Tag Archives: Roger Ebert

‘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?

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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.

‘Beyond Your Average Remake – Modernising the Guys and Dolls’ by Paul Davis

3 Mar

Lydia and I have often had conversations broaching the idea of recasting movies we adore on a strictly ‘if you had to’ basis, and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is one that’s come up often due to the large ensemble cast. Made in 1970, BtVotD’s (as it shall be referred to from here out) tells the story of an all female rock group and their misadventures in being ‘discovered’ in Hollywood at the tail end of the ‘free-love’ era. The film was auteur Russ Meyer’s first studio production in a two-picture deal with 20th Century Fox. Originally planned as a sequel to Fox’s 1967 hit Valley of the Dolls, the film was forced to distance itself from Mark Robson’s picture after author Jacqueline Susann was appalled by the prospect of a ‘soft-core porn’ director making a sequel to her original story. This, and an X-Rating courtesy of the MPAA, did not stop the film’s pulling power at the box office, however, grossing nearly ten-times it’s $900,000 budget upon it’s release. To this day, according to screenwriter Roger Ebert, BtVotD has grossed over $40 million in theatrical and video sales to date.

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I learned a long time ago that nothing in Hollywood is sacred. If there is money to be made with a remake, then you bet it will get made. When I think of BtVotD however, I can’t imagine it ever being remade. The original was so completely outrageous that I think even if it didn’t exist, it wouldn’t be made today. That itself made the ‘fictional’ task of re-casting the movie for a modern remake problematic for me. Not only do I hold the film very dear to me, but also I just can’t see it ever happening. For me this is like being asked to re-cast Twin Peaks. You just couldn’t do it. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not citing BtVotD as Citizen Kane here; far from it. The performances are very hit and miss at best and I’ve never been a huge fan of Russ Meyer’s editing technique. However, I don’t think it is unreasonable to suggest that no other movie exists that can compare to BtVotD. As a motion picture it is a wholly unique experience – which is something I can only say of maybe a half-dozen movies. It’s a musical, comedy, horror, drama, thriller! All it needs is some aliens and an animated sequence and you’ve nearly got all bases covered. How many movies can you name that tick as many boxes? Above and beyond all of this, the film is remarkably entertaining. Despite the pitfalls and dangers that come with fame and excess lifestyle the characters soon become entangled in, I still gaze upon the ‘fantasy’ Hollywood and almost cartoon-like characters as created by Russ Meyer and Roger Ebert with envious eyes.

All that said, it has still been my task to cast a fictional remake of the film. So with a gun to my head, here are my casting choices, were I to direct Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.

Kelly Mac Namara (Dolly Reed) – Isla Fisher

dolly

Isla Fisher has that perfect blend of girl next door with a dash of firecracker to make Kelly work in a modern remake. Plus, I can easily see her as the lead vocalist of the Carrie Nations. It wouldn’t be her voice of course, for that I’d hire Florence Welch.

Casey Anderson (Cynthia Myers) – Jennifer Lawrence

casey

Like Cynthia Myers, Lawrence oozes sex appeal without having to do or say very much at all – this is pretty much the essence of Casey. Her failure to adapt to the excess lifestyle makes her the ‘tortured soul’ of the group – something I think Jennifer Lawrence would own, given her God-given acting ability.

Petronella Danforth (Marcia McBroom) – Rosario Dawson

pet

I’m a huge Rosario Dawson fan and loved her in everything I’ve seen her in. She has the looks, the attitude and the style to bring Pet to the 21st century. She would be my Russ Meyer/Quentin Tarantino nod for the film.

 Ronnie ‘Z-Man’ Barzell (John Lazar) – Cillian Murphy

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This was a bit of a no brainer for me, and perhaps the easiest to cast. Now, I don’t take John LaZar’s performance as Ronnie ‘Z-Man’ Barzell lightly, as he’s without a doubt my favourite character, but I just can’t see ANYONE else in today’s talent pool delivering the line “You will drink the black sperm of my vengeance!” better than Cillian Murphy. Plus, I think he’d really enjoy calling someone a ‘buggery knave’.

