Thursday, January 17, 2008
Big Bosoms and Square Jaws
I discovered the films of Russ Meyer during my college days in the mid-'80s, when I studied quality lit by day and immersed myself in low culture by night. Musically, I went for '60s garage; I was reading a steady diet of '40s and '50s paperbacks, especially the work of Jim Thompson; and in terms of cinema, I loved '60s sexploitation, especially Russ Meyer movies.
Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! was, and still is, my favorite. Although it contains no nudity, it is the ultimate RM flick, with over-endowed superwomen kicking ass, taking names, and spitting out hilariously hardboiled dialogue. I proceeded to work my way through the Meyer oeuvre, seeing everything the man directed, with the exception of some of his early "nudie cuties" that followed in the wake of his first big hit, The Immoral Mr. Teas. The Wall Street Journal dubbed Meyer "King Leer," while Charles Keating and others called him a "smut peddler."
Big Bosoms and Square Jaws by Jimmy McDonough is as definitive a biography of Russell Albion Meyer as we're likely to get, and is certainly more informative than Meyer's 1500-page autobiography, A Clean Breast. I'd read The Ghastly One, McDonough's bio of skid row filmmaker Andy Milligan, but not Shakey, his massive biography of Neil Young. McDonough writes slangy, hipster prose that tells the story of RM and his obsession with big tits in an intoxicating, compelling way.
The book is chock full of hilarious and wonderfully bizarre anecdotes and observations from a wide range of RM associates, including many of his incredible leading ladies. Erica Gavin, who starred in two of Russ's greatest hits, Vixen and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, offers this insightful summation of Meyer's character: "Russ was just a big old teddy bear - a teddy bear who liked to watch you undress through a window and masturbate."
Things don't end well for Meyer, as he slips into senile dementia and spends much of the last several years of his life as a prisoner in his own home.
If you're a fan of '50s cheesecake photography, or '60s and '70s sexploitation "sinema," you're probably already a big fan of Meyer's work. If so, you should read this book, the hardcover of which can be had cheap at barnesandnoble.com or stores like Half Price Books.