Beneath the Valley of the Ultra Vixens (1979) is the last authentic Russ Meyer film (he returned only to produce 2001‘s rarely-seen Pandora Peaks, which is, as to be expected, an idiosyncratic interpretation of the documentary genre). Co-written by Roger Ebert (under his “R. Hyde” pseudonym), Meyer’s swan song is film as one additional cup size enhancement. It has charmed moments of Meyerisms, including his trademark spry editing, but adds erratic eroticism. Meyer once claimed it was the favorite of his own works (although he said the same of Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls). This may be an echo of Paul Gauguin’s claim that the artistic process was more satisfying than the finished work. Coloring Meyer’s sense of nostalgia for the film was his admission that he constantly engaged in sex with star Kitten Natividad between takes. According to Meyer, the actress introduced him to multifarious taboos and was even more oversexed than he was.
As in Up! (1976), the plot is emaciated Surrealism. The relationship (so to speak) between Surrealism and pornography has been complex since the movement’s inception (works by Georges Bataille, Susan Sontag, and Theodor Adorno are among essential writings on the subject). Meyer’s brand of Surrealism is strictly visceral, which renders him closer to authentic Surrealism than to soft-core porn. For the Surrealists, porn’s lack of social acceptability amounted to an endorsement. However, its totalitarian simple-mindedness prevented a complete embrace, or mimicry. Rather, elements of pornography proved influential to the aesthetics and tenets of Surrealism.
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Russ Meyer followed up on the relative success of 1975’s Supervixens with Up! From a script based on Roger Ebert’s original story, Meyer produced his most surreal live-action, X-rated cartoon. There is no tangible plot, but rather loosely connected vignettes.
Up! opens with a sadomasochistic scene of Adolf Schwartz (Edward Schaaf) being tortured, and pleasured, by three female prostitutes, each belonging to a different ethnic group: the Ethiopian Chief (Elaine Collins), the Oriental Limehouse (Su Ling) and Pocahontas (Foxy Lae). Of course, the Native American requires a Captain Smith, who she get in puritan pilgrim Paul (Robert McLane, with a foot-long prosthetic penis). Candy Samples also appears, under a mask, to breast slap Adolf, who is actually the aged Adolf Hitler, having apparently faked his 1944 suicide. He’s living in a Bavarian castle (his mailbox has a red flag) until a mysterious black-gloved assassin drops a piranha in the Fuhrer’s bathtub to the strains of the Horst-Wessel-Lied. Although obviously justified, Adolf’s death is actually a disappointment: within the dank dungeon, Schaff is the most animated sex participant, expressively enjoying his carnality. The remaining cast members all engage with the outdoor, sunny California countryside, but under a spell of kinetic blankness, like sex machines gone wild. That is intentional. It is essential to be aware of this film’s time period. The country was still under the spell and success of the hardcore XXX filmDeep Throat (1972). It influenced the entire sexploitation industry and Up! is a venomous, satirical rejection of the hardcore phenomenon. Paradoxically, Up! is also an attempt to appease changing tastes.
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Purportedly, Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls (1970) was the film Russ Meyer felt was his most successful work. It was certainly his most profitable movie, and has the most extensive cult following.
Its origin is well known. Upon learning that Meyer’s Vixen (1968) brought in six million dollars on a budget of seventy-five thousand, Fox Studios signed the director to a three-picture deal, with each budgeted at one million. The studio desperately needed a profitable venture, after the expensive flops Doctor Doolittle (1967) and Hello Dolly(1969). Meyer was assigned scriptwriter Roger Ebert to make a spoof of the studio’s Valley Of The Dolls (1967). After Mark Robson’s adaptation of Jacqueline Susann’s trash novel had proven to be a surprise hit, Fox was taking no chances, counting on the Dolls name to bring in audiences.
Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls is only loosely related to its original source, and it was hated by both studio and Susann (who unsuccessfully sued to stop its release, fearing it would harm even her reputation). Fox insisted that Meyer insert a disclaimer, informing viewers that BTVOTD was not related to the Susann original. In hindsight, the studio’s misgivings are puzzling, since the movie is exactly what they ordered: a big budget Russ Meyer flick that became an instant cult phenomenon. While best viewed as a time capsule, BTVOTD is better than the pedestrian film it parodies. Valley Of The Dolls was directed on cruise control. Comparatively, BTVOTD has the vigor of a tawdry cartoon, supplied by its twenty-seven-year-old scriptwriter and a middle-aged perverted artisan.
Kelly Mac Namara (Dolly Read), Casey Anderson (Cynthia Myers), and Petronella Danforth (Marcia McBroom) are “The Kelly Affair,” a trio of buxom rockers who, in their “Josie and the Pussycats” van, travel from sleepy Texas to the wild and wooly Los Angeles in hopes of success. At a party, thrown by a bell-bottomed Caligula, the hexagon of singing mammary glands are discovered by the androgynous Z -Man (John Lazar, channeling Phil Spector), who redubs them “The Carrie Nations.” With their rapid success comes drug addiction, avarice, harlotry, lesbianism, abortion, alcoholism, transsexualism, porn stars, and Nazi orgies.
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Russ Meyer had seemingly put low budget independent film permanently behind him when he made Beyond the Valley of the Dolls(1970, co-written with (Roger Ebert) and The Seven Minutes (1971) for super-studio 20th Century Fox. The first film made an unprecedented nine million dollars, but the latter was a commercial and critical failure. The axiom “you are only as big as your last film” held true, and Meyer was back on an independent path with the Caribbean-filmed period drama Black Snake (1973). Unfortunately, that was also a commercial failure. Some advocated it as an attempted change-of-pace for Meyer, but many felt the director had lost his footing.
Supervixens (1975) marked a return to Meyer’s zanier sexploitation style. It also finds him trying to catch up with his earlier self and with the indie school he influenced, which had already surpassed Meyer in its sex and violence quotas. Fortunately, he succeeded, and Supervixens‘ unexpected financial success (especially for an independent film) paved a path for the larger budgets of Up!(1976) and Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens(1979; his second and final collaboration with Ebert as co-writer).
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Russ Meyer’s Cherry, Harry, And Raquel (1970) is a film that achieves a sense of hyper-surrealism through kinetic editing alone. Actually, it may be one of the most bizarrely edited films in the whole of cinema. It opens with scrolling text: a strange preamble about the First Amendment and how constipated religious right wackos are a threat to Freedom of Speech, juxtaposed against images of nudie cuties bouncing up and down on a bed. Naturally, the imagery is intentionally provocative, and there is no doubt that some 1970 evangelical heads exploded when this played the drive-in circuit. Of course, it doesn’t take much to bring out the Pat Robertsons or Donald Trumps, be it boobs or red coffee cups, but Meyer was not about to risk being inoffensive. He not only filled the screen with bouncing udders, but also threw in a “pickle shot” courtesy of actor Charles Napier (in his first Meyer film; from here until 1975 the two collaborated in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, The Seven Minutes, and Supervixens). Although Napier’s full frontal nudity in Cherry, Harry, and Raquel was brief, it was enough to to earn the movie an “X” certification.
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Russ Meyer’s Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill! (1965) comes by its cult reputation honestly. John Waters once proclaimed it “the greatest movie ever made.” Like most of Meyer’s films, it was initially dismissed as cheap sexpolitation, but there is always more to Meyer than surface, fetish, or cleavage. It stars the statuesque half-Japanese/half-Apache Tura Satana as a black leather clad dominatrix Varla, who left such an impression that a hard rock band took its name from the movie.
In addition to buxom wrasslin’ babes, go-go-dancers, and desert hot rod racing, FPKK is imbued with Meyer’s trademark, frenetic precision editing, sharp and superior black and white photography by Walter Schenk, an aptly kitsch score from the psychotronic lounge by Paul Sawtell and Bert Shefter that echoes the dusty terrain, and good sound: all of which are rarities for shoestring-budgeted indies. Meyer self-distributed his pictures, so his body of work has been well preserved.
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