Lance Rocke (Michael Blodgett) – Dolph Ziggler

lance

Here is my wild card casting for the film. For those unfamiliar, Dolph Ziggler (real name Nick Nemeth) is a professional wrestler for World Wrestling Entertainment. Those who ARE familiar will get exactly why I’ve cast him. The character of Lance Rocke is pretty much the character of Dolph Ziggler. He not only has the looks and the body to carry out the role, but the calibre of performances Ziggler delivers on Monday Night Raw every week are no further a stretch than that played by Michael Blodgett in original movie. Except for the gold digging part. Not much of that in pro-wrestling.

Harris Allsworth (David Gurian) – James McAvoy

harris

James McEvoy has an annoying quality of being instantly likeable in whatever role he’s in. What’s interesting about the idea of him playing Harris is that his character seesaws throughout the story – we like him, we hate him and then BAM! He can miraculously walk again and we all cheer. I’d love to see McEvoy handle this type of character.

Ashley St. Ives (Edy Williams) – Christina Hendricks

ashley

Christina Hendricks is THE quintessential ‘Meyer girl’ for the movie and who better than her to fill the crocheted dress of Ashley St. Ives? Who wouldn’t pay good money to see Hendricks as a hyper-sexed porn star? Mad men, I tell you. MAD MEN! *Sorry!

Roxanne (Erica Gavin) – Liv Tyler

roxanne

This casting was based solely on who I could see paired up with Jennifer Lawrence in the more intimate scenes between Roxanne and Casey. After a couple of Empire Records flashbacks, I settled on Liv Tyler. She has a very sultry and almost tender nature that would be key to the seduction of Casey. I think the chemistry between her and Lawrence would be off the chart.

Susan Lake (Phyllis Davis) – Sherylin Fenn

susan

Who didn’t fall in love with Audrey Horne in Twin Peaks? Raise your hands… I see no raised hands. Point proven. This one is a bit of indulgence casting. I was on a bit of a Peaks revival while writing this and well… Fenn could do this role with her eyes closed. Although I wouldn’t ask her to do the role with her eyes closed. That’d just be weird.

Emerson Thorne (Harrison Page) – Columbus Short

emerson

Naturally if I was doing this in the mid-90s, the role would have gone to Alfonso Ribero, but now that he’s older, I just picked someone I figured could A) tame a rock n’ roll Rosario Dawson and B) convincingly not stand a fucking chance of winning a fight against Randy Black – although when you see who I cast as him, that pretty much could have been anyone…

Porter Hall (Duncan McLeod – Bill Murray

porter hall

It’s Bill fucking Murray. End of discussion.

Randy Black (James Iglehart) – Terry Crews

randy

At first I considered another wrestler for this role –even changing the character to a professional wrestler rather than a heavyweight boxer (Randy Black being based on Mohammed Ali). Then it dawned on me that this guy, in this day and age would be a cage fighter and the body that Terry Crews is rocking, hell, you’d believe he could beat up the Moon! Not really a difficult decision here. With Crews’ dynamic personality to boot, he’d own the role of Randy Black.

Baxter Wolfe (Charles Napier) – Kurt Russell

baxter

Despite the fact that I love Kurt Russell and want to see him in more stuff, I’m going with the Meyer ‘square-jaw’ trait on this one. Kurt Russell is a man’s man. And if anyone was going to step into the boots of Charles Napier, it’d be Snake Plissken… Or R.J. MacReady… Or Jack Burton… Or Stuntman Mike… Or Dean Proffitt.

Otto (Henry Rowland) – Udo Kier

otto

Seriously, who the fuck else?

Paul Davis is a writer and filmmaker from London. His short film Him Indoors starring Reece Shearsmith and Pollyanna McIntosh is finally available to watch online and his next short The Body is currently in production.

