Tag Archives: X rated

‘Primitive London’ (1965) BFI Flipside Release

4 Jul

Made in the model of famous and influential 60s release Mondo Cane, Primitive London is the British equivalent, exploring the various facades of our capital. Using the very loose narrative of the cycle of life as a basic spine for the film (opening with lovely graphic footage of childbirth, which as we all know scares the hell outta me), we get glimpses of various contrasting and ‘shocking’ (remember context folks, this was 1965) looks into female judo, busking, turkish baths, stripping schools, fencing, swingers parties and stand up comedy routines. Personally interesting to watch were women jean shrinking in their bathtub (which you don’t really need to do these days, thank you skinny jeans!), people getting tattoos done and footage of old British Wrestling promotions including Brit legend Mick McManus working a fight. Watching an operation on a goldfish, however, was just a little weird and, well, less said about the scene at the factory killing battery chickens…

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As mediocre as it is to watch, it is fascinating to see footage of London from over fifty years ago and seeing just how much it’s landscape has changed. Women being tattooed and learning judo are here played with a hint of shocked ignorance which has since given way to nothing but normality. Interesting to watch are also the streets of Soho, full of clubs and advertising strippers left, right and centre. You’d be hard pushed to find much of that London history in Soho as it stands now, with its past feeling very nearly wiped out than celebrated for what it was. Shot by future director Stanley Long (Adventures of a Plumbers Mate, Adventures of a Taxi Driver) and produced, written and directed by Arnold L. Miller (Nudes of the WorldUnder The Table You Must Go), some of the film has efforts of surrealism, with cows intercut against topless models wearing the latest fashions and the task of food shopping contrasted against strip club routines. Whenever the moralising voice of the narrator feels like its starting to wane (one feels somewhat sorry for the young beatniks who are interviewed at the start of the film who get spoken to sometimes as if they were very young children), we always cut back to a stripper. Interesting and yet mundane.

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Released in 1965, it was originally given an ‘A’ certificate. So, at the last-minute some footage of a Jack The Ripper murder re-enactment was added in which ensured it got an ‘X’ certificate for release (something the producers specifically wanted). It first screened at the Windmill Theatre, and in true 60s advertising, a group of exotic dancers were hired for the night. Soho dancer Vicki Grey donned a fur-coat and leopard print bikini in homage to the famous ‘Leopard The Wild One’ dance, the imagery of which made most of the posters and front of house stills. Grey toured the West End with a cheetah on a leash (loaned by Colchester Zoo, sadly a leopard wasn’t available), before relaxing with it in the foyer. It received fairly negative reviews upon release and wasn’t as successful as its predecessor London In The Raw, however it still provides a watchable slice of Brit history.

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Also included  on the BFI Flipside release is a short film from 1965 called Carousella. A short documentary on the lives of a few Soho strippers, Carousella is probably more interesting to watch than Primitive London itself, aware of its short running time and making a narrative with material that still interests and has relevance today. Whilst it was made without much fuss in the 60s, it was immediately banned by John Trevelyan after he watched it, exclaiming that it was nothing more than a recruitment film. It was given a ‘X’ certificate by a few local authorities, but numbers didn’t make for an eventual cinematic release. It’s a shame because the film is beautifully shot and feels really rather human. Nothing is scandalised and the narrative and comments given by the girls featured are delivered well and romanticized but far from the point of being patronising or condescending. A short worth seeking out.

More Than A Woman – Barbet Schroeder’s ‘Maitresse’ (1976)

28 May

Maitresse is quite possibly one of the sexiest films I have ever seen. Not because of its explicitness, the actors or the themes it explores, but rather because of its natural tone and lack of judgment. Directed by the French Barbet Schroeder, Maitresse tells the tale of a chance encounter between ‘normal’ man and small time crook Olivier (Gerard Depardieu) and dominatrix Ariane (Bulle Ogier). Olivier is both smitten with Ariane and interested in the sadomasochistic world in which she operates and is eventually asked to move in and live with her as her lover. Schroeder’s aim was to create a vision that showed a non-judgemental exploration of this side to human sexuality and so unravels the story of the pair who struggle to come to terms with the power roles evident in their blossoming relationship.

