Equal parts cinematic visionary and filthy old man, 76-year-old director Russ Meyer is a unique figure in American film. Meyer's first movie, 1959's The Immoral Mr. Teas, was a low-budget soft-core porn film that made an obscene amount of money. The films that followed were soft-core pornography intended for adult theaters, but Meyer displayed an artistry and a mastery of craft that set his films apart from others in the genre. This early work was commercially successful, but his reputation was ultimately built upon two films: 1966's Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!—the demented proto-feminist tale of a group of big-busted, butch outlaws which featured some of Meyer's most striking use of whiplash editing and unconventional camerawork—and Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls, a hysterically over-the-top 1970 cult classic about the rise and fall of a female rock group. Meyer hasn't made a film since 1979's Beneath The Valley Of The Ultra-Vixens, but his work has found an enthusiastic audience on video and among cinephiles. Meyer's influence can be seen in the works of countless filmmakers, and in movies from Showgirls to Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery. The Onion recently spoke with the ever-candid, oft-profane filmmaking legend about The Sex Pistols, Elvis Presley, Roger Ebert, and, of course, the virtues of women with really, really huge breasts.
The Onion: You're touring the country with Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! What's behind the re-release of the film?
Russ Meyer: Well, it's been released for many years. And it continues to do very, very big business, not only in the United States, but also in Japan now, and into Europe, Britain, France, Russia, and Germany.
O: What do you think is the key to the film's enduring popularity?
RM: It's a little puzzling. Most of my films have women who have large breasts. It's not that the girls are completely lacking in accouterments there, but… I suppose they like the idea of the women kicking the shit out of the men. More than anything else, I think that's the reason it's done very, very well.
O: Do you think it has a feminist sort of appeal?
RM: Oh, yeah, yeah. Very much so. And Tura Satana [the film's star], without any question, is a feminist. Without any question, [feminists] love her.
O: Was that something you were thinking about consciously when you made the film?
RM: No, I made another film prior to that in which I had men kicking the shit out of the women, so I thought, "Why don't we do one where the women kick the shit out of the men?"
O: What was the filming of Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! like?
RM: It was the usual thing with me. It's like being in the military. Everybody has to get up and do their jobs to get things together, and that's it. And I've always been able to find a location with friendly people I've worked with before, and then they like to participate in the profits and so on.
O: How did you get your start as a filmmaker?
RM: I was an amateur, but it was World War II. I loved the war. I didn't want the war to end. I wanted the war to go on forever.
O: You were a combat photographer?
RM: Yes. That's right. I loved it. I landed in Normandy, and it went on from there. A lot of it had to do with me being able to take my product and find distributors—without any question, they were very interested, and the press was always good to work with.
O: As someone who was at Normandy, what did you think of the film Saving Private Ryan?
RM: I liked it very much. Except that I think some of the… It seemed that they didn't have quite enough youth in it for my taste, to make it believable. Not that it wasn't believable, but I found myself looking at a lot of middle-aged people. But, of course, it's very difficult to find good actors, which is what I guess it amounts to. Of course, you can always find young people, but in this instance, it affected me a lot more. I was disappointed in that area, but I still think it's a great film.
O: How did you get from being a combat photographer to making films like The Immoral Mr. Teas?
RM: I came back to the States and I got a job with an industrial company. I made a lot of money at that, and I ended up buying myself an office where there were women. And I would always come on like a steam engine, telling them that they would all be stars. Lying through my teeth. It also gave me an opportunity to get a lot of pussy. That was really worthwhile. And I am still very much into that.
O: That's been a motivating force in your career?
RM: Very, very much so. Trying to get into their shorts.
O: What have you been up to since you made Beneath The Valley Of The Ultra-Vixens in 1979?
RM: I have this video thing that's very, very strong. I have a number of people working at my Los Angeles office, and now we have the European people going for it. There's no way that I'm going to stop.
O: Do you own the rights to a lot of your films?
RM: Absolutely. I'm just fiendish when people try to get into my shorts there, in that sense.
O: How did your collaboration with Roger Ebert [who co-wrote Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls, Up!, and Beneath The Valley Of The Ultra-Vixens] come about?
RM: Tits. Plain and simple, he loves tits.
O: He contacted you first?
RM: Yes, he did. Because I got a lot of help from him from a standpoint of good criticism. It's still very much the same, but his wife really doesn't feel all that keen about me. She's afraid that he might get something in his shorts, and so on. Which I think is a good idea. I like the idea of him having a good time there, and cheating on his wife and the whole thing.
O: In a recent Malcolm McLaren biography, the author mentioned that at one point, you and Ebert were slated to write and direct the Sex Pistols film.
