew the best in each other, what the audience wanted and how to deal with the business side of things. It’s hardly surprising that Russ Meyer’s most successful years were those with Eve at his side, whether it be as his muse, producer, wife or business partner. Whilst the world of sexploitation owes a lot to Russ, it seems that he couldn’t have done it without Eve.

Eve Meyer, one of a kind.

MEYER MONTH – The Final War of Russ Meyer by David K. Frasier

21 Mar

In the July 18-August 1 1985 issue of Rolling Stone director John Waters contributed an article, “Trash Tour of Los Angeles”, which included the address of Russ Meyer’s home, 3121 Arrowhead Drive, in the Hollywood Hills section of Los Angeles.  The “Pope of Trash”,  long an articulate champion of RM’s work, dubbed the director’s two-story chalet the “Russ Meyer Museum” because nearly every inch of available wall, ceiling, and kitchen cabinet space was festooned with posters, photos, and memorabilia chronicling his career, wartime experiences, and serial sexual liaisons.  Meyer never forgave Waters for this transgression even though JW had him on tape saying it was okay to include the address.  Russ reportedly roundly cursed Waters each time a covey of fans dropped by the manse expecting an impromptu tour.  I owe John Waters a personal debt not only because this kind and gracious man has supported my books on murder, entertainment industry suicide, and showbiz homicide, but more importantly without his Rolling Stone article I never would’ve met Russ Meyer.  John’s travelogue led to a close 15 year friendship with “The King of the Nudies” largely spent working on his mammoth three-volume autobiography, A Clean Breast.

I was a librarian at the Kinsey Institute (formerly the Institute for Sex Research) on the campus of Indiana University-Bloomington when I first saw the article.  Ever since seeing a double bill of Good Morning… and Goodbye! and Common-Law Cabin at the Sunset Drive-in in Evansville, Indiana, during the early 1970s I’d been hooked.  Sure the outsized breasts were great, but beyond that it was obvious these movies were the progeny of a one man film factory whose love of life and vital essence energized every frame of film.  Jump cut to August 1985.  Armed with the address from the Waters article I respectfully wrote RM to request that he donate copies of his videotapes for the collections of the Kinsey Institute library.  A few days later, I was stunned when the Institute’s secretary rang my office to say “a Russ Meyer” was on the line.  Long story short – Russ was thrilled to donate videos to the library, and when I told him I wanted to do a book length bibliography on published works about him he informed me that I must come to Los Angeles to incorporate the multi-volumes of material contained in the scrapbooks in his vast home archive.  RM was proud of his work and doggedly sought out every published mention of his name (both good and bad).

Russ cooperated fully in the project, but insisted my book NOT be a biography.  He was engaged in that endeavor and nothing must compete with what he portentously dubbed THE BOOK.  I assured him my effort was solely to collect material about him so fans and researchers could use the book to study his work.  Russ Meyer – The Life and Films was published by a small reference publisher in 1990 and featured a 25 page career essay (“Russ Meyer, American Auteur”), and annotated entries on 1,148 published items, as well as a detailed filmography.  Jimmy McDonough, best-selling author of Shakey:  Neil Young’s Biography (2002), fully realized my vision for the book when he used it to write his definitive 2005 biography of Russ, Big Bosoms and Square Jaws:  The Biography of Russ Meyer, King of the Sex Film.  If you haven’t done so, pick it up.  It’s a hell of a read particularly the tragic final years of “King Leer” filled as they were with equal measure of Shakespearean poignancy and perfidy.

Although John Waters briefly touched on RM’s manse in the Hills above the Lake Hollywood Reservoir it deserves closer scrutiny as a testament to the Great Man’s life.  Few houses, even in the Land of the Ravenous Ego, have ever been converted into a shrine to so fully chronicle the grandeur of its owner.  For a while it was painted a bilious combination of green and orange to mimic the color scheme of his Bosomania videocassette boxes.  Of course, the neighbors hated it (much to RM’s delight), and he was often at odds with them. On one kitchen cabinet, Russ had laminated a letter from a disgruntled neighbor unhappy with the trash (sets from Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens — much of it was shot in the house) strewn across the backyard.  She complained the space looked like “lower Tijuana”, and added that everyone in the neighborhood “would love to work from their homes, but as you know it’s illegal”.  “I had my attorney write a gorilla letter”, RM said, “and she backed off.”