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The key to this developement is casting. When we first meet Olivier, he is a cocky motorcycle driver in need of a quick buck and a floor to sleep on. A big guy, he looks like he can definitely hold is own against anyone, especially Ariane, who on first appearance looks like a delicate waif in serious need of some clichéd gender role help. He’s trying to con her out of money with door to door sales and her bathroom taps wont stop running. Invited into her flat to help her sort out her plumbing, she lets slip that her neighbour below is away, and so Olivier and his accompanying friend break in to the empty flat hoping to find something valuable. Concealed in the darkness like a dirty secret, what they do find is of no value to them but to a dominatrix and her clientage is utterly priceless; heels, whips, masks, latex suits, bottles, dummies, gloves and costume to name but a few things.

It is at this point that we get to finally meet the real Ariane. After discovering a man tied up in the flat, neon lights flood the darkness and a futuristic staircase descends from the ceiling. Slowly walking down comes Ariane whose composure is the complete opposite of the woman we were introduced to a scene earlier. No longer ‘helpless’ and rushed, she is cool and composed, made up in a stunning outfit (the costumes were designed by Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld) with pristine hair and makeup and, most importantly, both confident and in complete control. Unsurprised to see Olivier and his friend, she emasculates them by handcuffing them to a radiator making them dependent on her and rendering their earlier attempt at ‘rescuing’ her totally redundant. After a few moments, she persuades Olivier to work for her knowing he needs the money and after an encounter between them and a client of hers, his interest in Ariane blossoms.

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After spending the night together in a moment that seems both honest and rather sweet, their relationship begins and so do Olivier’s attempts to change the power balance between the pair. Ogier plays Ariane beautifully, both complex in character and yet quite simply portrayed on-screen. Ariane likes her job and knows what she is doing. She certainly has no will to want to give it up and has managed to effectively control everything around her; her telephone lines, what her venus fly traps eat on which days, when she stops and starts work, what she and Olivier do, what Olivier wears… When she is made up and in control, no one can stand in her way and yet she manages to afford herself moments of vulnerability and worry, especially when it comes to the welfare and wellbeing of her young son. She seems to genuinely care for Olivier, and yet he struggles to see her for who she really is. Over time he trys to change her so that he is in some way in control of her and she submissive to him. Yet no matter how much time he puts into this, he is unable to see that the power roles are very defined between the two of them and have been since day one. She will always be in control of him, and he will always need her, whether it be for love, money, a play to stay, attention, food, work or sex. Even at the end of the film where she leaves him and deliberately leaves no new address or number for her, he goes on a search of possible places she could be until he finds her. Just like a client of hers, he could not let go of her, even though it is clear that he is out of his depth when it comes to Ariane and her ‘world’ (he struggles to understand her or her clients motivation, their desire, what she gets out of her job, where role games begin and end, and where he sits amongst the other men in her life), ultimately ending up resenting it where he once held captivated interest.

As a director, Schroeder wanted his exploration into the sadomasochistic world of domination to be as real and as natural as possible and enlisted the services of a real Parisian dominatrix who helped to supply on-set advice and also some of her own equipment. He also used a few of her real-life clients in certain scenes, who were, apparently, more than willing to co-operate (some supposedly even paid for the privilege of being involved). The most notable of these is the gentleman who has nails hammered through his scrotum and into a plank of wood. This was all done on-screen and absolutely for real, although not done by Ogier herself. According to Schroeder, ‘The man who did that was actually a very real, very rich man. We were drinking champagne together and laughing half an hour after shooting the scene’. Just as it would be in life, nothing is staged. Bodies are stretched, men are chained up and ridden, nipples pierced, people are spanked and whipped so hard that during the course of the scenes you can see welt marks and the participants skin going red and quivering.

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Unsurprisingly Maitresse was originally refused a certificate by the BBFC when it was first submitted in 1976 for release. The scenes of torture and fetishism were in the words of the BBFC itself ‘miles in excess of anything we have ever passed in this field’, although they agreed that Schroeder’s picture was well made and not exploitative. During 1980 it played in a handful of club cinemas in the country (as it could not be played publicly) and was eventually re-examined, cut by five minutes (especially the aforementioned scrotum scene) and given an X certificate (which it also received in the United States). Finally re-submitted again in 2003, it was given an 18 certificate and had all its previous cuts waived for release. Whilst one can understand why the BBFC cut what they did, it’s very jarring that they kept in a genuine abattoir slaughter of a horse which is in fact quite distressing and probably more uncomfortable to watch than the S&M scenes themselves.

