Book Review: Big Bosoms and Square Jaws

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Russ Meyer has come around from being thought of as a mere exploitation film maker to a low-budget film-making maverick. Though in each way, both are correct (with the exception of the word “mere”), he was more than that. Russ Meyer had a definite eye and talent for the technical side of films. His editing and photography is beautiful. The stories might not always be the best — they might not always make sense even — but they carry you along in their fever race.

The fact that almost every woman in all his films has gigantic breasts doesn’t hurt either.

Jimmy McDonough’s biography of Meyer has an appropriately low-culture tone; though McDonough has done a lot of research and clearly knows his subject, this is not a scholarly tome. It’s much more like a story told by a slightly-skeevy uncle; one who is charismatic and charming, but perhaps a bit too obsessed with sex. Of course, this tone matches very well with the subject — so it works out. In fact, a purely academic appreciation of Meyer’s work would seem out of place; though there is a lot to learn from Meyer’s skill and construction, his films aren’t meant to be only enjoyed cerebrally; the prurient nature of his work shines through and can’t help but be enjoyed as well.

McDonough interviews many of Meyer’s collaborators, cast and crew and a clear picture is formed of Meyer’s personality. Unfortunately, it’s not always a flattering picture — he was obsessive and abusive, though he did have moments of sympathy and could be a great friend to those he trusted. He did want to do right by his friends — assuming that they didn’t slight him (in a way that was real or, seemingly more frequently, imagined). And though his views on women in general are the subject of lots of debate, many of his actresses remained fiercely loyal to Meyer, even if they never appeared in more than one film (for example, the amazing Tura Satana from Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!) and he did to them, often remaining lifelong friends with them.

The book isn’t perfect — sometimes anecdotes and quotes are repeated, and sometimes the leering tone can get to be a bit much — but repetition and “a bit much”-ness are also hallmarks of Meyer’s style as well, so McDonough can be forgiven for getting wrapped up in his subject. With a subject as interesting and conflicted as Russ Meyer, I defy anyone to NOT get wrapped up.

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