MEYER MONTH – When Worlds Collide; Russ Meyer, the Sex Pistols & ‘Who Killed Bambi?’

18 May

One cannot deny that the idea of Russ Meyer working with the Sex Pistols is an interesting one. Meyer, the King of sexploitation filmmaking, and the Sex Pistols, the ‘first’ British punk rock band, were worlds apart. And yet in the 1970s, a collaboration between the two began and failed miserably.

Malcolm McLaren, manager and mastermind behind the Sex Pistols, decided that a good way to break the band into the US would be through a feature film. Intended to be released in 1978, the film was to be the punk version of A Hard Day’s Night. McLaren had reportedly already considered Peter Cook, Stephen Frears and Ken Loach for directing  before eventually settling on Meyer, who he described as ‘the epitome of American Fascism.’.  There are conflicting reports as to who suggested Meyer first, with one story being that the Sex Pistols themselves chose him after seeing Beyond the Valley of the Dolls at Screen On The Green (I’ve read the same story with McLaren in the watching role…). McLaren flew to Los Angeles to meet Meyer, who in turn brought Rene Daalder with him. Daalder was a Dutch filmmaker and script writer active in the LA punk scene. Unsurprisingly, Daalder and McLaren hit it off quite quickly, whereas Meyer and McLaren clashed.

A treatment for the film, which at that point had the working title of Anarchy in the U.K., was written by Daalder and McLaren, centering on the ‘actual story of the Sex Pistols’. Meyer hated it and trashed it immediately. Adamant that he didn’t want to make a ‘depressing’ film, Meyer bought screen writer and film critic Roger Ebert on board to write the script after their successful pairing on 1970 release Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and 1976 release Up!. Ebert installed himself at the Sunset Marquis Hotel and in the June of 1977 wrote the script for the film, now titled Who Killed Bambi?. Although written by Ebert, McLaren had a great deal of input, giving Ebert and Meyer a crash course in punk rock.

With the script written, the group headed to London, although at this point warning signs should have been ringing for Meyer. A successful (practically) one-man filmmaker with studio experience behind him, Meyer at this point had no signed contract and was being paid weekly in cash. It would eventually be money that spelt the end of the project.

Once arriving in London, Meyer and Ebert finally met the band themselves. Ebert later wrote that he and Meyer were ‘a little non-plussed… to hear Johnny Rotten explain that he liked Beyond the Valley of the Dolls because it was so true to life’. Paul Cook and Steve Jones got on with and liked Meyer, the latter impressed that the sexploitation maestro had directed Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, although he had no idea who Meyer was until this fact was pointed out to him. Johnny Rotten and Meyer, however, did not get along. Rotten was rude, anti-American and boasted about the IRA which Meyer did not like. The director ended up calling him a ‘little shit’ over dinner. The sentiment was mutual. Rotten later wrote in his autobiography that he had hated Meyer from the first moment he met him; ‘this dirty old man… an overbearing, senile old git.’. Ebert has said that when Meyer rang him for the first time with the project he stated that the band went to see Dolls every weekend but other accounts I’ve read seem to contradict this. My main impression is that McLaren had more to do with choosing Meyer as the director then the band.

The premise of the film goes something like this. MJ (apparently a swipe at Mick Jagger), a decadent rocker, gets driven around the countryside looking for deer to shoot. He dumps his most recent kill on the doorstep of a family whose little girl opens the door to find the carcass and exclaims ‘Mummy, they’ve killed Bambi!’. MJ then attempts to corrupt the Sex Pistols, as does their manager, whilst other mad distractions happen along the way (including an encounter with a Scientology machine…). The little girl returns at the end to shoot MJ in the face and avenge Bambi’s death. All of this is taken from Jimmy McDonagh’s Meyer biography although Ebert did eventually post the screenplay he had written online in April 2010. Also included in the script was a scene for Sid Vicious in which he had sex with his mother and did heroin with her afterwards. Meyer had already cast Marianne Faithful for the role of his mother. Vicious was livid. Apparently he didn’t mind sleeping with her but he drew the line at the shooting up scene afterwards…

It was during filming, however, that everything began to fall apart. At this point in Pistols history, both Rotten and Vicious despised McLaren and Rotten particularly hated that he was playing a sex fiend in a Hollywood version of punk. Julien Temple, who later picked up Meyer’s pieces and made The Great Rock and Roll Swindle in 1980, claimed that it was during Bambi that McLaren really lost control of the band and that the film was a large part of the reason the group broke up.