Where critics found it ‘perverted‘ and ‘sordid‘, Schroeder maintained that the film was ‘an extremely healthy movie… joyous and life-affirming’. It’s impossible to not agree with the director based on this statement. Maitresse is a perfect example of putting the ‘human’ back in human sexuality on-screen. The beauty of human sexuality is the large spectrum of which is encompasses, and just because something may not be considered the ‘norm’ or a mainstream desire, does not mean that it is ultimately depraved. In the same way that 2002 release Secretary positively depicted the role of S&M in relationships, Maitresse shows how complex and beautiful the relationship between two people can be when based on ultimate desire, faith and trust. Far from depraved or abnormal, the film is in fact an unconventional love story composed of several small interlocking stories of love which all explore the idea of power play which is evident in all relationships (in a similar way that 9 1/2 Weeks explores this on a much smaller level in the one relationship of its leads).  As much as many people would probably like to debate it, the themes in Maitresse are in fact very domestic and very ‘every day’.

Eventually Ariane and Olivier find some sort of understanding and equality in the films last scene, a happy ending of sorts in which the couple finally come to some sort of understanding of their relationship and the power play between them. By far one of the kinkiest films I have ever seen but also one of the most honest and intellectual, Maitresse really is a feature worth watching for the terrific character study between the two leads.

Nightcall – Curt McDowell’s ‘Thundercrack!’ (1975)

30 Jun

Where does one begin with a film like Thundercrack!? In all honesty, I’m not quite sure where, because the film feels like a dense two-hour plus epic of bizarre proportions. Once seen, definitely never forgotten. Essentially Thundercrack! is an ‘old dark house’ horror story with a tonne of gratuitous hardcore sex scenes thrown in for, what feels like some very strange, fun. Directed by Curt McDowell and written by Mark Ellinger and George Kuchar (the well-known American underground and avant-garde filmmaker), the feature is beautifully shot in black and white with frames composed to highlight the physical and mental mess of the characters minds and lives. Mess I might add is a bit of an understatment.

This is an entry I’ll keep incredibly brief because the film is one that really has to be seen to be believed. Do you like weird, quirky, sexual films with a heavy B-movie aesthetic even though the flick is question is probably lower than B on the movie scale? Great! This one is definitely for you. With a varied amount of highly strung and very over the top characters (Mrs Gert Hammond in particular), weird-multi stranded narratives and enough sex to shake your stick at, you can see why this film is a bit of a cult favourite. Not to mention one that has been unavailable in parts of the world until late because of its content (lots and lots of lovely hardcore shots including vaginal penetration, anal penetration, sex toys, erections, masturbation, oral sex, ejaculation…). Throw in a generous dash of black humour (very fake flashbacks, paper sets, someone inadvertently masturbating someone else, an incident with a gorilla…) and you’ve got an unforgettable film that is well worth picking up.

Another Girl Another Planet – Michael Benveniste & Howard Ziehm’s ‘Flesh Gordon’ (1974)

13 Jun

Sometimes you really can’t beat a good sex parody, and that’s just what 1974 release Flesh Gordon is. Written by Michael Benveniste who went on to co-direct with Howard Ziehm, Flesh Gordon is a porno inspired by the 1930s Flash Gordon serial films and comics (that feature film that we all remember wasn’t released until 1980…) which begins perfectly with a small introduction, and disclaimer, which highlights the Depression of the 30s and assures us that this film has nothing to do with the original comics or their writers. As if they’d want to have anything to do with a film like this…

The film is effectively your typical Flash Gordon fare with an added incredibly camp sexual twist. Earth has become under threat from an evil sex ray that is being beamed from another planet, causing people to become sexually hysterical in a ‘total degradation that has overcome the masses’. Professor Gordon decides that his son Flesh (that’s right, every name is a sexual-like pun on the original characters name) is the only one who can stop it, and after seeing first hand what the sex ray can do (in a scene that turns a normal flight into a plane orgy and then see’s Flesh get a mid-air blowjob whilst parachuting down to land), Flesh sets out to destroy the evil device.

Teaming up with Dr Flexi Jerkoff (aka Dr Alexis Zarkov) and love interest Dale Ardor (aka Dale Arden), Flesh makes his way to planet Porno (aka Mongo, in a spaceship that looks a lot like a vibrating dildo) to bring down the tyrannous Emperor Wang the Perverted (aka Ming the Merciless… you get the idea right?) and together they encounter all manner of Porno inhabitants, including a number of animated penisaurus, an underground group of lesbian Amazonian’s, hermaphrodite wrestling monsters and, lets not forget, the rapist robots with twirling, screwdriver-like dicks.

