This weekend, the Anthology Film Archives in New York is doing a mini-film series focusing on the collaborations between director Russ Meyer and screenwriter Roger Ebert. The latter is probably better known to you for his work as a film critic. The former is probably a household name to readers of Daily Grindhouse.
Russ Meyer served in World War II as a cameraman, and it probably influenced his style as a filmmaker, if not the subject matter. Feminine pulchritude was his primary preoccupation; he was the ultimate Playboy-era director. He loved boobs and bad girls, and his roving camerawork whirled around them lustily and robustly. Filmmakers like John Landis and Quentin Tarantino have been heavily influenced by Meyer’s lurid action and unapologetic horniness, though quite honestly, I’d argue Michael Bay is Meyer’s closest spiritual godson. Meanwhile, Roger Ebert had a great mind concerned with very many things beyond tits and ass, but if you read even his finest criticism closely, you can get a decent picture of his appetites. Ebert wasn’t a freak like Meyer but he was definitely a human man. Any good writer personally invests her or his interests in their work, and Ebert was no exception. As one of the most humane critics ever to sit at a typewriter, Ebert certainly took movies personally. Though snootier critics sniffed at exploitation films, Ebert always spoke warmly and without shame about the films he wrote for Meyer.
After writing dialogue for UP! (NOT the one you’re thinking about), Ebert wrote BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS and BENEATH THE VALLEY OF THE ULTRA-VIXENS for Meyer. After that it was all the film reviewing and TV hosting with which everyone is familiar. Ebert is one of the highest-profile critics of our age — his scant filmography as a screenwriter is both intriguing and relevant. Russ Meyer’s films have cinematic import all their own; while we like to think of the past with rosy and reverent nostalgia, these movies are the unrestrained id which prove we as a country have really always been this pervy. [It should be noted that, while a hard-R even today, BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS was a major studio picture, whereas UP! and BENEATH THE VALLEY OF THE ULTRA-VIXENS are much more sexually extreme, tame by today’s standards but reasonably classified as pornography by nearly any standards.]
All three films will be shown on 35mm. I can speak directly to the value of seeing BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS projected as it was meant to be seen. Here’s a rundown of the films, with pictures and posters, and blurbs courtesy of Anthology Film Archives.
RUSS MEYER & ROGER EBERT
February 21 – February 23
As a follow-up to our popular Russ Meyer retrospective this past summer, we present a three-film program that doubles as both a sequel to the earlier series and a special tribute to Roger Ebert, who passed away last year. Though Ebert was of course known primarily for his profoundly influential career as a film critic and TV personality, he proved he could walk the walk as well as talk the talk by contributing peerless screenplays for two of Meyer’s greatest films, the justly celebrated BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS and its unjustly neglected follow-up, BENEATH THE VALLEY OF THE ULTRA-VIXENS (as well as working on the dialogue for Meyer’s 1976 film, UP!). This weekend we’ll be bringing back the immaculate 35mm print of DOLLS, and presenting special screenings of ULTRA-VIXENS and UP! (both of which were missing from the earlier retrospective) – a celebration of the unlikely but glorious creative partnership between Meyer and Ebert, who were (and, wherever they are, hopefully remain) “breast” of friends.
Special thanks to Janice Cowart (Russ Meyer Trust), Mark Johnson (Harvard Film Archive), and Caitlin Robertson & Joe Reid (20th Century Fox).
- Russ Meyer
February 22 at 5:00 PM
February 23 at 7:00 PM
Though he wasn’t responsible for the screenplay as a whole, Ebert helped write the dialogue for Kitten Natividad’s character, who functions as a kind of Greek chorus, in Meyer’s penultimate film. Hitler-esque renegade-ex-Nazi-in-hiding Adolf Schwartz is murdered in his Northern Californian castle when someone drops a frenzied piranha into his bathtub while he’s in it, but the film quickly turns its attention away from the resulting whodunit and instead tracks the sexploits of Margo Winchester (Raven de la Croix), who is new to town and quickly involves herself with pretty much every local man. Truly a murder mystery à la Meyer.
- Russ Meyer
BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS
February 22 at 7:00 PM
“And the movie as a whole? I think of it as an essay on our generic expectations. It’s an anthology of stock situations, characters, dialogue, clichés and stereotypes, set to music and manipulated to work as exposition and satire at the same time; it’s cause and effect, a wind-up machine to generate emotions, pure movie without message. The strange thing about the movie is that it continues to play successfully to completely different audiences for different reasons. When Meyer and I were hired a few years later to work on an ill-fated Sex Pistols movie called WHO KILLED BAMBI? we were both a little nonplussed, I think, to hear Johnny Rotten explain that he liked BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS because it was so true to life.” – Roger Ebert, Film Comment.
- Russ Meyer
BENEATH THE VALLEY OF THE ULTRA-VIXENS
February 22 at 9:30 PM
February 23 at 9:00 PM
“Here is [Meyer’s] description of BENEATH THE VALLEY OF THE ULTRA-VIXENS, another of my screenplays: ‘An end-around attack against women’s lib…blasting through the male machismo syndrome…kicking the crap out of convictions, hang-ups, obsessions…the whole bag…sexually aggressive females, willing klutzy men, petroleum jelly, gingham and gossamer, tax-sheltered religion, black socks, bedroom prowess, bunko artists, big-breast fixation, rear-window rednecks, therapeutic cuckolding, the 60-mile-an-hour zinger, born-again immersion, unfaithful girlfriends, limp-wristed dentistry, and virile garbage men.’” – Roger Ebert, The Guardian.
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