Tag Archives: monologue/narration

MEYER MONTH – ‘The Immoral Mr. Teas’ (1959) review by Jonathan Henderson

13 Sep

Lets be honest, I spend a lot of hours surfing the web for anything Russ Meyer related, sifting through the good, the bad, and the wierd. During some model investigating (which I hope to share soon) I stumbled across this great review of Meyer’s first feature The Immoral Mr. Teas which I had to share. Written by Jonathan Henderson, the original link can be viewed here, but I’ve also copied it below.

The Immoral Mr. Teas might not be the first film title that comes to mind when the name Russ Meyer is mentioned, but it may have been the most important in his career and, indeed, the most important for the genres in which he’d spend most of his career working in. Released in 1959 with a budget of just $24,000, Mr. Teas eventually grossed $1.5 million, which helped to finance Meyer’s subsequent films outside of the help of the major studios. But it was also a watershed (on a relative level) in the world of film as it was the first film to unapologetically feature nudity in a film that wasn’t completely underground and pornographic, or under the guise of a “naturist/nudist” film. It essentially opened up the floodgates for what would become sexploitation, but Mr. Teas itself seems harmless by today’s standards.

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Its relative tameness perhaps has to do with the fact that it’s less sexploitation and more “nudie cutie”, which exchanged actual sex for simple nude eye candy. Mr. Teas is likely typical of such a film; it stars Bill Teas as Mr. Teas, a door-to-door dental supply salesman who’s frustrated by the drudgery of his daily life. During his day, Mr. Teas encounters three hot women: a Coffeeshop Waitress (Ann Peters), a Dental Assistant (Marilyn Wesley), a Secretary (Michelle Roberts), a girl on a beach (Dawn Danielle), and a Burlesque Dancer (Don Cochran). As his day wears on, Mr. Teas begins fantasizing about the women, seeing them in various situations unclothed. Fearing that something might be “wrong” with him, he goes to a Psychiatrist (Mikki France) who is quite hot herself.

If this doesn’t sound like much of a plot… well, who am I kidding? It’s not. But—and perhaps it sounds odd to say this—there is a peculiar charm to the film. Meyer doesn’t even attempt to present a dramatic narrative; instead, the film is shot with a narrating voiceover (Edward Lasko) and a revolving jukebox of jazzy music numbers (a mid-tempo march, a sexy sax refrain, and a few up-tempo pieces) that accompany the images as if it was a silent film. In truth, the film plays out like what would happen if Jacques Tati shot a nudie cutie; the film even has Tati’s sense of social satire. But while Tati was purely visual in his parodying of modern grossness and confusion, Meyer uses the voiceover which mimics the “informational” voiceovers in the exploitation films at the time that tried to preach a moral by presenting the “dark side” of what certain actions lead to.


But there’s also a certain innocent joy in the film’s appreciation of the female form. Perhaps the most successful scene in the film doesn’t even feature nudity, but has Mr. Teas attempting to go fishing at the local beach when he spots the “Beach Beauty” who seems insistent on taking off her top. But this is probably where the homophonic “Teas” (as “tease”) comes into play as Meyer’s camera never actually catches the woman naked. Perhaps the most extraordinary bit in the sequence has the “Beach Beauty” playing in the ocean as the tide rolls in; there is a definite but intangible beauty to the scene. It almost brought to mind those first few moments when I became unconsciously aware of the female form. It’s hard to call such a scene “exploitation” because there’s no sense of the woman being exploited. Rather, this is Meyer taking in the beauty of nature no differently than if someone were to film a sunset.

While not every scene has that level of (dare I say) aesthetic grace, Meyer keeps it light, comical, and satirical enough that it would be hard for even the most rigorous Puritan—Ok, maybe a moderate Puritan—to ever feel ashamed. It’s perhaps telling, though, that Meyer never actually shows his gallery of busty beauties naked in reality, but rather only in the imagination of Mr. Teas. The film also takes its time (relative to its already short 63 minutes) before it even gets to the nudity. This allows the majority of the first 2/3 to play out as a comedic satire of both modern society, and the types of exploitation films that preceded Mr. Teas. The absurd voiceover certainly has its genuinely hilarious moments as it plays counterpoint to the witless Mr. Teas.