Originally released with an X certificate, it was re-edited and eventually received an R rating, whilst later releases included both gay and straight hardcore shots that had been supposedly cut out. However, even with these shots included, the film isn’t that much different. The sex scenes are well choreographed so that you don’t really see anything and the hardcore shots don’t fare any better, in fact they look exactly the same. Still, at least the mass orgies, of which there are a few, allude to a lot of good stuff! Aside from the obvious draw of sex, the other fantastic reason to see the film are the somewhat terrible but inventive effects, all done by artists who would go on to later have big special effects careers in cinema (Rick Baker, Doug BeswickMick Minor, Dave Allen, Jim Danforth and Dennis Muren!). The sex ray looks nothing more than red exploding cupcake sprinkles and some of the models are rather obviously shoddy but all have their charm. Also included are scenes using stop motion animation (a personal favourite of mine) which wonderfully evoke the talents of animation legend Ray Harryhausen. The climatic monster The Great God Porno at the end of the film, voiced by an uncredited Craig T Nelson, especially looks like he could have stepped out of Harryhausen’s greek myth features and the beautiful Beetleman who could have easily appeared in one of Ray’s sci-fi pictures.

Flesh Gordon is not the best film you will ever see, but I defy you to other sex parodies out there that really encompass the charm and feel of the properties they are piss-taking. There’s awful acting, bad one liners and some really dire day-for-night shots but the film has a great script and a good narrative that holds the whole picture together. The sex fits into the story perfectly, and whilst it is obviously gratuitous (it’s a porno for God’s sake!), it doesn’t feel out-of-place. My only qualm is that nearly all of the scenes feel very frantic which sadly means you don’t get to glimpse an awful lot. That’s not to say there isn’t a lot of 70s muff, hairy chests, bad facial hair and flesh in all shapes and sizes! If you can track this film down it’s well worth a watch, a terrific slice of kitsch, sexy parody with a heart full of charm. A glorious cult classic.   

MEYER MONTH – ‘The Cutting of Russ Meyer’ by Eugenio Triana

20 Mar

Like many talented filmmakers there is a general sense that Russ Meyer was great at what he did without much real sense at what those skills were. Meyer often gets called “Eisentenian” in his style, but what does this adjective really mean? This is what makes film such an enjoyable art form, just how persuasive it is – each frame is composed of so many elements that parsing every single decision that goes into making an effect work in a scene can be difficult for even the most hard-working critic. As such, the word “style” gets overused in film criticism, as a placeholder for whatever a film is doing that works. Like a man under hypnosis we get the general sense of purpose but the specifics get blurry.

Film is also expensive enough an art form, and dependent enough on technology, that it is also useful to consider how a filmmaker managed to arrive at those decisions and whether they were under his control at all. How decisions were affected by constraints, as much as the freedom of imagination to put up anything on-screen, is part of appreciating what goes into a filmmaker’s style.

With Russ Meyer, it is possible to simplify the conversation by concentrating solely on his editing skills, since this is such an important part of what makes his films his. Although he had plenty of other talents too, it was his editing that earned him the lofty “Eisensteinian” adjective above. But, like the cliché line about every smut film ever made, writing was not one of his strengths. This was due more to a lack of interest than a lack of effort, Meyer was the kind of filmmaker who preferred to pick up a camera and go than spend months in careful pre-production trying to refine a story. And in any case, he was enough of a realist to know that nobody paid for his films for the dialogue, to recycle another hoary line about the softcore and beyond.

Meyer spent most of his life making low budget films were he controlled almost every decision directly – and were there were major limits to what he could do. Actors were never well paid and never that good, and in any case he was rarely casting for acting talent first and foremost. Films had to be short and quickly made, and re-shoots were hard to come by, a tough limitation for a perfectionist like Meyer. Editing was the way he could hide a lot of these limitations and try to squeeze style out of dried out situations, and so came a prominent part of his directing style.

According to Jimmy McDonough in his biography Big Bosom and Square Jaws, Meyer was often editing on site, taking a van with him with a suit on site to see what he had. This was likely why Meyer’s films, for all their other faults, always have a great sense of rhythm – his editing was reactive, and often informing the film as it went along.

In the case of his first feature and hit, the film was almost entirely made in editing. Saddled with even fewer resources than he’d had before, and friends as actors, the director had to keep the film short and snappy to distract attention always. To screen means both to show and to cover, and very early Meyer showed he was in good control of both. From The Immoral Mr. Teas (1959) comes one of the main staples of the Meyer style, the plentiful use of cutaways. Meyer had started his career in industrial films, the corporate videos of those days, and had learnt how a few still shots, some music and a well placed voice over was enough to create a piece that worked. Mr Teas was the sex film as an industrial film, which is appropriate, since there’s never been a larger industry.

