Oh we’re in for a treat.
Russ Meyer gained the name ‘King of the Nudies’, and not for nothing. Though he was most famously known for what was called ‘Sexploitation’, the satire and feminist streak inherent in his films often went unnoticed by people looking for a fun time. Of course that was there in abundance too, but with a sly sense of humour and a nod towards upending conservative values, his films often transcended the genre.
I must confess that Up! and Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens occupied more time in my youth than was probably healthy. It wasn’t that the women, always voluptuous, were either A) Naked, or B) Having lots of Sex but it was because it was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. Though they were often filmed in and around the Mojave desert, Meyer was an excellent photographer (He was a combat cameraman during World War 2), and brought to life the colours like a Tex Avery cartoon.
His actresses too, often seemed like they stepped off a comic strip and were brought to life. The were often full-figured, though not symmetrically perfect as was, and remains, the trend. There is the tendency to believe that Meyer only sought out tall, large breasted women but the truth is he just photographed them that way. While he certainly had a penchant toward the women I just described, their titles of ‘Amazonian’ or ‘Junoesque’ more often than not applied to their characters than figures.
For all his showing of the female flesh, and their unbridled sexuality, Meyer imbued his films with a large does of feminism. His women often undergo a hero-journey of sorts, triumphing over their male adversaries. It’s not perfect of course, the women are still treated and seen as sex objects and in most cases are happy to. While they overcome adversity it’s often of the sexual kind, with a film full of sexual frustration finally ending in fulfilment. Still, even in this narrow view the women are treated as the strong ones, with the men as being incapable of thinking with anything but their organs (Insert your own ‘nothing ever changes’ joke here).
The great thing about Meyer however was that his films used Sex, surely the one thing we can all agree on, as a way to satirize conservative American values. Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens takes place in ‘Anytown, USA‘ for example and explores everything from insensitive lovers to race relations. While Up! opens with someone placing a piranha in the bathtub of Adolf HItler, who is now hiding in a Castle in California.
When I was younger I was just happy to see nudity on TV. As an adult who is above such things I’ve come to appreciate the great works that Meyer created (One in particular, Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill! has entered popular culture without most people realising it). They influenced John Waters and Quentin Tarantion, They might’ve been low-budget, but they were funny, they were weird, they were erotic and they were smart. What more could an adult want?
Click here to view a trailer that hilariously, and accurately, manages to neatly sum up what Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens is actually about.