you gotta love him. When you're talking about true outsider
artists or demented "auteurs" in American film
culture, he's near the top. No question about it. This
is because he not only directed movies his own way, he
also cast, produced, shot, edited and distributed them
(and to this day his family still owns all the film rights)!
Maybe the only person in film history you can compare
him toin terms of complete ownership and control
and productive individualismis John Cassavetes.
of course, was a sexploitation filmmaker. That was his
mediumand how he chose to express his creativity.
So his films are always deeply rooted in sexualitysome
might say twisted sexuality (as if there might be any
other kind) -- the battle between the sexes, issues of
masculinityor the lack of it (as in Lorna,
Common Law Cabin, even Beyond the Valley of
the Dolls). Often dissatisfied, uncontrollable, if
not overbearing, women were at the center of some disruption.
The male terror of being ineffectual, upended, cuckolded,
and shamed often loomed large. In Russ Meyer films, amply
endowed (and often over-sexualized) actresses were cast
as the stars. The menregardless of how large they
were, or how hard they tried assert their manhoodalways
seemed to be diminished, to be rendered helpless in the
presence of these haughty, intimidating females.
success, The Immoral Mr. Teas (1959), launched
a subculturea sexploitation subgenre"nudie-cuties."
And soon other filmmakers and producers would join in,
contributing their own variations (while also cashing
in), including Hershel Gordon Lewis, David F. Friedman,
and Doris Wishman. Sexploitation cinema would find its
strongest auteur in Russ Meyer, whose films were always
gorgeously shot and energetically (some might say kinetically)
edited. As artifacts of cinematography his films could
be appreciated as museum-worthy artand his films
have had retrospectives at institutions like M.O.M.A.
in New York City.
of his films were self-produced and self-financed. This
is important in understanding the creative bubble that
Russ Meyer lived in and the eccentricity of his work.
He was an outsider and operated far from mainstream Hollywood
and the European art film leanings of NYC. After the success
of The Immoral Mr. Teas (which was shot for 24K
and would gross over 150K), he was able to bankroll his
own projects with little outside interference.
Now was this
a blessing or a curse, artistically? Some might suggest
that living in a state where no one challenges creative
decisions is not always the optimal situation. Great artistry,
it might be argued, often emerges through give and take,
through conflict and creative friction sometimes
even from negotiating compromise. A strong independent
producerjust like a committed book editorcan
help in contributing a fresh, outside perspective in shaping
and defining a projectallowing for a work of narrative
art to be the truest manifestation of itself. The fantasy
of a lone, inspired genius taking dictation from God,
producing fully mature and polished first draftsis
mostly that: a fantasy.
narratives are not always the most linear and coherent.
Even he was honest enough to admit to that. Writing and
structure were not his strong suit. And he often employed
a number of screenwriters to contribute to his films while
he busied himself with the look of the movie. The most
famous of these writers, of course, was tabloid film critic,
using a pseudonym, so as not be associated with films
that were rated X) and Meyer would actually work on four
of his most over-the-top projectseach more progressively
dementedBeyond The Valley of The Dolls (1970),
Up! (1976), Who Killed Bambi? (1977; never
completed), and Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens
In his life,
Russ Meyer had the opportunity to produce two studio films
(both for 20th Century Fox), which included Beyond
The Valley of The Dolls and the rarely seen The
Seven Minutes (1971). After that he was no longer
welcome by studio heads who openly disparaged their association
with Meyer, this pornographer-cum-pervert (while, of course,
perfectly happy to collect any cash he made for the studio.)
Meyer a pervert? He would admit to such in an interview
with John Waters, saying it was "easier" just
to answer yes to that question. Was Russ Meyer a pornographer?
Not by post-'70s sex film standards: he never made a true
The era of
commercially viable "sexploitation" came to
a close after the first real XXX feature appeared in 1971
with Howard Ziehm's Mona. The final nail in the
coffin for '60s-style sexploitation was the surreal success
of Deep Throat, which signaled in the "porn
chic" era. And while many sexploitation filmmakersincluding
Radley Metzger, Doris Wishman, Roberta Findlayslid
into hardcore, Russ Meyer resisted, even though he could've
made huge money. In some waysmuch like other sexploitation
figures of his day, most notable fetish artist Eric
Stantonhe was a product of a different
time, emerging from the era of burlesque, where larger-than-life
voluptuous women and the "tease"as well
as the unspoken "promise" of sexual pleasures
to comeplayed a big part.
PERMANENT OBSCURITY: Or a Cautionary Tale Of Two Girls and Their Misadventures
with Drugs, Pornography, and Death : a novel by Richard Perez
: is a kind of Thelma and Louise, sexploitation/tabloid inspired
story set in the East Village, NYC, a story of two down-and-out gals, both
would-be artists, who set out to make a femdom movie with disastrous results.