So Meyer starts his film with still shots of California, with a largely nonsensical voice-over getting quick to the point of the movie as these images go by: “The guitar as we know it today, came about as a result of many types of earlier stringed instruments. There was first the harp, the lute, then the zither, and mandolin. The guitar is a very sensitive instrument, with “G” being the third string, and is played over a system of frets. Sensitive men have been fretting over G-strings for years!”

Certainly not the obvious way to start your smut film. Unlike the industrial films, where the copy was earnest and mannered, Mr Teas’s voice over is loose and sardonic: this is a tease rather than an open sale. Meyer manages a lot of character in such a short space: that of a fun, subversive movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously. And this done with almost no resources, just his camera to take what are essentially moving stills and recorded sound. That he had enough confidence to start a film without characters, dialogue or acting showed early on that Meyer was a distinctive filmmaker, one with bold ideas for his films, never mind the genre or budget.

Mr. Teas, saddled with an actor who had the look Meyer wanted but not any experience, also made plenty of use of the point of view shot, much more so than any of his later movies, which for obvious reasons tend to show their characters in medium shot. These uncomplicated techniques allowed Meyer to make a tight film on zero resources. The main shoot took only a four-day weekend but Meyer then spent days putting together additional bits of film, shooting those early shots, adding some more point of view of scenes with local models, slowly layering the film with more and more material. Meyer learnt the lesson that he could create a film himself in the editing room, getting plenty of coverage and putting slowly splicing it together in his mobile Steenbeck. His films usually feel very episodic, born not out of screenwriting rhythms but out of creating short sequences in editing.

With the success of Mr. Teas, Meyer had found a style he could make work in practice, and he made sure to keep learning as an editor, moving away from his still photography, industrial film days, to work that was more dynamic, more in tune with the moving image. Perhaps his best film, Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965), was the culmination of Meyer the filmmaker. It has one of the best-edited opening sequences of any independent film ever made. Meyer starts on his three leading ladies, with shots of Haji, Tura Sutana and Lori Williams, alternating between six, second vignettes of them go-go dancing shot from the director’s favourite angle (below to above) and a medium shot of the three.

Slowly, Meyer starts to intercut the source of the music, with close up shots of a jukebox.

And finally the punters, from whom Meyer gets great reactions.

Notice how all three elements are shot separately against black backgrounds (in fact each of the three spectators is also shown separately, never all of them together) so Meyer could build this whole sequence separately, without needing them all in the same room, or even to use the same place again. The sense that they are all in the same club is created by rapidly juxtaposing all these different elements together. This is where Meyer gets called “Eisensteinian” by the critics. One of the early proponents of this juxtaposing techniques, the Russian director in his books of montage looked at studies of audience reactions when different still elements where edited close together, a scene followed closely by close up shots of a crying woman created a feeling of sadness, etc. Meyer might not have intellectualized his approach in the way Eisenstein did but understood that film editing meant you didn’t need to start everything in a master shot. Film wasn’t theatre, cut it all together and the audience would get it.

Meyer creates a great rhythm in this opening sequence, slowly decreasing the time he gives to each element, down to a few seconds and then flipping between the dancers and the punters in bursts of as low as sixteen frames at a time. For those who find Meyer an unappealing self-publicist who only knew to shoot topless women, it’s worth noting how much care and work it must have been putting this sequence together. This was before the days of Final Cut and digital editing, and cutting such short bits of filming meant actually handling small pieces of material and carefully splicing them together. To make such a loose “MTV-style” editing required at the time focus, patience and an early belief that it would cut together and the work didn’t need to be repeated.

The sequence also allows Meyer to make a great jump in time and space, as he gets closer to each element until he is in macro shots of the jukebox (if Quentin Tarantino, one of Meyer’s most prominent fans, shows his influence it is in his careful use of the macro, otherwise their editing styles are diametrically opposite). From this close up of the jukebox we jump into a close-up of a radio car (for a moment it seems we are still at the club), a hand changing the clutch, a wide shot of three cars, and we are in the main narrative.

Faster Pussycat!’s great opening sequence introduces the characters, sets a mood, serves as its own self-contained scene and Meyer even finds a way to tie it seamlessly into the main body of his film. And the sequence would have been so easy to actually shoot, any independent filmmaker could do it, it is all created in the editing room. This is where Meyer shows he is worthy of all the accolades.