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For all its pleasantries, the film is far from perfect; even at a slim 63 minutes it feels a bit repetitive and “light”. The constant musical accompaniment eventually goes from humorous to annoying (though, thankfully, it’s never egregiously so), and Bill Teas himself seems a particularly unappealing “hero” for the film. I don’t know, there’s something about him that just doesn’t make him a sympathetic everyman. Meyer may do everything he can to frame the film like a Tati, but Bill Teas utterly lacks Tati’s carefully measured, but seemingly effortless, physical gifts for comedy and his innate charm. If anything, he makes the film appear much sleazier than it is. Meyer does just about everything he can, but he’s yet to develop his cinematic talents that will serve him much better in his later films.

Even with the complaints, this is still an interesting film from a historical standpoint, and a rather enjoyable film in-and-of itself. It’s certainly not superb from any angle, but it’s undeniable that the film has more substance and quality than the vast majority of its ilk.

MEYER MONTH – ‘Heavenly Bodies’ (1963)

26 Mar

2012 saw another of Russ Meyer’s early films finally get a home viewing release for the first time, 1963’s Heavenly Bodies. This was one of the directors early films, alongside This Is My Body and Erotica, that had been out of circulation since its original 60s theatrical run. Like Meyer’s other early films, Heavenly Bodies is essentially a moving image pictorial, a brief glimpse at the life of a glamour photographer and the pin-up model at work. Opening with up close shots depicting the contours of the female body, or as Meyer has it in his narration ‘the component parts of a woman’, the picture eventually shows us the printing process of the glamour magazine before moving on to show different segments of various known photographers (Ken Parker, Fred Owens, Charles Schelling) conducting their own photo shoots. Shot over a long weekend to make Meyer some cash after having some time off for being in hospital, one gets the feeling that those involved didn’t really have to do an awful lot to make the whole picture come together.

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There isn’t a lot going on in the picture and it serves more as a nostalgic treat into how things were done in the past. With each segment, the narrator goes through the exact specifics of what camera and what lenses each photographer is using and what they change to during their session if light or their subject focus changes. As interesting as it is, it probably won’t mean anything to those watching who know little about photography, cinematography and cameras themselves. The way shoots are conducted however is quite interesting (the financial, mental and physical benefits of using two models at the same time for instance). For a film that sells itself as an expose on glamour photography there are, of course, some beautiful shots, namely the shoot with the two models at the start of the film which takes place in and around a home swimming pool. Another fun little segment shows how pin-up photography has changed over the years, with film stock turning black and white to play out a cute little scene in the days when models wore a lot more clothing and photographs took longer to capture (it stars the wonderful Princess Livingston in her first Meyer film cameo, which I had wrongly attributed to Wild Gals of the Naked West).

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Part of the charm of Heavenly Bodies is seeing the camaraderie of director Meyer and his war buddies who he frequently enlisted to help him over the years with his various film projects. There is one scene in particular where Russ takes his fellow 166th Signal Corps photographers on a photo field trip to the woods to shoot two buxom models (Althea Currier and Monica Liljistrand) amidst the lush scenery. Whilst the models are putting on their make-up and doing their hair, all of the director’s buddies are setting up and cleaning their cameras and lenses. Eventually they find a nice spot to shoot pictures of the two girls, all whilst fighting each other over taking turns and getting the best angles. It’s quite sweet to see them almost worshipping the pretty models knowing that they must have come across some really challenging stuff between them when working out in the field during World War II.

It’s not going to be to all Meyer fans taste, no doubt a large number of people will find it very boring, but for Meyer completists and photographers Heavenly Bodies is an interesting little snapshot into two different but very similar work practices that took over Russ Meyers life. If you’re going to bother watching his early films, you best include this in your viewing as its one of the more significant in the batch that have finally been released.

MEYER MONTH – ‘Erotica’ (1961)

15 Mar

Thanks to the Russ Meyer Trust another one of the infamous sexploitation directors early films has finally seen the light of day after being out of circulation since its original theatrical release. The 1961 picture Erotica sits alongside a few of Meyer’s other early films in the Vintage Bodies Set which came out towards the end of last year. Shot after Meyer’s second feature Eve and the Handyman, Erotica consists of six small nudie cutie segments, another of Meyer’s films that plays out as a cinematic pin-up photography pictorial.

