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Big Bosoms And Square Jaws: The Biography of Russ Meyer Hardcover – 7 Jul 2005
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A very funny, brave book about an artist who deserves to be remembered and enjoyed. (Guardian 2005-07-16)
'McDonough polishes every wacky, wicked facet of Meyer as a redneck rough diamond.' (Times 2005-07-23)
'Russ Meyer's vision was of a hyperactive world occupied by isolated, inadequate men in thrall to overendowed, voracious women. Jimmy McDonough's book is written in such wonderfully bad taste that he has remained true to that crazed vision.' (Independent on Sunday 2005-07-10)
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The definitive biography of the pioneering independent filmmaker and cultural icon Russ Meyer. (2004-10-21)See all Product description
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Meyer was born in 1922. He didn't get further in movies than becoming a theater usher before joining the Army, where he shot newsreels in the 166th Signal Photographic Company. He documented the advances of Generals Bradley and Patton, and it was the most important experience of his life. His Army buddies became his family, and often appeared or helped in his movies. When he eventually started making movies, he had an aggressive style which one assistant said was "...like being in the first wave landing in Normandy during World War II, crossed with a weekend in a whorehouse." After the war, Meyer took his photographic skills to the men's magazines of the time, taking pictures of women that exaggerated their curves. He made industrial films, learning the basics of cinema.. His first fully entertainment film was _The Immoral Mr. Teas_ in 1959, about a Mittyesque bumbler who had the inner life of imagining the females around him naked. This quaint storyline allowed Meyer to put in all the shots he wanted of busty women naked from the waste up. It seems rather old-fashioned now, but the San Diego police confiscated it 20 minutes into its first screening. Later, Meyer would make films with dialogue and action. McDonough admires the films, and goes into detail on the making of each one. Meyer put his breast obsession into them, of course, but he did not make the sort of X-rated movies like _Deep Throat_. He didn't like regular porn as we have come to know it; he sniffed, "There's a difference. I spend 14 months making a film. Not 30 minutes in a motel room." Part of the reason he didn't like such films is that he didn't like the activities they depicted. He regarded anything other than missionary-position sex as some sort of perversion, and perversion was, he said, "un-American." His many wives and lovers confirm that he was no good at foreplay or other such niceties; in his own words he just wanted to get in there and "wail away at it." He did not have a great need to ensure satisfaction in his partners, but he engaged in no perversions - he saved that for his movies.
However women feel about Meyer's depiction of them, men can't feel any better about their roles, "mere wisps of beings that are about as vague as Meyer's father." Meyer thought that men were "lunch-pail-carrying saps." Woe to the husbands in his movies: "I feel that it's important to really give that husband a bad, bad time," he said, and in one movie after another the husbands are weak, ineffectual, and cuckolded. It is thus especially sad that Meyer spent his lonely last years handled by a female caretaker as he slipped further into dementia, dying only last year. McDonough is surprisingly tender about this descent in a book that is sometimes just as crude and vivacious as Meyer's movies, with a slangy prose that sometimes sounds the way Meyer would talk ("Everything about this shot is perfecto.") The book is big, stuffed with material from Meyer's own thousand-page autobiography and with interviews of those who worked with him, especially his actresses. Meyer may not be everyone's idea of a genius, but he made millions on thirty films, only two of which were within the studio system, and he produced, directed, photographed, and edited every one of them. He took his obsession and made some sort of art out of it, art that millions are still enjoying. McDonough's affectionate and thorough biography is a brilliant portrait of an American original.
Commencing his career as an on-the-move combat cameraman in the second World War, Meyer shot his movies quickly and edited equally as fast, with rapid-fire montages some 15 years before MTV adopted such presentations. One of his regular actors, Charles Napier, described Meyer as "going into combat" when shooting a movie, also an apt description for his deserted locations complete with minimum food and facilities. Yet Meyer, a man whose temperament ranged from generosity to meanness, gentility to near violent outbursts, with his females often being the blunt of such surges, never forgot his past and many of his wartime buddies ended up in his movies, either as cast or crew members. He also helped change the fortunes of moviemaking by upgrading the sex film from the dirty raincoat market into mainstream cinema while, at the same time, breaking down barriers of censorship, opening up doorways for the major studios to follow suit.
Extremely well researched (with some 45 pages, of its 460 total, given over to source credits and index), author Jimmy McDonough, in telling Meyer's life, incorporates background details of Meyer's stars (including Haji, Erica Gavin, Shari Eubanks, Raven De La Croix, Ushi Digard and "Kitten" Natividad, not forgetting Evelyn Turner who became Eve Meyer, the second of his three wives and sometimes film producer) alongside detailing his films, from the first "nudie-cutie" The Immoral Mr. Teas; on to the much admired Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!; his brief major studio involvement and the creation of his masterpiece Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls; and concluding with the mighty bosomed trio Supervixens, Up and Beneath The Valley Of The Ultravixens.