It would have been interesting to have seen Meyer’s final project, if not just for his depiction of London as a city. He was determined to include NO shots of red double-decker buses and was obsessed and amused by some of the street signs around town, convinced that they depicted sex in some way. In October 77, the opening scene of the doorstep dumped deer was shot but three days into the shoot it became apparent that there was no money. Sets had already been built near Heathrow and crew was being assembled but McLaren had never finalised a deal. Legal documents and contacts had been produced by 20th Century Fox but McLaren had kept changing his mind. Concerns were also raised about the script’s content once it was actually read by the studio and Fox’s stockholders began to get cold feet. They decided to pull the plug, although rumour has it it was one particular stockholder that nailed the final nail in the coffin. According to Meyer associate Jim Ryan, him and Meyer ended up taking an elevator ride by chance years later with the people who had axed Bambi. According to them it was none other than stockholder Grace Kelly who eventually killed the project saying she ‘didn’t want another X picture from Meyer.’. Who’d have guessed?

Bambi was Meyer’s last hope of making it back into the big league after being released from his three picture deal with Fox after the critical and commercial failure of The Seven Minutes. Yet all he was left with were tangled lawsuits from all sides. Meyer even ended up suing Julien Temple and extracted a printed apology from him published in Screen International. Temple, during the promotional tour for the The Great Rock and Roll Swindle, told a reporter that Meyer had personally shot a deer during the shooting of Bambi, to which Meyer took some serious offense.

Bambi footage ended up being utilised into Rock and Roll Swindle,  including the deer shooting opening scene, with more footage emerging for the documentary The Filth and The Fury which was released in 2000. Ebert has claimed that only a day and a half’s worth of shooting was ever achieved, although this is contradicted by Julian Bray, who supplied location services to McLaren’s Matrixbest company. Other shot footage includes musician Sting as a leader of a pop group called The Blow-Waves that assaults drummer Paul Cook as he stops to ask for directions. One can only imagine what Meyer’s finished project would have looked like…


The video above is a small clip from the Meyer edition of The Incredibly Strange Film Show, an interesting half hour show on the director well worth watching to hear him talk about his own filmography.

Top 10 Russ Meyer Men

6 May

It would be an understatement to say that director Russ Meyer’s world was dominated by women, but it would also be a misconception to think that this was entirely the case. Just as much as there are women that shaped and characterised parts of Meyer’s life, in equal measure are the men that also coloured various points in his career. So, for once, lets forget about the big bosoms and celebrate those with the square jaws!

#10) German men
A big generalisation to start this countdown with but it’s well-known that Russ Meyer disliked Germans, probably as a reaction to his time spent in Europe during WWII. The director hated the Nazi regime that swept over Germany during the 1930s and 40s and frequently derided Adolf Hitler (yes, I know he was Austrian…) and Martin Bormann in his later pictures. Meyer’s long-absent father was also German, leaving his mother to raise him alone. Go figure.

#9) Harry Sledge
Mean. Ruthless. Vile. Murderous. Chilling. Impotent. Harry Sledge is the nastiest guy in the history of Russ Meyer’s career and the instigator of the most violent scene in the whole of the directors career, the infamous bath scene in the 1975 release Supervixens.

#8) Anthony James Ryan
Many of Meyer’s female stars stayed loyal to him until the very end but if there was ever a male counterpart to all of those combined it would be Anthony James Ryan. A friend since he toured with the sexploitation director in WWII, Ryan was the titular male star of Eve and the Handyman (1961), a producer and writer on several other Meyer projects and looked after the legend during his illness in his last years.