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Meyer and his producer Pete DeCenzie fell out making Eve and the Handyman when he bailed out on the picture just before production had started. However, DeCenzie returned for Erotica, and later again on its follow-up Wild Gals of the Naked West, which was shot on a four grand budget. Also returning on the production was editor Charles G. Schelling who had helped Russ shoot French Peep Show (and would later go on to become sound recordist on the movies made during Meyer’s gothic period) and then-wife Eve with the role of financial co-ordination (something she ended up doing a lot of during her husbands career). Long-time friend and general all-rounder Anthony James Ryan also briefly cameos in the last vignette as the Handyman, his lead role in the directors previous picture, alongside another gentleman dressed in Mr. Teas’ lurid orange jumpsuit (never one to miss out on self promotion, Meyer had two one-sheets for both The Immoral Mr. Teas and Eve and the Handyman on prominent display at one point). This was a, as the films narration points out, ‘film made by adults for adults… It is truly Erotica!’.

In reality it is what it is, which for me is sadly one of the weaker entries in Meyer’s filmography and is, at times, really rather boring. Whilst it has two Meyer film staples, pretty topless women and bizarre indifferent narration, you can’t help but feel that other similar pictures like Europe In The Raw  and Eve and the Handyman did it better and got away with a little more charm. The are some cute moments; the opening in particular is quite sweet, showing a very basic but behind the scenes look none the less at the process a film goes through with symbolic images to represent each part (someone cigarette smoking is the actor, a huge money bag the producer, disembodied hands cutting film being the editor, director chair for the director etc). Segment two ‘Beauties, Bubbles and H20’, an ode to the traditions and history of bathing (aka a trio of topless beauties washing themselves with very bubbly soap) also has some nice cinematography and photographic set ups, one can imagine that if the director had actually shot stills for this segment alone, they would have probably been quite stunning. The shots of one girl having a bubble bath in a kiddies blow up pool are particular favourites. This second vignette also featured popular model Althea Currier who already had an ucredited role in The Immoral Mr. Teas and would go on to appear in Heavenly Bodies and Lorna.

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The rest of the picture feels very much the same with so much narration it makes you lose interest in anything the film has to offer (there’s even a soundtrack reel gag in one of the segments where off-screen voices argue that the narrator is reading the wrong ‘informative’ script, how very meta). Segment one, ‘Naked Innocence’, is essentially a re-tread of Meyer’s 1959 short This Is My Body starring Diane Webber, only This Is My Body is a lot better. Middle pieces ‘Nudists on the High Seas’ and ‘The Nymphs’ suffer from far too much narration and not enough going on visually to really make an impact whilst the last chapter, ‘The Bikini Busters’, is a bloated, unrealised comedic take on the history of the bikini; ‘and so it went, down through the years with more and more clothes being added, until the women got so much to looking like the men that the men stopped looking’.

The only other highlight in the feature is the short segment ‘The Bare and The Bear’ in which Meyer shoots an impressively endowed woman rolling around on a Malibu beach wearing only a bear skin to accompany narration that informs how durable and soft bear fur really is. This lucky lady was Sherri Knight, a model with a fifty-five inch bust that Meyer had shot for skin magazines before in the past. According to Jimmy McDonough’s biography, producer DeCenzie saw pictures of Knight and insisted that Meyer include her in the film. They shot  for one day, wrapped and Meyer never saw her again. Not that it matters. Once you see her wearing the fur stole, you’ll never forget her.

MEYER MONTH – ‘This Is My Body’ (1959)

9 Mar

I’d read about it and seen some stills that Russ Meyer had shot on set but never thought that I might actually see This Is My Body, a ten minute short shot in 1959 by the director. Out of circulation since its original 1960 theatrical release, the short featuring model Diane Webber was never re-released and one part of Meyer’s early career that many people (including the man himself) thought would never again see the light of day. That was until late last year when the Russ Meyer Trust announced the release of a DVD set that featured his early films that had never been released before.