Once while we were floating in the small pool on the side of the house I asked him if he ever had trouble with neighbors peeking in to catch glimpses of female guests like Francesca “Kitten” Natividad, Melissa Mounds, and many others.   Not a problem on Arrowhead (“my next door neighbors are Chinese”), but his second home in Palm Desert was in a neighborhood overrun with horny teen-aged boys.  The munificently endowed Melissa Mounds, his lover during the latter half of the 1990s, often swam nude and kids would either get on the roofs of their homes with binoculars, or, steal peeks over the wall.  Russ loved telling the story about how Mounds stormed after one sexually enflamed teen, knocked on the door of his dwelling, and when his mother answered, she pulled down her top exposing a brace of humongous bazooms and said, “Tell your son here they are if he’s still interested”.

For a Meyer fan the house on Arrowhead was a breast man’s Louvre.  Russ was deeply proud of his work and profoundly sentimental.  Photos of former lovers (one of a seductive Uschi Digard in a swimming pool playing a sousaphone) were everywhere and RM memorialized the fact of his couplings with a gold nameplate bearing the inscription, “To the mutual exchange of wondrous bodily fluids”.  The far wall of the kitchen was covered with priceless memorabilia from the films – Bill Teas’s straw hat from The Immoral Mr. Teas, Tura “Varla” Satana’s glove from Faster, Pussycat!  Kill!  Kill!, the ice tongs that spelled the end of Lorna Maitland in Lorna, even the wheel chair Meyer stock player Stuart Lancaster used in FPKK.  For me, however, one item in particular was just the best.  In the kitchen, RM had a framed ad from Daily Variety featuring a shot of Erica Gavin trumpeting both his greatness and the huge financial success of Vixen!.  It was one of those ads that asked a series of questions with only one obvious answer, in this case, “Russ Meyer”.  “Who is the man who gave us Vixen!?”, “Who is the man responsible for making a film that broke box office records in Chicago”, “Who is this visionary director…” etc., etc.  Under the final question, the late Eve Meyer (the beauty and brains behind Eve Productions) had written in bold ink, “Who gives a crap?”  Russ laughed it off remembering his voluptuous ex-wife never tired of “busting balls” especially when she controlled the budgets for the films produced under the Eve banner. What a woman.

Russ always said he never felt really close to someone until he’d been through a war with them.  His best friends remained his World War II army buddies, and Roger Ebert, their lifelong friendship initially forged in the trenches at 20th Century-Fox writing the classic Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.  What follows is a free-form reminiscence of the “war” we shared, the seemingly endless working and re-working of A Clean Breast.  While illness ultimately left Russ unable to see the project through to its conclusion or to celebrate his achievement, THE BOOK stands as a remarkable document if not only for its thousands of photographs.  Readers shouldn’t go there expecting to find any great personal insights into the man.  Russ wasn’t that type of guy, and admitted he wasn’t particularly sensitive although he was strongly sentimental and attached to his friends.  RM once told me his autobiography was infinitely better than director David Lean’s because it was longer.

Over the years, ACB grew from one volume to three (as did its price from $70.00 to $350.00) as Russ refused to wrap the project.  RM first got the idea to write his own story after becoming disenchanted with German author Rolf Thissen’s book, Russ Meyer, der Konig des Sexfilms (1987).  Russ was so outraged by what he saw as the tome’s inaccuracies that he successfully sued to block the book’s distribution in America.  What ensued was a period of intense activity lasting years as Russ filled up seemingly inexhaustible reams of yellow legal pads with his story.  He combed his clippings archive and had an assistant obtain Permissions from various entities to reproduce complete articles (most often reviews) in the tomes.  On the strength of my book, Russ brought me in as an “associate editor,” a job that primarily consisted of proofreading, fact checking, and sizing photographs.

