Tag Archives: Supervixens

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

10 Nov

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

 

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

Russ Meyer

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

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

costume 6

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

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

tempest 1

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

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

MEYER MONTH – Advert Pictorial

9 Nov

photo(1)

photo(41)

photo(7)

photo(45)

photo(12)

photo(39)

photo(16)

photo(25)

photo(29)

photo(42)

photo(49)

photo(56)

photo(36)

photo(38)

photo(40)

photo(47)

photo(44)

photo

MEYER MONTH – Russ Meyer and his Ladies Pictorial

7 Sep

photo(2)

photo(3)

photo(6)

photo(11)

photo(19)

photo(22)

photo(23)

photo(24)

photo(26)

photo(43)

photo(20)

photo(9)

photo(18)

photo(21)

photo(50)

photo(59)

MEYER MONTH – Top Five Costumes

9 Mar

costume 7

HONOURABLE MENTION – Z-Man’s Superwoman costume (Beyond the Valley of the Dolls)
One of the sharpest dressed characters of 1970 release Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, it’s Z-Man’s final outfit that stands out the most; his Superwoman outfit. Forget a costume akin to something Wonder Woman might wear, this is a regal ensemble that makes as much impact as the declaration he makes; that he is in fact a she. With a colour scheme that tries to add some legitimacy to his claims (purple as a colour has often been related to monarchy and money as if he can buy his gender through money or respect), he tops the outfit off with a simple gold crown which says he/she’s in charge. For those that stand in his way he has the answer of a sword, one of the ultimate phallic symbols which also represents his willingness to castrate his male identity.

costume 6

HONOURABLE MENTION – Vixen’s yellow bikini (Vixen!)
An instance where costume reflects the character’s personality, Vixen’s bright yellow bikini is as fun-loving, outgoing and confident as she is. Standing out against the natural colours of the forest, the bikini ensures that she is the one that stands out amongst the small community in which she lives making her all the more desirable.

costume 5

#5 – Ashley St Ives crochet dress (Beyond the Valley of the Dolls)
Ash St. Ives (Edy Williams) is a superficial porn star out to sleep with whoever she wants, whenever she wants. So it’s hardly surprising that one of the most memorable costumes from Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is Ives’ beige crotchet dress, which leaves very little to the imagination. Consisting of pants and a dress that comprises a bikini top with a panelled body piece, the dress is the perfect visual representation of Edy Williams’ character; superficial, vapid and attention seeking.

costume 4

#4 – Varla’s black jumpsuit (Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!)
Second only to Supervixens in terms of iconography (see below), Tura Satana’s black get-up in Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! is one of Meyer’s most recognised and imitated visuals. The all black, skin-tight catsuit combined with her lethal moves effectively shows her off as the sleek killing machine that she is, as well as representing the dichotomy of gender stereotypes that she represents. The boots and leather gloves she wears are masculine traits to identify with whilst the fact that she doesn’t mind getting her clothes sweaty and dirty shows she isn’t afraid to be involved in some rough and tumble. Whilst the catsuit is certainly figure hugging, Satana as Varla is pretty much covered up in comfortable racing gear that wouldn’t be out-of-place on a man. The plunging neckline and exposed cleavage (Satana wore a custom-made bra to make sure she stayed in) are the only indication of her female sexuality which she always uses to her advantage. Meyer took a similar approach with Charles Napier’s serial killer character Harry Sledge in Supervixens, kitting him out in all black and gloves to be a male counterpoint to Varla.

costume 3

#3 – Mr. Teas’ jumpsuit and straw hat (The Immoral Mr. Teas)
Inspired by Jacques Tati’s character Mr Hulot, Mr Teas’ brightly coloured jumpsuits and straw hat make him visually all the more detached from the world he is already emotionally scared of. Whilst the scantily clad and nude women he stumbles upon seem relaxed in their environments and at one with nature, Mr Teas in his absurdly loud orange jumpsuit looks more like an astronaut stranded in a world that he doesn’t really understand which links him in some way to his viewing audience who would have been viewing the film as new territory themselves.

costume 2

#2 – Casey and Roxanne’s fancy dress costumes (Beyond the Valley of the Dolls)
He may have had a few issues but Z-Man’s choice of costume for lesbian lovers Casey (Cynthia Myers) and Roxanne (Erica Gavin) to wear at his costume party in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was the perfect visual metaphor for their relationship. Roxanne was very much the Batman figure to Casey; rescuing her, taking her under her wing and clearly being the dominant figure in the relationship. In return Casey was the perfect Robin, happy to always be by Roxanne’s side. Whilst Gavin stays in her Batman gear for a while, Myers only wears her Robin outfit briefly but it makes an impression. This is one of the best instances in Meyer’s work where costume really reflects the characters wearing them. Making it even more fun, the outfit Myers wears is one that Burt Ward wore himself in the 1960s Batman television series.

costume 1

#1 – SuperLorna’s red shirt (Supervixens)
Christy Hartburg only ever starred in one Russ Meyer film and it wasn’t a long appearance either but when it comes to the iconography of Meyer’s cinematic career, it’s Hartburg’s costume from Supervixens that tops the list. Tiny white shorts, hair in bunches and a pinky-red shirt tied at the waist, exposing a massive cleavage that one can’t help but notice in all its glory. Whilst Satana’s costume is visually just as iconic, it’s the above picture of Hartburg that is regularly used to advertise Meyer’s work (from DVD box sets to t-shirts, mugs to book covers and usually to accompany articles in magazines and film books) and was the main image used in the Supervixens publicity campaign. The perfect image to sum up the women that Meyer liked to portray in his features; outgoing, fun and provocative. Oh, and very top-heavy.

MEYER MONTH – Top Ten Meyer Homages V.2

2 Mar

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

blog 1

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

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

rocky horror

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

blog 1

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

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

Norah Jones Mudhoney

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

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

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

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

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 – Russ Meyer Fan Art

24 Mar

Whilst trawling the internet for images for this month’s Russ Meyer dedicated month, I’ve stumbled across a lot of Russ Meyer related fan art and posters, some of which are beautiful. I’ve collected a majority of my favourites here for a pictorial post but there are plenty more out there. I will say one thing, if any one of the artists who did any of these ever come across this page or blog, please get in touch! I would pay for some of the originals of these…

The girls of Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! by Becca’s Art

artwork by the Pizz

Supervixens character sketch by Jeremy Polgar

Tura Satana by Nathan Fox

Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! by Scott C

Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! by Jeff Victor

Vixen! by WacomZombie

Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!  by kirbynasty

Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! by SHAG

Supervixens by Arbito

Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! inspired painting by Sandra Equihua

minimalist Russ Meyer film posters by roosterization

Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! by Ghoulish Gary Pullin

The Lust of Flesh by Sam Gambino