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As part of the Vintage Bodies set, This Is My Body stands out as a beautiful example of Meyer’s early career as a pin-up photographer transcending perfectly from static shots to moving image work. The only time the director ever used sepia film stock, the short benefits largely from its subject Webber. Webber and Meyer had worked together before over the later half of the 1950s, with the latter’s photographs of the former being among some of the best in his career. Meyer shot Webber’s spread when she was Playboy Playmate of the Month in February 1956, looking very curvaceous thanks to her secret early pregnancy. Never one to shy away from being honest, Meyer later moaned that her body was never the same after childbirth and pulled This Is My Body from circulation completely using the postpartum excuse.

Not seen for over fifty years by the pubic, the short definitely isn’t a ‘must-see’ for Meyer fans. It provides no further illumination on his career and as a short with no plot will doubtless be very boring for some viewers (it is essentially Diane Webber sunbathing). But for completists and fans of his nudie-cutie or photography work, the ten minute delight really is a lucky joy to watch considering the Estate’s previous reluctance to shed any light on his early career. Whilst the DVD set it is included in notes that it is digitally restored, it’s unknown whether it is a restoration of an old  existing transfer that Meyer made himself in the past or a direct transfer from an original print (one doesn’t know how many or what original prints the Estate still has left in usable condition, rumours have circulated in the past that things aren’t best looked after). For ten minutes it packs a lot of traits that would eventually recur throughout the rest of the directors filmography; lush natural settings (think gorgeous wood/stream settings  like those in Vixen! and Up!) and an interior monologue of banal, superficial one-liners that can’t help but remind this viewer of Mondo Topless. But being one of Meyer’s biggest fans what more could I ask for? Just being able to watch it is exciting enough. Certainly not for  everyone but a lovely example of  how early on in his cinematic endeavours Meyer mastered his craft.

There She Goes Again – Russ Meyer’s ‘Pandora Peaks’ (2001)

24 May

Russ Meyer’s filmography would have been much better off had he left his filmmaking career at 1979 release Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens. However, 2001 saw the release of Pandora Peaks, which featured the titular adult model herself. Whilst it has the hallmarks of a Meyer film, it feels distinctly underwhelming and not quite one of the sexploitation legend’s film’s at all.

Given that most of the openings to Meyer’s films are quite fun, this opens with a rather drab, title card sequence using a stereotypical porno font that is nothing short of boring. And, sadly, boring is a word I’d use to describe the rest of the film. There really is nothing to it. The entire film consists of sequences of Meyer’s famous montage shots, this time re-tracing parts of his history and intertwining it with parts of his female stars. So we have brief run downs of the town where the director was brought up, his school, where he did his industrial films, memories of his time in the War and even passages of him reading from his epic autobiography A Clean Breast. As much as I love the guy, Meyer certainly isn’t much of a narrator. Being the only male voice present in this film, sadly Meyer doesn’t fill his memories with half as much excitement and wonder as the many men who have played narrator parts in his previous films. However, it is nice to hear him run through his career and see him in retirement life enjoying his trout fishing (his second love next to breasts).

Strip this away from the film and all you have left is footage of the eponymous Peaks and another german model called Tunde. Not a lot happens. It’s essentially Tunde bouncing around her bedroom and Peaks taking of her clothes in various locations (one being the ranch featured in Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! which almost seems a little sacrilegious). Like Meyer, both stars talk about their lives in a track reel played over the top. Except that you don’t really learn an awful lot about them except that they both love their breasts and Peaks absolutely loves the attention. It almost wants to be an updated Mondo Topless, except that Mondo was actually interesting. In that, the models talked about their lives, their hopes and dreams and gave their opinions on a lot of things. The results, when put together with the images, were sometimes hilarious and at other times completely absurd. Here, it all just seems self-indulgent and mundane.

Given that, at this point in his life, Meyer was quite financially well off and well aware that his brand of films wouldn’t pull the audiences into cinemas that they used to, it’s hardly unsurprising that Pandora Peaks had no theatrical release. What does surprise me is that he even bothered to make it at all. Whilst the production values are still very tight and very much of the top quality that the director prized himself on doing in every one of his pictures, the film seems to lack the passion and soul that the rest of his movies have. The whole thing does come across more as a vanity project, as if in his late seventies, Meyer wanted to show everyone he still had it and could still get it. A real shame as it sits like an embarrassing blip on what was an already stellar career. Some people just don’t know when to stop.

