King Leer's Cheesecake Dreams -- Our Man Remembers Russ Meyer 

10.7.2004 | J.E. D'Ulisse | Film | 2 Comments
I’ve been looking at breasts and crying all week. Russ Meyer died last month, and the world seems a little colder, the sun a little darker, and bras a little emptier.

I came to Russ in my mid twenties, when the now-defunct Angelica-47 played a new print of Faster Pussycat Kill! Kill! I had no plans to see it, but week after week its run was extended. Finally, I became curious and went to a 10 pm showing. I went to see it five more times after that.

It wasn’t because it was a perfect date film (one woman gouged her fingers into my knee and whispered in my ear: “You know this is complete filth”). No, my motives were purely aesthetic. The subject matter required a big screen.

Let me boil this down for the squares: Faster Pussycat Kill! Kill! is the  Metropolis of soft core, The Alphaville of exploitation, the 2001 of boobie cinema, the Citizen Kane of sex-death girlie flicks. It is Euripides working at Show World, writing The Bacchantes on a cocaine and Viagra cocktail. It is the story of America.

Three crazed, double-D Go-Go dancers blow town and go to the desert to drive their cars fast and hard. Billie is a blonde, hard-drinking, pill-popping fallen debutante nymphomaniac. Rosie is a violent, paranoid, knife-wielding Latina lesbian. Their leader (and the object of Rosie’s twisted desire) is Varla, the violent nightmarish dominate nocturnal: A black leather, tight clothes, crazed Betty Page. Mee-Ow!     

In a fit of boredom they challenge a weakling frat boy to a car race, and when he loses, Varla beats him to death with her bare hands. They kidnap his weeping girlfriend, obviously for any number of sexual atrocities, and drive off.

They go to a small farm where they hear there might be a big wad of cash hidden. There, a crippled old man plans to have his mentally deficient, extraordinarily muscular son, called The Vegetable, rape and murder them. The cripple’s other son is Kirk, a thin, sniveling spoof on American masculinity. When they all come together, there’s one hell of a climax.

Technically Pussycat, like all of Meyer’s work, is perfect in terms of lighting, exposure, sound and framing. Breasts never looked better. When Kirk arrives, he stands at the end of the street, framed in the eternal High Noon shootout shot. From behind the camera, two of the women, one on each side, walk into the frame until their collective derrieres consume it. Looking out, onto the big screen, all you see is ass. It is magnificent.

Still it is the dialogue that floats my boat:

Gas Station Attendant : Yes ma’am, what can I do for you today?
Varla : Just your job, squirrel. Fill it up!
Gas Station Attendant : [staring at Varla’s chest as he pumps gas] Just passing through, huh? Boy, that motor’s sure hot! You gals really must have been moving on these little machines. Yessir, the thrill of the open road. New places, new people, new sights of interest. Now that’s what I believe in, seeing America first!
Varla : You won’t see much of it lookin’ there, Columbus!

Kirk : [to Varla] You’re a beautiful animal… and I’m weak, and I want you.

The Old Man : Women! They let ‘em vote, smoke and drive - even put ‘em in pants! And what happens? A Democrat for president!

Poetry. Pure poetry.

Meyer not only co-wrote and directed all his films, he also was both cinematographer and editor. He had a technical understanding of his art that remains unparalleled. Even the most viciously independent auteur gets talent as soon as he can afford it. Meyer didn’t need to: He was talent.

Looking at his style of editing, especially during his classic run of Pussycat, MondoTopless, Moto Psycho, and Vixen!, one is struck by how modern they look. At the time, Hollywood was enormous productions, lavish  sets and huge, static 35 mm cameras that could barely follow the action. But the French New Wave, in total revolt against these conventions, had adopted the cinematic language of Roberto Rossellini and the philosophical thinking of Bazin. Their shots were long and independent of the action, capturing a sense of the real instead of the framed. Hitchcockian flourishes were used sparingly if at all.

What Meyer realized was the full implication of Hitchcock’s cinema on a 16 mm camera. Images were angular, stylized and chosen for effect, shots were short and came at you like a machine gun. If you want to see where New Hollywood was born, it was on Russ Meyer’s Moviola.


The generative process of art demands that the artist takes what is nonexistent, that which is the material of fantasy, desire and imagination, and work it into that which is. Meyer did this perfectly. His entire opus is a lust-filled rush of partial objects projected at the screen. The good breast battles the bad breast, the good ass struggles against the bad ass. The good lips smile and the bad lips snarl. Woof!

Today’s street pimp is the TV and today’s bordello is the movie theater. Women are lit, primped, filed, and trimmed like expensive anorexic show dogs. It is a desexualized, plastic pornography with none of the bang for your buck. With Russ Meyer dead, all we have left are cheesecake dreams, and memories of foreplay.

"I've been looking at breasts and crying all week." Genius.
10.7.2004 | Paul
And what movie title has ever been better than "Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!"? How do you even begin to translate a film like this into, for example, Arabic? Linguists?
10.8.2004 | SF

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