#7) The Old Man
Sleazy, creepy, deceitful and a family man?! Stuart Lancaster’s portrayal of The Old Man in Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! ensured his infamy in Meyer-verse by creating one of the most popular villains in his filmography. Confined to a wheelchair, the bitter and twisted man looks after his two sons on an isolated ranch in the middle of the Mojave Desert. Traumatized by his wife’s death, hiding all his wealth in his chair and raising a disturbed and mute son into a muscular vegetable drive this man to eventual insanity and death at the hands of some dangerous and beautiful women. Camp, hilarious and vile. Perfect.

#6) David K. Frasier
Another personal friend of the director, Frasier helped Meyer archive his library for his autobiography A Clean Breast and again for Frasier’s reference book Russ Meyer: The Life and Films. Frasier’s opening chapter ‘Russ Meyer: American Auteur’ remains one of the most comprehensive and informative accounts of the directors career and filmography and Frasier recently wrote an excellent booklet to accompany Arrow Films re-release of their Russ Meyer box set. More must read literature for serous Meyer/sexploitation film fans and scholars.

#5) Charles Napier
The one and only square-jawed actor, Napier was to men what actress Tura Satana was to women in Meyer’s films. Napier was the epitome of the male, Meyer’s archetype for the sex and most loved character actor. Friends since they met on the set of 1970 release Cherry, Harry & Raquel!, Napier went on to star in a further three of Meyer’s pictures; Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, The Seven Minutes and Supervixens.

#4) Ronnie ‘Z-Man’ Barzell
One of Russ Meyer’s greatest male (or should that be female…?) creations, Z-Man is a legendary character within the world of cult film. Loosely based on music producer Phil Spector, Z-Man is the villainous producer at the heart of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls; host of the best partes, full of theatrical antics and spouting some of the best quotes cinema has to offer with Shakespearean deftness.

#3) Jimmy McDonough
Succeeding where many failed, McDonough is the author of Meyer biography Big Bosoms and Square Jaws, currently being adapted for screen. Prior to becoming ill, Meyer had already stopped one writer from publishing a biography on him and no doubt had Meyer not been ill, he would have stopped Jimmy too. Big Bosoms is an honest and interesting account of the directors life, amplifying his legacy and illuminating light onto the mans character. A must have for fans.

#2) Roger Ebert
Life-long friend of the sexploitation director, legendary film critic Roger Ebert wrote the screenplay for Meyer’s studio masterpiece Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Not that the collaboration stopped there. Ebert, under a pseudonym, also went on to write a further two screenplays for the filmmaker, Up! and Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens, whilst also writing the script for the ill fated Sex Pistols film Who Killed Bambi?. Script-writing aside, Ebert was also important for being one of the first film critics to publicly praise Meyer’s work, draw attention to it and describe him as an auteur, championing the director until hs death.

#1) Mr. Teas
The man who started it all, Mr. Teas was the titular character from Meyer’s feature debut The Immoral Mr. Teas (1959). A simple man who starts seeing women in various stages of undress after an anaesthetic, Mr. Teas was the voyeur that Meyer knew existed in most men and who Meyer decided to make films aimed at. Rather innocent in nature compared to later male Meyer specimens, Teas was almost scared, if not terrified, by the beautiful creatures he kept seeing before him, his surprise echoing the shock of the male audience who had never seen nude women in anything other than nudist documentaries or in illegal pornography. Certainly one of the most important male characters in the history of sexual depiction in Western film, without Teas there would have been no sexploitation genre and the later pornography market probably wouldn’t have flourished as quickly as it had.

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 – ‘Viva Foxy!’ and Edy Williams

11 Mar

Viva Foxy! a Russ Meyer film? No, you’re not wrong, he didn’t make it but it was one of the few film ideas that Meyer toyed with before eventually abandoning in the mid 70s. With a screenplay written by Roger Ebert, the picture was meant to star Meyer’s then-wife Edy Williams, whom he’d married after meeting on the set of 1970 release Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (Edy played hypersexual porn star Ashley St. Ives), and was set to start shooting in Hollywood on December 6th 1972. Except that it never did.