Russ, like most people with only a passing acquaintance with the university (his film festivals at Yale and Northwestern), was impressed with academia far beyond anyone who has actually ever had to work within their hallowed halls.  Russ would daily call the I.U. library where I worked (I left the Kinsey Institute in 1986) to ask how to spell certain words, but mostly just to talk.  He always referred to the library as “the Gutenberg” and my colleagues soon recognized his modulated FM radio voice.  After Russ decided only the printing presses of Hong Kong were cutting edge enough to reproduce the thousands of black-and-white duo-tone photos in ACB he compelled me to get a passport.  Never used it.  RM had a falling out with the printer and had all the work shipped to FB Productions, a commercial printer in Chatsworth, California that specialized in producing top quality stand-up movie advertising.  At first, Russ sent printer’s proofs to my home, but later he’d fly me out to Los Angeles annually for a week or so to work shoulder-to-shoulder and bunk with him at his Hollywood digs.  Russ always met me at the Los Angeles International Airport and, with the moxie gained in 40 plus years of navigating the traffic choked streets of Hell A, wended his way along a circuitous route of highways and surface streets.  Most often, he’d be driving his GMC Suburban, a veteran of several motion picture shoots. Once when we were stopped at a light a Mexican street vendor approached the truck and tried to sell Russ a dozen red roses. Without missing a beat, he pointed at me and told the guy, “No thanks, we’re not queer.” Classic Meyer.

A typical working day began with reveille around 5:30 A.M. with Russ eating a bowl of oatmeal seated at the editing machine in his garage in the shadow of shelves of boxed film cuts and a huge vault.  He always appreciated that I didn’t eat breakfast so I could immediately launch into work at a nearby table.  During work on ACB, RM was also cutting down his features for a planned 12 hour compilation film, The Breast of Russ Meyer, and later worked on two direct-to-video (then the format) films – one on then lover, Melissa Mounds, and the other on Pandora Peaks (eventually released on DVD, but finished by RM stalwart Jim “the Handyman” Ryan after his friend of 50 years became too ill to work).

While editing, Russ also fielded phone calls for RM Films and personally took orders for his videos.  After a big sale he’d hold up the completed invoice and exclaim, “Frasier, tonight we eat!”  Often during the day, Russ called me over to the editing machine to show off a particularly groin stirring scene.  “God, what a fucking evil look,” he’d marvel as footage of the hellishly configured Melissa Mounds clad only in a feathered mask coiled into a canvas film bin.  Their tempestuous relationship ended in May 1999 after the stripper attacked the sleeping director with a hammer.  Nothing kills sex quicker than a restraining order.  RM’s long-time film editor Richard Brummer was often at the house on Arrowhead doing sound editing on BRM. Once after Brummer left for the day, RM mused that while his friend and colleague was a superb editor he was incapable of editing a film without the Master’s supervision.  “You have to have this fetish, to adore the bosom vast in order to cut the breast just as it’s at its most perfect.  Brummer is married to a woman who’s built like a broom handle.  What can he know?”.

We’d knock off around 6:00 P.M., have a beer at the house (RM was in a Corona phase for a while), then the best times began.  Russ loved to eat and lived for the camaraderie of “cutting meat” with friends.  RM was a regular at the Musso & Frank Grill on Hollywood Boulevard and always entered through the kitchen.  Interestingly, he refused to pay the parking fee behind the restaurant, opting instead to give the Mexican attendant a few bucks (less than the rate) off the books.  Conversation during the dozens of meals we shared was unforgettable.  RM always started off with a stiff drink (“Bombay gin straight up and so cold it’ll hurt your teeth”), ordered, and for the next two hours or more over the meal discussed his movies, friends, women, and THE BOOK (which he considered to be one of the most important things he’d ever attempted).  Russ liked that I only drank beer (“it’s so much cheaper than liquor”) and spoke with contempt of picking up the bloated bar tab of an associate of ecdysiast Pandora Peaks who insisted on quaffing champagne cocktails at $15.00 bucks a throw at a Wolfgang Puck restaurant in Palm Desert.  Russ also appreciated my insistence on picking up the tab at least once during any visit.  To save me money he’d pronounce, “We’ll eat at the greasy spoon”, Meyerese for the Talleyrand restaurant, his standby eatery located at 1700 W. Olive Avenue in Burbank.

The aforementioned Jim Ryan (the “Handyman” in Eve and the Handyman), a wonderful guy who devoted most of his life to RM, was a frequent companion on these outings.  Booze flowed at a Russ Meyer repast and one drive back from a restaurant near RKO Studios (now part of Paramount) on the corner of Melrose and Gower in Hollywood was memorable.  We were discussing his troubled and checkered relationship with the Hollywood film establishment when he suddenly pulled his truck over next to the studio, walked over to building, unzipped, and pissed on the wall.  “There”, he said peeling away from the curb, “that’s what I think of the whole fucking lot of them.”