In Vixen! (1968), the director would get even more inventive with his juxtapositions, creating a fun, subversive tone not dissimilar to The Immoral Mr. Teas tone through smart use of subjective editing. When Vixen is circling the female half of a couple that is staying at her husband’s mountain resort, we get a brief look at the wife in negligee:

Followed by a quick reaction shot of Erica Gavin, a tossed off over the shoulder look with a twinkle in her eye (Erica Gavin really was Meyer’s best actress):

Followed by the wife sans negligee:

The effect is all in the quick editing between the first setup, the reaction, and the second setup repeated with the exact same framing minus one key element, but it manages to be witty and please the director’s core audience at the same time. Meyer always found an interesting way into nudity, which placed him head and shoulders above any other X-rated director out there.

Meyer developed his style as a fight against the limited means he had to make his often self financed movies with. Editing was a way to get the most out of little, of making a point with the use of what he was getting into camera alone. Often directors, particularly in those days, abandoned these down and dirty independent styles when they hit the big times, buckling down to the Hollywood house style of well lit, wide, medium and close up shots. This was usually due to the bigger budgets, which went to an outside editor, cameraman etc, which diluted a director’s idea into blander committee decisions. But not Meyer, who requested what for the studios was a small budget in his first big Hollywood film, precisely so he could retain his control and style. Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970) is where Meyer showed he was a true artist, committed to his ideas through good times and bad, in the big film or the one shot with friends, because he believed they worked for what he was trying to say, regardless of budgetary pressures.

Beyond… is in fact a compendium of all of Meyer’s editing ideas. There is the montage of California shots with a sardonic voice over (a great improvement on the sequence from The Immoral Mr. Teas). There is the fast juxtapositions of short sequences, which Meyer uses for the crazed Hollywood industry conversations – Beyond the Valley of the Dolls has the fastest dialogue scenes you’ll ever see on any film. Meyer also plays with cross cutting of action, in a beginning and ending sequence were a crazed maniac threatens the film’s young heroes. He also even experiments with cross fading in montages where he shows the development of the main protagonists all at the same time. Meyer’s only misstep was in choosing Scope to shoot the film. The 2.35:1 wide frame does not suit his low angles and how he likes his to photograph his women. But overall, it’s obvious watching Beyond the Valley of the Dolls that Meyer was the right director for the material. Only Meyer could have shown the fast, crazed world of Hollywood with so much style, the film is as full of unconnected off-the-cuff ideas than its vacuous characters.

Editing was the saving element for Meyer’s first film and through it he learnt that he could get a lot out of very little. It was also the difference between the worlds of photography and static industrial films he was used to and the super accelerated films he wanted to make. It is a crucial element in what makes Meyer’s films recognizably his own, since often he didn’t have the budget to make choices on any of the others. By his later films Meyer had truly become a master editor, and a precursor of the fast editing styles that are now so tired because they are so easy to do (his fan Tarantino would push the other way, with long medium shots of long dialogue sequences). In Meyer’s time of manual editing, and particularly with the lack of resources the director had, it was a style that required ambition, precise cutting, and hard work above and beyond the call of duty. It is in his editing (and flawless photography) that Meyer showed he wasn’t just another smut film director but had dreams of being the ultimate exponent of lust in film.

MEYER MONTH – ‘Up!’ (1976) review

4 Mar

I asked the wonderful Dom O’Brien if he would be interested in reviewing one of Russ Meyer’s films for me as part of Meyer month this month and the gent came back with this great piece on Meyer’s 1976 release Up!. Another great film fan, Dom has his own blog which is well worth checking out! Thanks man!

Now dear reader I’ll graciously admit, barring Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970) and Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965), I was not totally au fait with Russ Meyer’s work other than the fact that several of his films starred the legendary (and late great) Charles Napier. When I was asked to write about his sex comedy Up! (1976) for this cult-tastic blog, I finally felt I had found a genuinely different and obscure Meyer film.

What is this deliciously bizarre sex comedy about? Well to be completely honest I haven’t a clue. Challenging one’s self with different viewing experiences are something I strive for, but after two viewings I still had no idea what took place before my eyes. From what I can understand, Up! is a series of strange events, murders and sex, which are all tied together (settle down those at the back) with a nude, singular Greek chorus summing up the events which have just unfolded.