Maps – Russ Meyer’s ‘Europe In The Raw’ (1963)

2 May

Russ Meyer and sexploitation fans owe a lot to Arrow Films, the film distribution company known for putting out comprehensive DVD releases of cult and foreign films. Arrow have just re-released their Russ Meyer box set, well worth getting for two reasons. Firstly, these are the most detailed releases of Meyer’s back catalogue, complete with commentaries by the director and extras featuring his famous leading ladies. Secondly, the new re-release features Meyer’s 1963 picture Europe In The Raw, a film pretty much out of circulation since its initial theatrical run.

Filmed and released in 1963, Europe In The Raw was the first in Meyer’s ‘documentary’ trilogy (followed by Mondo Topless and Pandora Peaks, the latter more of a mockumentary…), shot as a reaction against what Meyer saw as anti US sentiment in the film Mondo Cane and the booming ‘mondo’ craze. His response was to go to Europe and shoot a sex shockumentary that showed up the continent as a sexually depraved, lust filled land. Shooting the footage himself and using both actual shots and faked scenes, Meyer had to limit himself to using cheap equipment and short film reels to pass off as a tourist and not a filmmaker to foreign officials. It shows. Whilst there are some fantastically framed compositions, the film isn’t as polished as his later efforts. All the hallmarks of his filmography are there but it feels significantly less accomplished in comparison to other features, especially Mondo Topless which successfully nailed the points that Meyer was trying to hammer when released three years later.

Travelling with wife and producer Eve Meyer, Russ managed to get some lovely shots of European burlesque dancers filmed on the cheap equipment, a lot of which later ended up being recycled into Mondo Topless. Certainly more teasing than tantalising, watching Europe In The Raw now is a slightly boring affair but it’s wonderful to see extended footage of dancers such as Veronique Gabriel, Gigi La Touche and Denise Duvall whose scenes appear in Mondo albeit slightly shorter and cut. Intercut amongst these performances are a few staged scenes which feel very out of place and stick out like a sort thumb; the faked nudist camp in Holland being the prime suspect. In an attempt to salvage the production, Russ hid a small camera in a bag with a cut out window and filmed reels of various red light districts across Europe. Needless to say, both he and Eve ran into a couple of bouts of trouble after a few prostitutes smelled a rat… After being chased out of one hookers apartment and failing to capture any noteworthy film, Meyer re-created walking up the flight of stairs to her room back in the comfort of the US with a well-stacked American model.

Completed with scenic images of Europe and footage shot by Meyer during the War, Europe In The Raw was withheld from public circulation as Meyer believed it wasn’t one of his best pieces of work. Honestly, I don’t blame him. It’s not his best but it certainly isn’t terrible and is in fact very interesting to watch to see the formations of his filmmaking techniques develop. The pompous narration is there, although not filled with as much innuendo as would later become staple. What is great is that Meyer’s career as a pin-up photographer is evident from the way the women are captured and framed. The dance routines of the burlesque performers play out like moving image Playboy pictorials, similar to the set-ups in Meyer’s first feature The Immoral Mr. Teas, with the editing fetishising their accessories and heightening the tease. It might not be Meyer’s best but for completest fans it’s a must.

MEYER MONTH – Russ Meyer’s ‘The Immoral Mr. Teas’ (1959)

2 Mar

Who would have thought that the advent of modern-day pornography, the exploitation of the female form and the first instance of really using women in film as sexual objects would arise from a little live-action cartoon-esque sex picture called The Immoral Mr. Teas (1959)? Before the release of director Russ Meyer’s first feature, extensive nudity in film was only seen in underground pornography (which had to be covertly produced and distributed, usually illegally) or in naturist pictures, where nudity was allowed under the guise of naturist films being documentaries on nudist camps and, therefore, somewhat legitimately educational. Meyer broke boundaries by making Mr. Teas the first film since early Pre-Code sound pictures to feature nudity without the pretext of naturism. Arguably the first popular and successful film of its kind, it went on to start the short-lived nudie-cutie genre and kick-started the sexploitation genre which Meyer would dominate throughout the 1960s.