Once on the way to a steak joint, Russ said, “I want you to meet the woman who made me a millionaire”.  We drove over to Fred Segal’s, a trendy clothing store in West Hollywood, but Erica (Vixen) Gavin, the shop’s general manager, had already left for the day.  RM owed her big… and knew it.  Best meal ever with Russ?  Easy.  Cactus Jack’s on Highway 111 in Indio, California.  We’d just spent a grueling day on ACB, and Russ felt that it was finally done.  We spent the early evening photocopying the volumes at a local Xerox store then went off to savor the best prime rib in the world washed down with what he called “copious amounts of meaningful grog”. Work on ACB ground on for over a decade with Russ sending printer’s bluelines to my home, me visiting Los Angeles, and my fielding near daily phone calls about THE BOOK.  I probably should’ve noticed RM’s mental deterioration earlier, but when you’re in the middle of something as all-consuming as this project was for Russ it was easy not to see what in retrospect was obvious.  RM was a workaholic and recognizing this essential element in his character I just thought he didn’t want the book to end because he felt it would signal his death.

That said, he kept adding chapters and photos to the volumes like rooms in the Winchester House.  The project ultimately descended into chaos when Russ discovered his typesetter could adjust spaces between letters and words, a process in the printing biz known as kerning.  RM meticulously eyeballed every line to make certain the spaces between the words were exact.  He slept with a dog-eared thesaurus and readily sacrificed the use of an initially well-chosen word in order to use an inferior synonym containing just the right amount of letters to balance out a line.  This went on page after page, draft after draft, until he was unable to keep the corrected drafts in order.  Time and again I was sent the same version of a draft to correct that I had already proofread.  By mid-1999 it was apparent to those in the company that RM was unable to complete the project.  The attorney stepped in and informed the company’s office manager that RM was facing a huge tax bite were the project not completed and published by the end of 2000.  I was brought out in August 1999 for what I knew would be my final meeting with Russ.  I don’t wish to dwell on this unhappy time.  Anyone who has watched a beloved friend or family member fade slowly away fully understands the pain and cosmic injustice of this kind of loss.  It was particularly tough to watch helplessly as a man as vital and independent as Russ went slowly into that Good Night.

Again, Jimmy McDonough graphically chronicles this painful chapter of RM’s life.  With apologies, it’s just too sad to rehash here.  I wrapped the book for Russ and after it was printed in 2000 was sent a signed copy.  I have no reason to believe he even remembered who I was when he was prompted to sign it.  Flashback to August 1999 as I’m leaving the “Russ Meyer Museum” for the final time, the manuscript completed, our war nearly won.  Realizing I’d never see him alive again, I asked the Great Man if he’d be kind enough to sign the book I’d written on him in 1990.  Here’s what he wrote:

–David K. Frasier / 3-2-12

MEYER MONTH – Top 10 Russ Meyer Women

5 Mar

Director Russ Meyer was defined by the female form, building a successful and profitable career on his personal breast fetish. The first thing you remember about Meyer’s filmography, after the initial reminisce of the pictures in their own right, are the beautiful and glorious women who have graced his celluloid. However, it wasn’t just those who starred in his films that had an impact and influence on the man himself and here I present the Top 10 Women in Russ Meyer’s life and career…

#10 – LORI WILLIAMS
My second favourite Pussycat next to Tura Satana in Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, Williams is memorable for being the most girl next door dancer out of the bunch. Whilst Satana has the classic stinging one-liners, Williams has lines that are dripping in innuendo and lust as she tries her best to seduce The Vegetable and even got royally drunk whilst filming the dinner scene. Those drunken slurs are real folks!

#9 – USCHI DIGARD
Undoubtedly the star of Meyer’s 1970 menage a trois Cherry, Harry & Raquel!, Digard was the last minute savior for the film when the lead actress left the shoot early and Meyer had twenty minutes of footage left to film. Digard appears in intercut scenes memorable for having nothing to do with the plot and only wearing an Apache headdress. An actress loyal to Meyer until the very end, Digard appeared in cameos in his later films whilst having a career on pornography.