I looked for the hidden underlying meaning, the reason behind its nuttiness, but alas it was not to be. The more I thought about it the more it hurt my head. This is a film that is to be experienced and sniggered at, preferably with a can in hand. They certainly don’t make them like this anymore. For a film such as this is completely and utterly bonkers. In-between the ludicrous (and deliberately comedic) sex scenes and the bouncing bosoms of Raven De La Croix, is a slim and slender sex romp that has to be seen. Even for a relatively new Meyer viewer, this had my jaw dropping in places, but in the best possible way. Actually that gives the impression that one would just stare at the cavalcade of boobies on-screen.

Within an instant, Meyer bombards the film with coarse humour and camp sex scenes a plenty. This starts with a satirical Hitler being flogged by a pagan man, all the while being 69’d by various ethnic ladies. In this feature Meyer leaves little to the imagination, we get everything from more shots of bushes (ooh err!) then at the Chelsea Flower Show, girl on girl cunnilingus, sexual encounters in the wilderness and the aforementioned nude Greek chorus.

All in all this is wrapped up into a madcap feature that truly boggles the mind. It won’t convert people to Meyer’s back catalogue but it’s certainly an interesting cult experience and certainly one for the sexploitation fans. To say the comedy on show in Up! is subtle would be a lie – it’s about as subtle as being slapped in the face with a double D breast. Now my experience with Meyer is that he has always been a kitsch filmmaker. He has always set his female characters in either strong roles or as the alpha female, ferocious and fearsome.

They could do everything men could back in the 60’s and 70’s but with added judo kicks and Karate chops. Nothing could stop them and nothing did. Although Meyer incorporated a lot of soft-core elements into his features (Up! is certainly no exception), all of his female characters were empowering sexual icons. When Up! was released back in 1976 it was clear Meyer was on a downward slope as his features opted (or rather relied) on gratuitous sex scenes to hook the punters, with his satirical edge lacking the bite that he was known for in his heyday.

In retrospect it would seem that Up! is what many fans would call one of the last great Meyer films. It carried satirical elements he was known for (poking fun at German military), theatrical moments (the use of a Greek chorus between each sequence to tell the story) and sexual politics. This could also be classified as one of Meyer’s most experimental features before his decline. It is undoubtedly a marmite film; some will embrace its sexy eccentric nature, while others will see it as a strange porno. Admittedly it is an odd film but that only justifies the reason for its being, as it’s uniqueness is what makes it stick in the minds of all cult enthusiasts. 

I dare anyone not to be completely entranced by William Loose (how apt a name for a composer in a Meyer film!) and Paul Rhuland’s score which is right up there with some of the stranger efforts from the 1970’s (Alejandro Jodorowsky’s El Topo (1970)score or the little seen Head aka Premonition (1972) to name just a few). It just holds that enduring feeling of psychedelic whimsy that cult film was so good at doing during the 1970s.

If new cult film experiences are about indulging in the different, weird, wonderful and just plain odd (or even anything different from the generic norm) then Up! is most certainly a film that meets (nay, excels) in all this criteria. It’s a mess, but an eccentrically groovy, sexually comical and breast bouncing mess that has just about the right amount of charm.

MEYER MONTH – Meyer and me.

1 Mar

Over the years, one thing has never changed. The reaction I get from people when I tell them that my favourite director is Russ Meyer. It’s a strange mix of disbelief, hilarity, disgust, shock, surprise and complete bewilderment. The impression that I get from these people is that they don’t believe me, as if I’m saying something just to get a response out of them. What usually follows is a barrage of questions; ‘Are you serious?’, ‘Really? Russ Meyer, what’s so great about him?’, ‘How can a girl like you like his movies?’. The thing is, no-one has had more of an influence or effect on my life than the man himself.

I still remember vividly my first Meyer experience. I was ten and watching Channel 5 not long after it had launched in the UK. The station, which now plays nothing but CSI repeats, used to have awful soap operas on during the day and softcore pictures playing during the night. No doubt the plethora of tits and ass that I watched during this time contributed to the love and interest I have in human sexuality and sex in cinema now, but it was the first picture of this kind that I ever saw that stuck with me for years. That film was Meyer’s 1968 release Vixen!.

I can remember everything about that night. Sitting in my room now, as it is in 2012, I can picture exactly how it was back then in 1998 and can see my ten-year old self sitting in the dark, my wide eyes illuminated by the television screen. Firstly, I was mesmerised by the gorgeous Erica Gavin in the lead role, her long dark hair and cat-like make-up a look I’ve wanted to achieve ever since. Secondly, I was hooked by what she was doing. I’d not long before had sex education at school but it was nothing like this! What seemed monotonous, gross and distinctly biological (in terms of the emphasis on ‘having babies’) looked magical and enjoyable. Plus she was making it with a woman! That was something they didn’t tell us about at school! I’ll never forget that mix of surprise, excitement and awe that came with the knowing that I was watching something I shouldn’t have been.

