Those offended by such odes to udders should stop reading right now, because there will be a lot more of it. Meyer is an unregenerate sexist. Sexist the way another person is a Buddhist or foodist or nudist for this is Meyer's profane religion, and he worships at the female breast as Paleolithic man venerated the Venus of Willendorf. And as he aged (but never, ever, matured), the breasts of his models and actresses enlarged, expanded until now, with the likes of Pandora Peaks and Eva "Tunde" Howath, they look ready to explode. The chest measurements of Meyer's chosen women, which began in the high 30s with Tempest Storm and his wife-muse Eve Meyer, are now nearing three figures. To these two eyes, long appreciative of the traditional female form, the Meyer bosom is now grotesque. And growing tesker.
Which won't stop America's most honored dirty old man. At 80, Meyer is enjoying a trifecta festschrift. A New York gallery has mounted his girlie photographs on its pristine walls, the better for academic reconsideration of a grimy genre. Meyer's RM Films International has just issued three of his old films "Mondo Topless," "Cherry, Harry & Raquel!" and "Up!" as DVDs. And for true scholars of sexploitation, "A clean BREAST! The Life and Loves of Russ Meyer: The rural Fellini . . his films, fantasies and frauleins" is an exhilarating, exhausting must-read. Also, with 2500 photos, a must-ogle.
This "Tunde"-size opus 1213 8-1/2x11" pages, weighing 16lbs.13oz. and costing a giganzo $217, including shipping (you can save about $12, if that matters, by ordering it from Amazon) is purportedly authored by Adolph Albion Schwartz. But that's just the latest in a series of mock monickers the auteur has concocted over the decades. The nom de Kraut also fits Meyer's sometimes breezy, sometimes exaggerantly urgent writing style a voice that aficionados will recognize from the narration for his movies. Meyer writes (or, more likely, dictates) as he speaks, in spurts and sputters, grenades of clauses punctuated by two dots (..) not three, the man's in a hurry or backslashes. Referring to himself in the seemingly objective third person, he races through paragraphs of raunchy recollection and, often ends them with a vigorous "Yes!" a la Molly Bloom or Marv Albert. Or sometimes a sassy Southern "Yeassss."
Twenty years in the compiling, "A clean BREAST!" is as much a scrap book from the all-inclusive RM Archives as it is a self-proclaimed "mammary book." Its chapters on Meyer's World War II service contain the full texts of rah-rah memos Eisenhower and Patton memos wrote to their troops, as well as Signal Corps ratings sheets of RM's work. Meyer also reprints virtually every word of virtually every article written about his films (including most of what I wrote about him in the Village Voice 30-some years ago). And though Russ can usually match his photo-pornographic memory with a writing style so lively it keeps you turning the pages even when you can't lift the book, he does include more than is absolutely mandatory about certain personal issues. "The year of 1963 held more than uncommon interest for Russ. Of number one concern was the irritating conditions of his hemorrhoids..."
If you don't want to read, just look. There is ample, I may say clinical, evidence of Meyer's preoccupations. Women. Everywhere. Women shot from above, underneath, up-close, on a mountaintop and, frequently, with a paper bag over their heads. If Russ thinks the reader may be dozing during some tale of the Great War, he drops in some cheesecake. Across one spread (pp. 46-47), photographs of "three Sherman laying siege to the Wehrmacht" and "Baby Doll Shawn Devereaux" protrude at each other the phallus of war nuzzling the bosom of sex. On pp. 84-88, photos of the buddies' 1984 return to "St. Hubert's piney woods" are scrunched up against pix of Ms. Howath and her gargantuan front-pack of bazooka bazooms H-(cup) bombs that Slim Pickens would've happily ridden to Doomsday.
Total immersion in Meyer's biographical fluids should convince even the skeptic that the man is no Stone Age machis-man, no Conan the Boobarian. As critic Roger Ebert, who co-perped the screenplays of "Beyond the Valley" and "Beneath the Valley," wrote in a 1973 Film Comment essay, "he is not the primitive or untutored artist he sometimes likes to appear to be; his method of work on a picture is all business, he is a consummate technical craftsman, he is obsessed by budgets and schedules, and his actors do not remember how 'turned on' a scene was, but how many times it was re-shot. In a genre overrun by sleazo cheapies, he is the best technician and the only artist."
YOUNG RUSS MEYER
His mam fixation may have had its root in mom devotion. Russ's mother Lydia had been urged by her husband William, an East Oakland, Cal., cop, to have an abortion. Lydia refused, the couple separated and, on March 21, 1922, Russell Albion Meyer was born. Throughout his three-volume tome, the author expresses the most innocent tenderness toward Lydia. She indeed seems a woman who loved her son and encouraged all his career adventures, however offensive to contemporary community standards they might be. When he was nearly 25, Meyer showed Lydia photos he'd taken of stripper Evelyn West his first cheesecake work. Her response: "What a lovely girl, Russell . . and such big beautiful breasts!"
Russell had been aware of breasts at least since junior high, when he encountered in his dreams a demoiselle named Polly. "Needless to say, the bra-busting (if she ever wore one) Polly was the feature and chief distracter of the class and she always played to a full / appreciative audience. Store-bought dresses were out of the question, in light of the stacked lass' outstanding topography: her couturier skilled, if hardly celebrated . . the style strictly 'East Oakland dirndl' with heavy emphasis on the commodious bodice purposefully décolletté by design . . a scoop neck / vast of scoop / strikingly accommodating to her voyeurs whilst bending over to retrieve an often dropped pencil . . jumbo bodice agape / twin pornocopias aplenty to the delight of Polly's horny fellow classmates' adulation; my fantasizing, at the time, that if Polly had been nothing loathe to let me nuzzle into the cavernous space between her big knockers, I would have settled for a swamper's berth at Elmhurst's Exide battery factory. Forever. With Polly at my bosomy behest. Yes."
But his true passion was photography. He begins both the prologue and Chapter One of his opus with the description of cameras; one might say his first love was the Universal Movie Camera's 8mm Univex. Bitten by the shutter bug, Russ would fiddle through his teens with all manner of photographic apparatus. Presumably he did the same with his own equipment since, he confesses, "At age 20, RM was still a rock-bibbed / brass-bound / bona fide virgin."