The book is likened to the spirit and energy of a Meyer movie, enthused with occasional hip talk, capturing his life from lonely childhood and virginal early adulthood, the war years that changed his character and led into pin-up photography and filmmaking, and his tragic deterioration in later years, losing his mind to alzheimer's disease. Always fascinating, it's highly recommended reading to anyone interested in alternative cinema as well as, of course, to the Russ Meyer devotees.
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BIG BOSOMS AND SQUARE JAWS by Jimmy McDonough is an in depth look at the great renegade film maker and King of the Nudies, one that does not spare his subject his less than flattering attributes, but also lets the reader come away with a true understanding of this unique man. McDonough, a journalist in the mode of Hunter S. Thompson, finds just the right voice to tell Meyer’s story, from his lowly beginnings to his glory days through his eventual sad decline.
Meyer was born in California in 1922 and raised by a single mother after his police man father left the family when Russ was an infant. Like many of his generation, the defining event of Meyer’s life was service in World War II, where an early love of cameras landed him in the 166 Signal Photographic Company. As a combat photographer, he would see plenty of action and make the life-long friendships that would become a sort of first family for Meyer as he would remain close to his army buddies for the rest of his life. His wartime experience got him a job making industrial films, while working a sideline as a photographer for the many skin magazines of the era. It was a sideline that brought him in contact with strippers and budding actresses and allowed Meyer to indulge his fetish for the well-endowed and full-figured female form. At the same time, he was learning everything about the film making process, so by the time he was ready to make a low budget picture of his own in the late 50’s, the he was virtually a one man film crew all his own.
Starting with THE IMMORAL MR. TEAS and continuing for the next two decades, Russ Meyer would churn one low budget “nudie” film after another, filled with gorgeous women, the men they drive crazy, and the violence that ensues when his combustible characters meet. MUDHONEY; COMMON LAW CABIN; FASTER PUSSYCAT! KILL KILL; VIXEN, HARRY, CHERRY, AND RAQUEL; BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS and BENEATH THE VALLEY OF THE ULTRA VIXENS are among his titles that have developed a true cult following. Though he would often be called a pornographer, Meyer was nothing of the kind, his movies had actual plots, and the nudity in many of them would barely qualify for an R rating these days. The women in his films were anything but passive victims, most of them being able to handle anything a man dished out and then give back to him twice over, Some, like Tura Satana’s Varla in PUSSYCAT, are down-right man destroying killing machines; when it came to the kick ass female protagonist, Russ Meyer was way ahead of everyone else. He would briefly work at 20th Century Fox in 1970, and would produce a profitable X-rated epic for them before a change in studio management ended any chance of mainstream success. Which was a shame, one wishes he could have found a producer in the 70’s who could have raised the kind of money that would allowed Meyer to take it too another level; yet one gets the feeling that he would not have traded away the freedom to make his movies, his way, for any amount of money. And if truth be told, there were probably many Academy Award winning directors working within the studios who must have envied Meyer his freedom.
We meet Meyer’s second family, the varied individuals with whom he made his movies, especially the women, most of them characters in their own right: the aforementioned Tura Satana, Haji, Lori Williams, Erica Gavin, Rena Horton, Alaina Capri, Babette Bardot, Uschi Digard and Edy Williams. What a loss it was that most of them never found mainstream success. The famously square jawed Charles Napier was the one Meyer regular who went on to a real career, co-starring in RAMBO and becoming a regular in the late Jonathan Demme movies. And of course there is Roger Ebert, the film critic and passionate Meyer fan who wrote screenplays for him and become a lifelong friend. McDonough wrote this book in 2005, and sadly, a number of these people have passed away in the years since.
Meyer was among those, like Hugh Hefner, who in post war America, helped bring the notion of a sex life out from behind bedroom doors and closed curtains; it was an attitude that met with more than a little resistance. The author details Meyer’s battles with the censors and decency crusaders like the arch-hypocrite, Charles Keating, where he knocked down doors for the others to enter. McDonough doesn’t spare any details in describing Meyer’s sad last years when dementia ravaged his mind and he was taken advantage of by some less than scrupulous hanger-ons. The culture had moved on, and Meyer’s peculiar brand of sex and violence had become the normal.
Meyer, the man, could be rude and crude, a real 20th Century American male who detested Communists, and despite his reputation, preferred straight missionary style sex according to his many bedmates. He was a great self promoter who knew what he liked, and believed many of his fellow Americans would like the same things if given a half a chance. He was proven right and made millions in the process. Why should we remember him? Because his influence has been enormous, John Waters, Tim Burton and Quinton Tarantino have sung his praises; as a faithful watcher of TRUE BLOOD, I can say for certainty that Mayer’s presence is still being felt. Whether you are member of the cult of Meyer or just merely interested in movie history, BIG BOSOMS AND SQUARE JAWS is a must read. Thank you, Jimmy McDonough for writing it; I think Russ would be pleased.