#8 – LORNA MAITLAND
The star of Lorna (1964) and Mudhoney (1965), Maitland entered Meyer’s filmmaking world at the time when he started to move from shorts, scenario films and burlesque movies to pictures that had more of a structured plot. Alongside Satana, Maitland ranks as one of the most iconic women from his gothic period, with Meyer using the only colour stock footage of her in his mondo documentary Mondo Topless (1966).

#7 – ALAINA CAPRI
One of the few actresses to appear in Meyer’s film who was not only genuinely beautiful but actually had some acting ability. Capri only starred in two of the director’s films which were both released in 1967, Common Law Cabin and Good Morning… and Goodbye!. With hips that shook perfectly when she walked and a mouth that could give off acid tongued attacks, Capri is only second to Tura Satana in her sassy attitude and deadly looks.

#6 – TEMPEST STORM
The burlesque queen captivated Meyer with her voluptuous form which led to the  two working together on numerous photo shoots, pictures of which were distributed and published in girlie magazines. Storm was the subject of Meyer’s first film, The French Peep Show (1952), for which the director got his first credit as Director/Cinematographer. Produced by Pete DeCenzie, the film is presumed lost having been out of circulation since its theatrical release.

#5 – ERICA GAVIN
Star of the first couples-porno Vixen!  (1968), Erica Gavin is the reason Meyer wound up at 20th Century Fox making Beyond the Valley of the Dolls in 1970. Gavin’s incredibly good looks and ability to appeal to both men and women made Vixen! one of Meyer’s most successful films of all time, arousing the interest of the major studio. Gavin is brilliant as the ‘sexual healer’ Vixen and was given a memorable role in Beyond… as lesbian fashion designer Roxanne, whose on-screen relationship with Cynthia Myers just sizzles with eroticism.

#4 – KITTEN NATIVIDAD
With a cleavage that rivaled Tura Satana’s, the narrator of Up! (1976) and star of Beneath the Valley of the UltraVixens (1979), Natividad went on to become Meyer’s on-off partner for the fifteen years. Probably one of the only women Meyer really did love, second to wife Eve, Kitten and Russ had some serious chemistry. Incredibly loyal to Meyer until the end, she nursed and looked after him at times when his dementia became worse and even visited and cared for his mother Lydia in the final years of her life.

#3 – EVE MEYER
Meyer’s second wife and pin-up beauty queen, Eve was an important factor in Meyer’s early filmmaking career. An intelligent business woman, Eve helped cut film deals as early as Meyer’s first picture The Immoral Mr Teas (1959), co-financed Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965) and helped to bail Russ out of financial trouble to ensure that the successful Vixen! got made. The producer of thirteen of Russ’s pictures (under the banner of Eve Productions) both during and after their marriage, Eve was the lead in his 1961 feature Eve and the Handyman in which she is truly mesmerizing. A gorgeous Playboy Playmate (June 1955), Eve sadly passed away in 1977.

#2 – TURA SATANA
Arguably Meyer’s most iconic actress, Tura Satana epitomised the director’s vision of a glamorous Amazonian statuesque woman. Whilst she only ever starred in one of his films, Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, Satana is without a doubt the most iconic of all the women to ever be cast in one of his films. She is on fire playing the murderous, highly sexually charged and venomous Varla in the film that is usually one of the first seen by Meyer virgins. If you’ve never seen the film, chances are you’ve seen Satana as Varla whose influence can be felt in Tarantino’s Death Proof (2007), Lady Gaga’s music video for Telephone and the countless female leads with attitude across the film world.

#1 – LYDIA MEYER HAYWOOD
As much as I love Mother Monster, it really is all about Mother Meyer. This is the woman who, as legend goes, pawned her own wedding ring so that Russ could go and buy his first camera, the UniveX Cine 8, starting an obsession with film that lasted the rest of his life. Lydia was very supportive of Russ’s ambitions and endeavours, letting him develop his pin-up photography in the family bathtub, but none of the women Russ ended up with were ever any good for him in her eyes. Upon her death, Russ would visit her gravesite every Christmas. A fiercely independent woman, this was the one girl who Russ never got over.

Whilst more a personal Top 10 then a definitive list, notable exceptions include Meyer regular Haji, Cynthia Myers, June Wilkinson, Phyllis Davis, Candy Samples, Edy Williams, Marcia McBroom, Raven De La Croix, Shari Eubank, Babette Bardot and Dolly Read amongst a plethora of others!

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.

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.