Amongst all the films I watched, and trust me there were a lot, the images from Vixen! were the only ones that ever stayed with me. I never forgot about that beautiful woman in the yellow bikini who would come and haunt my dreams over the following seven years, my first ever girl crush. During my teens, I went through a phase where I was totally into feminism and women’s rights and I hated men (for no absolute real reason either, thank God that changed…). I’d read book after book after book on female politics and commentaries on society, with one thing always sticking out for me; the conflict between groups of women who would argue over female sexuality. I read articles that blasted women for enjoying sex, having lots of it and letting themselves be used by men as male tools of consumption. Then I’d go and read another on how women should be allowed to express and explore their sexuality to whatever degree it suited them. As a teenager, I found it all a bit confusing. I didn’t want to be used and I didn’t want a slutty reputation, but at the same time all the experiences I was having were pretty damn rubbish. I continuously kept thinking about how much fun Vixen looked like she was having. How could that be wrong? I couldn’t understand why something inherent in all species and a key part of human character was considered so negatively when it came to women. Needless to say, all this reading and thinking ended up leaving me with a huge interest in human sexuality, which rivals only my love for film…

Which is where Russ Meyer and my moment of enlightenment finally come in. When I hit seventeen, I spent one whole summer doing nothing but watch movies. I rented films every day, bought dozens of TV guides and went through a tonne of Biro pens circling films to record. It was then that I stumbled across what I thought was one of the best film titles I’d ever heard, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. There was no way I was missing that. Except that I did, sort of, in that I missed the first half of the film, tuning in at the exact moment where lesbian lovers Casey (the fabulous Cynthia Myers) and Roxanne finally get it on. I watched the second half all the way to the end, my heart thumping and a big smile across my face. For me, this was a film. There was sex, violence, beautiful women, gender bending men, fantastic music, drugs, morality tales, horror and true love all wrapped up in this terrific satire on the 1960s as a decade. As soon as it finished I got straight on Amazon and bought the Criterion steelcase edition knowing that this was going to be one of my favourite films until the day I die, and that the woman who played Roxanne looked more than a little familiar…

Once the DVD turned up, my love affair with Meyer began. Where the hell did a film like Beyond the Valley of the Dolls come from and who would direct such a picture? I did my research, a lot of it, and started buying Amazon out of Arrow‘s brilliant DVD releases of Meyer’s films. I bought Good Morning and… Goodbye! and Common Law Cabin falling in love with lead actress Alaina Capri, marvelled at Meyer’s gothic soap operas of Mudhoney and Motorpsycho, came across the cult classic Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! which I’d read about in countless film books and bought a little film called Vixen!. I can’t begin to describe the surprise and amazement I felt when I realised that this was the film I’d watched all those years ago.

So where am I now? Six years after first proclaiming that Meyer is my favourite director and thirteen years after he first entered my life, at twenty-three I’m still being met with surprise and bewilderment! Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe that he made some of the best films ever, that he is one of the greatest directors or should have been lauded with Academy awards, but no other director has connected with me in the way in which he has. My interest in gender and sexuality sparked from those first images of his I saw as a kid. My love for sexploitation films, sex flicks and how sex and society has interacted and influenced each other both on and off screen is all his fault. I went to University with the purpose of writing about his work in assignments, and I made sure I did. If I ever went back, it would be on the condition that I could study and continue to write about his work in modules. This blog? Inspired by the man.

I know that for some people, Meyer is just a director who shot and sold sleaze. For me, he’s one of the most successful independent filmmakers in cinema history, he was a smart and incredibly savvy businessman, he showed intelligence and humour where he denied he did, he was incredibly talented at photographing women in all their unique beauty, he’s incredibly influential and responsible in terms of bringing in the amount of sex and nudity we see on today’s screens and he understood women. Where women scorn at his depiction and treatment of the female sex on-screen, I rejoice. As a curvaceous girl myself, I’m glad to have found someone who was so committed to putting big, buxom women on-screen. As a person, I’m thankful and love the fact that he was one of the first directors to openly show and explore a positive female sexuality, showing that women weren’t always passive, that female sexuality wasn’t always ‘vanilla’ and that we can rival a man’s sexual appetite.

I could go on but we’d be here all day. All I know is I’m set for life. Big bosoms and square jaws? I wouldn’t have it any other way.