beyond the tits of the Meyer vixens

In my high school and college days, several books had a marked influence on the films I watched and the way in which I watched them. These books introduced me to directors and movies that I hadn’t heard of before, causing me to seek out all sorts of obscure films—and this was in the late 1980s when such movies were very difficult to find on video.
The four books:

  • Harlan Ellison’s Watching, by Harlan Ellison
  • Joe Bob Goes to the Drive-In, by Joe Bob Briggs (John Bloom)
  • Joe Bob Goes Back to the Drive-In, by Joe Bob Briggs (John Bloom)
  • Shock Value, by John Waters

I first read the Harlan Ellison essays as they appeared in Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine (after a certain point it was the only reason I subscribed), and then found the book of collected essays later. I particularly remember the essays introducing me to the films of Ken Russell. I think Harlan Ellison had more influence on my writing style than on my movie selections, though.
My college friends Lara and Columbine were responsible for my reading the other three books. I met Lara during a screening of Mishima at LSU that turned out not to be subtitled, and we got all movie-rific together for a few years after that. She loaned me the Joe Bob books and possibly the John Waters book. (I know Columbine had/has Shock Value but I can’t remember who loaned it to me first.)
Joe Bob Briggs and his drive-in movie reviews got us interested in low-budget horror films and introduced us to Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2, which we loved. We also rented Basket Case because of him, a movie that I have a certain weird nostalgia about although I don’t remember it very well.
Shock Value was about John Waters and the movies. (I haven’t read the book since college—it’s out of print and I assumed it would be tough to get a copy, until earlier today when people pointed me at a half-dozen Web sites where I could buy one easily. I am a dope.) He wrote about how he started making movies, and about his earlier movies (the book was published in 1981).
But in addition to the autobiographical stuff, John Waters wrote about several directors whose movies he had always enjoyed. He interviewed the directors for his book. I remember particularly his interviewing Herschell Gordon Lewis, who directed Blood Feast and 2,000 Maniacs, and Russ Meyer, who directed a number of soft-core porn films in the 1960s and 1970s featuring women with impossibly huge bust sizes.
Lara was particularly taken with these two directors and wanted to see some of their movies, specifically Blood Feast and Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! She was fond of a band called The Cramps, who had a song that began with a sound clip from the opening of Faster, Pussycat: “that unmistakable smell of female.”
Lara and I went to London in the summer of 1989 under a student work program. We saw a whole lot of movies that summer, mostly older/cult movies that weren’t available on video in the US. We spent a lot of time at the Scala, a charmingly ratty theater (which is apparently gone now, sadly), watching double-features and even triple-features. Helpful hint: After watching three movies in a row in an un-air-conditioned theater, your butt itches like crazy.
We didn’t see anything like Blood Feast because the UK was rather restrictive about violent and explicitly gory films. I think the only horror movie we saw was Ms. 45, Angel of Vengeance, a nifty little Abel Ferrera film.
We did see a lot of movies about sex, though. We saw Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! one weekend, and a few weeks later we caught a triple feature of Russ Meyer’s Vixen trilogy: Vixen, Supervixens, and Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens. These movies were impossible to rent on video in the US, nor could we get copies to show at the LSU Union Theater. We were extremely fortunate.
(We also saw Querelle, Victor/Victoria, Lianna, Loot, Prick Up Your Ears, Some Like It Hot, Law of Desire, Wings of Desire, Down by Law, and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, but that’s a story for another time.)
The following year, Lara and I did help get LSU to show Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, the film Russ Meyer made in Hollywood for a mainstream audience. It was good campy fun but not the same as his soft-core movies.
What I remember most vividly about the Russ Meyer movies is not, surprisingly, the tits, but the attitude of the female characters. The women in Faster, Pussycat were amazingly strong female characters for their time.
More importantly, the Vixen movies may be the first movies I saw in which the women in them genuinely enjoyed sex. Of course, I had seen movies with morning-after smiles and stretches and the implication of a good time in bed (as in Gone with the Wind or Hannah and Her Sisters, two movies I loved in high school), and I had seen women in the throes of passionate sex (Last Tango in Paris) … but I had never seen women so delightfully happy to be fucking. I don’t remember tits; I remember smiles, and giggles, and silly sex noises.
That’s why I liked the Vixen movies—I didn’t realize that soft-core porn could be funny, and I didn’t seen any of that “demeaning and humiliating to women” crap that everyone told me was inherently present in any kind of porn.
I have Russ Meyer to thank for bringing us movies like that, and I have John Waters to thank for letting us know about Russ Meyer in the first place. (And I should thank Lara too, but I have no idea where she is now. Hi, Lara. If you’re reading this, drop me a line. And Columbine, but he knows that already.)
I saw Russ Meyer in person once, about five years ago. He was at Alamo Drafthouse downtown showing Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, which is not a favorite movie of mine, but I thought I should not pass up the opportunity. It wasn’t a great moviegoing experience—too many people were talking and laughing throughout the movie, and I don’t think the Alamo servers were as unobtrusive as they are these days. I liked hearing Russ Meyer speak about the film, and about some of his other films, but he was not always coherent (I heard later that he’d fallen off the wagon earlier that afternoon). Still, I was pleased to get to see him and hear him in person. He signed a Faster, Pussycat t-shirt for me that I still have.
Russ Meyer died on Saturday. I highly recommend reading Roger Ebert’s obituary—Ebert worked with Meyer on Ultra-Vixens and on Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Daze Reader also has a Russ Meyer page that includes links to interviews and other Web resources.
Somehow it seems even sadder and more frustrating to me that I procrastinated and didn’t get tickets to see John Waters in Austin tomorrow night, previewing his film A Dirty Shame, which stars an actress with tits right out of a Russ Meyer movie. John Waters is doing a signing of the soundtrack CD at Waterloo Records on Thursday night (5 pm if you’re in Austin and interested) but I don’t have anything for him to sign and he’s not doing anything there besides signing stuff, as far as I can tell.
It’s too bad I don’t have a copy of Shock Value for him to sign. It would be nice to tell him that it helped make me the freakish film geek I am today.
I’ve got a treat that almost makes up for it, though. I found out about Russ Meyer’s death right before I had to drive downtown to get a haircut. I realized I was right around the corner from Vulcan Video, one of the only video stores in town that stocks Russ Meyer movies. Wednesdays are two-for-one rental days, and I was able to rent all three Vixen movies (plus The Philadelphia Story, which has nothing to do with any of this but is a damn fine film). I am hoping the movies are just as entertaining as they were when I saw them 15 years ago. I will let you know.
And I’m going to buy a copy of Shock Value off the Web tonight, too, just for nostalgia value.

3 thoughts on “beyond the tits of the Meyer vixens”

  1. Of course, and I might do just that — but the point was that the CD isn’t something I feel I need to have, or that has any particular personal value to me. (Although … I just looked at the soundtrack … it’s a hoot. It’s starting to sound worthwhile to go to the signing.

  2. Did the Scala not have seats, but sort of risers without chairs? Because if so, I saw that VERY SAME TRIPLE BILL!!! Not at the same showing as you, I know for a fact, because I was the only girl there and got some very appraising glances from the guys there to see the tits.
    My favourite Russ Myer line ever was in Supervixens: “My name is Supervixen, but my friends call me Vix!”

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