Goodbye Russ Meyer

The Thinker by Rodin

I am eighteen years old and finally old enough to legally see an R rated movie. I am living on campus. My roommate (who like me isn’t having much luck seducing women at that moment) and I decide to substitute the celluloid kind of woman for the campus coed. That was my situation circa 1975. So off I went with my roommate Rick down to a dollar theater outside Orlando to catch the latest Russ Meyer’s skin flick Supervixens.

I didn’t know what to expect. I had only seen one other R-rated movie before, and I snuck into that one. (It was Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, starring Jeff Bridges and Clint Eastwood and featured one long shot of a naked woman – pretty racy stuff for 1974.) I hadn’t seen an officially naughty film before. But this one, which featured women with large breasts, maximum cleavage and an air of impishness seemed a cheap way to get a few quick thrills.

And though I don’t remember too much about the movie I do remember it was lowbrow yet still a whole lot of fun. It is every horny 18-year-old male’s ultimate fantasy to be sought after by an endless number of cute women with no inhibitions. Director Russ Meyer delivered it in this campy little film full of such fantasies that was surprisingly funny. I expected to be more aroused than amused. It turned out to be more amusing than arousing. But it was still arousing enough to have me leaving the theater with a little buzz.

Russ Meyer — who passed away last Saturday at the age of 82 — gave the world Supervixens as well as 25 other largely unmemorable films. I gather they mostly had the same theme: beautiful women with few inhibitions who liked to undress for the camera and pretended to be insatiable. His women were women who needed big, strong virile men with lots of stamina. They invariably featured big breasts that Meyer considered great natural wonders sent to us by God for our viewing enjoyment. He took pleasure in making sure we could see them clearly in their best-buffed forms on large theater screens. It didn’t make him rich but he must have done okay. Sex sold. He knew his market because he knew what turned him on and he figured that must be true of most guys. And Russ liked big-breasted women with large curves. He had no pretensions of greatness nor deluded himself that he was producing art. He just knew how to make sexy, mildly provocative films for young male adults with high hormones levels (that is to say all of us guys of a certain young age.) But he didn’t mind adding humor and camp. Something had to be shown between the numerous scenes of large breasted women undressing themselves and throwing their naked bodies so shamelessly on us men. He could make me laugh although his humor was often as embarrassingly juvenile as the antics of his fantasy women.

Russ was arguably the pioneer of the skin flick trade. He spawned many imitators but none could quite capture his style. His films were what they were. They had no pretensions of quality. His actors were largely no-names and were perhaps more accurately described as models. His films were cheap and showed in run down theaters or in red light districts when they were more amber than red. His women were not Playboy centerfolds made into movies. His movies did not have Hugh Hefner’s pretension with class. But neither were they tawdry nor were they really even obscene. They were more farcical than anything else and consequently they weren’t really objectionable.

Now his films seem incredibly tame. Today most of them would probably rate a PG-13. It would be a misnomer to call them adult films because there was not much adult about it. They frankly were juvenile films. They tweaked our male prurient interests, made us feel a tad naughty but frankly were wholly harmless. They fizzed like soda pop but went flat and largely forgotten five minutes after we left the theater.

His was a genre of film that seems today to have nearly disappeared. There is no lack of the hardcore stuff available today but virtually none of it goes on a screen anymore. You have to look really hard to find a true campy sex film these days. Those few that come out seem manufactured to appeal equally to women as to men. Russ Meyer’s films were for young, hormone-laden men like me. In the 1970s men had to work a lot harder to get into a woman’s pants. So in frustration we sometimes found ourselves in theaters laughing at Russ’s somewhat lurid and silly films. Today women are often much more sexually accommodating. As a consequence we don’t seem to need films like his anymore.

In a way it’s a shame. His work is but a small footnote in cinematic history. It should be footnoted but not forgotten. In his way Russ was a pioneer. And he made me a content customer until my hormone levels receded. Some part of me has to admire a man so completely in touch with his true nature and so willing to show it to the world. While I didn’t quite understand his fascination with large breasts I still must say, “Russ, thanks for the mammeries.”

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