how does a sex film become a celebrated piece of American pop culture,
as opposed to being relegated to the instantly forgettable (and ever-condemned)
ranks of porndom? What makes a sex film "good" as opposed to
first of all, youve got to have Russ Meyer direct it," the
76-year-old Meyer explains. "And, of course, the leading lady is
most important. She has to be pneumatic, outrageously abundant, and thats
about it. Im not looking for Sara Bernhardtjust for a good,
smart girl. And it works just fine."
this preoccupation with bounteous breasts infuriates Meyers feminist
critics. By aggrandizing huge boobs for 40 years, they charge, he has
helped further unrealistic images of the female form while profiting handsomely.
And indeed, if thats all Meyer revered in women, hed be guilty
of some heinous objectifying.
women arent simply love machines in his films. Theyre usually
aggressive, independent, commanding leadsand very sexually demanding
for their own needs. Those types of characterizations are rare in movies
even today, let alone in the 60s. In fact, some feminists are now
reconsidering Meyers filmsB. Ruby Rich, in the Village Voice,
reevaluated Pussycat, finding positive images in its strong-willed women.
of the reasons why Faster, Pussycat has succeeded is that women have discovered
the film," insists Meyer, "and they are the ones that are generating
interest in rentals and purchases. Its affected the other pictures
the same way. Im starting to release the other filmsIll
have Supervixens, Cherry, Harry & Raquel, and Vixen
to begin with, and then Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens.
So Im gonna go out again with them, because people can handle it."
people havent always been able to handle it, particularly when Meyer
attempted to unleash his first nudie, Mr. Teas, in 59. Previously,
sex movies were just thatback-room bits of crude pornography not
meant to entertain, exactly. Meyer introduced the concept of making a
funny movie with general appeal that just happened to have lots of nudity.
In this case, Mr. Teas goes to the dentist and, as a side effect of the
anesthetic, is able to see every girl in the raw. Not exactly "hardcore"
material, but enough to get it banned on its initial release.
film was busted on its first day in San Diego largely because we hadnt
paid a bribe, a patch as its called, to the local police,"
Meyer recalls. "It was exactly thatthe San Diego police. So
we were out of business for about a year. Couldnt play it. Everybody
was afraid. It just goes like a prairie fire through the distribution
my partner Pete DeCenzie was able to encounter a man who was on the censor
board in Seattle, Washington. And he was able to talk him into conducting
a screening of a 16mm print of The Immoral Mr. Teas in a hotel
suite. After a lot of Italian take-out food and a lot of red wine, the
censor boardfor the first time in its existenceconvened under
those circumstances with that kind of
shall we say some sort of
encouragement? I dont want to create the impression there was any
money passed, or anything of that nature. They liked the film, they laughed
like a license to steal once you get through the censor board. In fact,
it had a 58-week play at a very fine art house."
there, Meyer became a hugely successful independent film maker, churning
out his odd tales of lusty women and brawny men, including camp classics
like Supervixens, Russ Meyers Up! and Beneath the
Valley of the Ultravixens. While its hard to believe any of
them could have been conceived as truly erotictheyre far too
silly for thatthey were nonetheless fun "cartoons," as
Meyer calls them. Now theyre considered classics of "psychotronic"
movies arent art by any means. In fact, most were made simply to
cash in on whatever trend was current at the timebikers, zombies,
sometimes all of the above. Produced in the
50s-70s, most could be considered campy hodgepodges of clunky
dialogue, ridiculous acting and pathetic special effects. But despite
all that, somehow, the twisted vision of an oddball film maker still comes
through, as in the work of Ed Wood, Jr. or Ray Dennis Steckler (The
Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies).
By any measure, Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! is one of the ultimate
and gentlemen, welcome to violencethe word and the act." The
smooth, steady voice-over at Pussycats start could be from
an industrial filmno doubt because Meyer once made them. "Violence
devours all it touches, its voracious appetite rarely fulfilled. Yet violence
doesnt only destroy. It creates and molds as well. Lets examine
closely, then, this dangerously evil creation
a barren desert landscapeshot in luminous black and whitewe
race with three viciously beautiful women gunning their sports cars through
the dust. We learn that their leader is the deadly Varla (Ikido expert
and burlesque dancer Tura Satana), attired in skin-tight black pants and
blouse, not to mention black leather boots and gloves. After winning a
chicken race against a hapless preppy boy in an MGB, Varla is forced to
break his back after he demands she return his stopwatch. Kidnapping his
screeching, mousy girlfriend, the deadly trio stop at a run-down farmhouse
to find a crippled old man and his two sons
who might have a stash
of money. Varla immediately decides to stay, and plots to relieve them
of their cash.
supervixens of Pussycat are merciless and unapologetic. Whatever
they want, they take. Brazenly libidinous and greedy to the core, they
pretty much have their way, toying with whatever men should cross their
paths. You can rest assured that theres never been a character like
Tura Satanas Varla before or since. You know shes pure evil,
but you cant help but root for her because shes just so damn
the lack of an actual plot, everything comes together into an other-worldly
whole in Pussycat. Perhaps unintentionally, Meyer creates his own
strange realities within his films, where people talk and act like nowhere
else. In contrast, his cinematography is smooth and orderly, again like
an industrial film, with perfect lighting and composition. Truly, Meyers
films are his own. And they work.
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