The Fellini of Boobies

Russ Meyer, 1922-2004

Truly one of the strangest talents providence has seen fit to grace us with thus far, Russ Meyer's films are famed chiefly for the mammoth-breasted, ball-busting Amazons who strut their way through reel after reel of imaginatively wrought carnage. But while Meyer's films were zestfully trashy, they weren't just trash. He had an eye for off-kilter compositions, a deft touch with editing, an ear for irresistibly pulpy dialogue ("Oh, you're cute . . . like a velvet glove cast in iron") and a keen nose for sniffing out conservative, hypocritical bullshit.

Meyer made his feature debut with 1959's The Immoral Mr. Teas ("A Frenchy Comedy for Unashamed Adults!"), and while there had certainly been "nudie" pictures before, Meyer's kooky, kinky sense of humor made the film an unprecedented hit. That success led to a string of self-financed films that became increasingly idiosyncratic and satirical, culminating in the mid-sixties in what his fans call his "Gothic period": Lorna, Mudhoney, Motor Psychoand Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! were just as crazy and fun as the titles make 'em sound, if not more so.

Meyer's breakthrough hit, 1968's Vixen, was also the beginning of his somewhat unfortunate dalliance with the mainstream. 1970's Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (film critic Roger Ebert wrote the script on a bet) has its admirers, but Meyer was an uneasy fit in Hollywood and after The Seven Minutes, his rather baffling 1971 courtroom drama, he went back to the wild movies that made his name. We can only imagine what would have come of his abortive attempt at a film vehicle for the Sex Pistols, who disliked Meyer so much that Johnny Rotten finally told him, "I have no interest in being part of your big-tit phobia." Predictably enough, Rotten's line was funny and exceedingly quotable while still being utterly wrong; Meyer's obsession with the bosom went beyond phobia and beyond fetish and into a kind of worship. No other filmmaker exalted the female form with anything approaching Meyer's drooling awe. By the '80s Meyer was all but retired, but he lived to see his work embraced by generations of fanboys and feminists alike. He died last week at 82. Surely he's gone to a better place, where unashamed adults frolic for all eternity and the brassiere cups runneth over.

 
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