Fri, Sep 24, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Lusty genre filmmaker Russ Meyer dies at 82


Russ Meyer, whose 1960s fantasy films about the antics of giant-breasted, often assertive women were among the first "nudies" to have a story line but who later flirted with respectability when his style of filmmaking became influential in the mainstream movie industry, died on Saturday at his home in the Hollywood Hills. He was 82.

The cause was complications of pneumonia, said Janice Cowart, an employee of his company, RM Films International.

Meyer is often credited with inventing the "skin flick" as a commercial proposition, but he also drew praise for the artistic vision and raw energy he brought to two dozen films, four or which are in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art.

He became one of the first movie makers in his licentious genre to move to mainline cinema without altering his style.

"Of all the sexploitation filmmakers, he is the one guy who crossed over," said his biographer, Jimmy McDonough, adding that because of his popularity he was recruited by 20th Century Fox to make Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, a 1970 picture about an all-woman rock group.

"The kingdom came to him, he didn't go to Hollywood," McDonough said in an interview on Wednesday. The biography, Big Bosoms and Square Jaws, is scheduled for publication next year.

Meyer was notorious for casting only women with huge breasts -- "cantilevered ladies," he called them -- in films with titles like Wild Gals of the Naked West and Vixen!, but he shied away from nudity below the waist. He denounced many later films as pornographic.

When his 1965 movie Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! was re-released 30 years later, even some feminists claimed to find its tale of three homicidal go-go dancers invigorating and empowering. In The Village Voice, B. Ruby Rich, who had once considered the movie just another exploitation film, called it "a female fantasy."

John Waters, who himself crossed over from underground films to Hollywood respectability with Hairspray, has been widely quoted as saying Pussycat may have been the best movie ever made. His praise only began there. "It is possibly better than any film that will be made in the future," he said.

Meyer ultimately became a symbol of an America struggling to throw off the shackles of Puritanism, McDonough suggested, comparing him to Jerry Lee Lewis in music. His cult standing can be seen in rock groups like Mudhoney, who have named themselves after his movies.

Russell Albion Meyer was born in Oakland, Calif., on March 21, 1922. His father was a policeman who abandoned the family before he was born. His mother was a nurse who bought him his first camera when he was 14.

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