The Immoral Mr. Teas is an incredibly simple picture. Mr. Teas (played by Meyer’s combat buddy Bill Teas, an alcoholic who was drunk for most of the shoot) is your average American Joe living life in suburbia. Practically ignored by everyone, Teas delivers false teeth as a job and spends most of his time eyeing up the women around  town. After having an injection of painkillers for a tooth extraction, Teas starts seeing women everywhere topless, even when the injection has worn off. That’s pretty much all there is to it. Padding out the rest of the cast are a bevy of beautiful ladies; a mixture of pin-up models and burlesque dancers that both Meyer and producer Pete DeCenzie knew and a few bought in from elsewhere. The cherry on top of the casting ice cream is the gorgeous model June Wilkinson whom Meyer knew from his photographic career. Don’t remember seeing her name in the credits? That’s because she gave Meyer an uncredited cameo… Of her breasts only.

Unsurprisingly, Meyer had difficulties when trying to distribute the film upon its completion (ten years later he would encounter more legal problems when trying to distribute Vixen!). Simply put, there had never been a film like Mr. Teas before and theatre owners were scared to show it. When the film eventually had its premiere in San Diego in 1959 it was shut down by the police only twenty minutes in. Rumour has it that DeCenzie hadn’t paid the local authorities the necessary bribe and it would be a year before him and Meyer would get the print back.

Meyer needn’t have worried at the time. The Immoral Mr. Teas was hugely successful. Re-opening in Seattle in 1960, the film played for nine months. It ran for three years in Los Angeles. Made on a budget of $24,000, the film made between an estimated $1 and $3 million. Fourteen years after it was first released, it was still making money through theatrical bookings despite more explicit films being shown in cinemas and a far greater increase in sexuality and nudity being depicted in western cinema. The picture itself spawned over 150 imitations.

Watching it now, Mr. Teas feels very innocent, almost to the point of wondering what all the fuss was about. But for 1959, Meyer was teetering on the edge of what was considered legal to show in theatres. Even filming on Kodak Eastman stock was potentially a problem for production as Kodak could refuse to develop the negatives if they deemed the content obscene in any way. Its slight innocence aside, the film is all about the art of the tease and tease it certainly does. The picture is only sixty-two minutes long and the audience has to wait a full twenty-eight minutes before seeing any hint of the nude female form. Drawing from his photographic career, Meyer successfully keeps the tease up (excuse the pun) and going for the whole feature’s duration, each woman staying attractively untouched, poised on the moment of perfection until the very end. The isn’t just a film about Mr. Teas’s naughty daydreams, they also belong to the audience and the relationship between the female models and the viewers is held throughout by the distinct lack of physical contact between Teas and any of the women. In fact he seems almost terrified of what they might do to him, at one point jumping into a river to escape being near a topless sunbather.

What’s so telling about The Immoral Mr. Teas is the number of Meyer hallmarks that are abundant in it, foreshadowing future films and sequences from his later career. It’s opening montage of cars, nature and cities would be an effect used again and again (no doubt an influence from his early career doing industrial films), most notably in Mondo Topless  (1966) and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970), whilst the innuendo filled and often irrelevant narration used crops up in at least another five of his features. What is incredibly obvious in Mr. Teas and didn’t change at all throughout the rest of his career is Meyer’s natural ability to make any woman look beautiful through his lens. A talented photographer for over a decade before moving into film, Mr. Teas has often been described as a’year’s subscription to Playboy’, a moving image version of a themed photo shoot.

The only sad irony about The Immoral Mr. Teas is that the world it helped to create, Meyer found himself no longer a part of by the mid 1970s. Whilst the film birthed the beginnings of the adult film industry and helped to unleash sexual freedom on the big screen, Meyer found himself left on the sidelines when his lack of interest in including hardcore shots and the sex act itself meant that his films became overshadowed by pictures likeDeep Throat(1972). Still, I bet he never thought that a quaint little film about a man in a straw hat would be the catalyst to begin it all…