So what could we have expected from Meyer? Viva Foxy! aka Foxy (the film’s title was changed to incorporate the setting) was to be centred around the early 1920’s border war between two South American banana republics. Williams was to play the titular character of Foxy McHugh, an orphan of missionary parents who had grown up on the streets and was the power behind the two thrones. One dictator was to be modeled on Che Guevara, the other on Peter Ustinov’s Nero from Quo Vadis (one can only imagine how Meyer would have done this visually in his sometimes garish style). Williams saw McHugh as her version of Erica Gavin’s Vixen character; ‘She used men and abused them and had a ball. That’s what Foxy’s gonna be about. She’s gonna do all the things that men have done. I’ll be a female guerilla’. Meyer did photograph Edy for a Playboy pictorial which was featured in the March 1973 issue. He briefly describes his latest film Foxy which, according to Russ, will be about ‘a sexy record-company executive who gets mixed up with a number of men in outrageous situations’. Whatever the outcome would have been one can only imagine that the notoriously fame-hungry Williams would have taken the lead and run with it if her portrayal of Ashley St. Ives is anything to go by.

Russ Meyer and Edy Williams on their wedding day

Whilst the film never got made, Meyer and Williams did shoot some footage to advertise the film before any plans really took off. Russ shot the film’s trailer, which had Williams water skiing in the nude, and tagged it on to the end of his feature Black Snake which was released in 1973. One of the first directors to use this concept, there are conflicting reports as to whether the trailer was actually attached to the film or not during its original theatrical run (I’ve tried a lot of online research and not come up with a definite answer, if anyone can help…). Unfortunately this ending is not on the Arrow DVD release of Black Snake and the Arrow DVD’s are currently the most comprehensive packages of Meyer’s filmography.

What is known is that the project eventually fell through. One reason was due to difficulties in putting a deal together, despite Penthouse apparently being interested at one point and Russ stating to Hollywood Reporter in April 1973 that the trailer alone had resulted in three separate offers to completely finance the budget. This issue surprises me as Meyer was already a rich man by this time in his career. The film was conceived as a $400,000 vehicle for Williams and one of Meyer’s many talents was his ability to make a film on a budget (granted, there are a few blips in his career where he has had to be bailed out). How they couldn’t raise the money is beyond me, as is why Russ didn’t just self finance the project to begin with. It’s well-known that he liked to be in control of his entire empire and works. Another reported reason is that Meyer cancelled the film’s production amid fears that investors money would be lost on a film that could be challenged by local communities when a new ruling on obscenity was drawn up by the Supreme Court allowing local communities to self-determine what they considered to be ‘obscene’.

That said, the other reason it fell through was due to a temporary breakup between Meyer and Williams. The marriage between the two of them was a tempestuous one with many questioning at the time how the relationship had even gotten to that point. By 1973, tensions were already running high between the two with Williams angry that Meyer hadn’t given her the part of Lady Susan in Black Snake which she had assumed she was getting. Her Playboy pictorial was meant to be an attempt to pacify the situation. Their arguing continued until the day that Edy decided to leave Meyer’s house and file for divorce. It was a very messy battle and Williams is not generally looked upon by the Meyer community in a positive light.

There’s no denying that Viva Foxy! would have been an interesting film had Meyer continued with his plans and made it. Edy Williams is extremely memorable in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and it would have been nothing short of an experience to see her take on a female lead in one of Russ’s many sexploitation entries. Sometimes, the imagine dreams up ideas far more exciting than those ever given to us on a plate and this is one project where dreaming is just going to have to do.

MEYER MONTH – Jimmy McDonough interview

9 Mar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did any girl surprise you in any way in reality?

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

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

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

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

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

At what point do you think his career really peaked?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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