RM: The Sex Pistols. It wasn't really as rewarding as I thought it could have been. There was too much interference from the studio that we were working with, so it wasn't that keen a thing. That's all. It just didn't give me what I wanted, and Ebert felt very much the same way, that we were kind of pinned down.
O: What did you think of Malcolm McLaren?
RM: I think Malcolm McLaren needed at least one more lay in his life. I don't think he really understood much of what I was doing. Not that it was dreadfully important that he had to know, but he was obviously not in the same mold as me. He was always after me, trying to pick up anybody, even girls that were built like a willow, and so on. We weren't that keen on it.
O: What did you think of The Sex Pistols?
RM: I liked, what's his name, not McLaren…
O: Sid Vicious?
RM: Yeah. I liked him. I thought he had something going for him. I liked Sid Vicious. His problem, too, though, was a little too much with the whipping and that kind of stuff. It didn't go in with me, particularly. [Changing the subject.] Kitten [Natividad, who appeared in Up!, Beneath The Valley Of The Ultra-Vixens, and many subsequent films] was always a great charmer in Britain when I was there, getting some things put together, trying to do a film with Darth Vader [actor David Prowse]. He was great. He would always be very cooperative. And we ended up looking for women, although he ended up looking more to me for women than him delivering to me, and then I'd get on his case about the fact that he wasn't really spending attitude on getting things to his advantage. But I think his wife had a lot to do with it. I think she'd like him to have a lot less to do with me than anything else. We made a film together—Blacksnake!—that was a failure. The women in the film were not terribly abundant, and that was one of the main reasons the film didn't work. I think we'll bring Melissa Mounds and two or three other women… Melissa Mounds is close to me, and she has huge tits; that's what we'll use. One problem we had was that some people [working on the film] were gay. Not that it's wrong to be gay, but they were not all that tuned in to big tits, and so I had to lose their help.
O: What current filmmakers are you fond of?
RM: I don't give any real particular thought about what current people are doing. I'm not that tuned in to that area. I'll catch a series of something, and I'll like it, and that's fine. I want to do a couple of really big, horny, large-breasted women, the kind of ladies I like, and that will be the next thing. I have one lady here right now, Ms. Mounds. She's very good. She'll put some sweat into your brow. She's very, very good from the standpoint that if you go on a tour with her, she'll be fucking you constantly. Unrelenting. Just every moment that you're free, she'll be sitting or lying on that bed, ready, legs wide spread open, pussy wet, ready to get everything you're ready to give her. So, that's the kind of lady that you need to have.
O: Are there any Hollywood actresses that you'd like to work with?
RM: No. I would always just kind of get young people, young women with big tits. You run into problems with women thinking, "What is this fellow trying to do, trying to make some sort of pornographic movie?" And I would say, "Yes, only with enormous tits. Yours are not large enough." It's upsetting. All of a sudden, you have problems. But Melissa is very good. She has huge tits, and they're cantilevered. They must be cantilevered. They must be defying gravity.
O: So it's safe to say that you're not ideologically opposed to breast augmentation or anything.
RM: Oh, I think it's fine. If it does a good job, what the heck? It's very good. I would advocate it. When the woman is older and has the old man by the short hairs, then he can get his dick up. He can be doing something worthwhile.
O: What was it like filming Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls for a major studio?
RM: We had an enormous amount of women—a couple of agents I knew would provide me with women—and by and large, I didn't have to go out and say, "Look, I'll give you a role." That was it. I would tell them, "I'll use you in the film, but you don't have to fuck me." And then they'd kind of breathe a sigh of relief.
O: When you're working on a project, do you usually start with actresses you want to use, or a script?
RM: It depends. I usually find a woman with big tits. That's all I really need to get started.
O: Then you find projects for them?
RM: Well, I've had good writers. They've always been able to supply what I've needed. I've been away from it for a long time. But I'm getting ready. I've found a woman who is very giant in that area, and I think she's worthy of consideration.
O: So, you'll be making a film sometime soon?
RM: Yes. I like the whole idea of eating pussy, too. It's very good. Just get in there and chew right to the nub.
O: That's something you weren't doing earlier?
RM: Not so much, but now I like it. But I can still whack away with my joint.
O: You're writing your autobiography right now, aren't you?
RM: Yep. It's looking good. As a matter of fact, I'm here, at a young lady's place, getting a renewed ability to do things. We still have our military reunions, and the girls will go down and take care of some of my G.I. friends, sit on their faces and so forth. One just left now. She has big breasts, and she was going out to bring me some food. Which is a pretty good thought.
O: You were also involved in a recent Playboy video, Voluptuous Vixens.
RM: Yeah, I thought that was a pretty good show.
O: You used to be a photographer for Playboy, right?
RM: Yeah, I've done that. It's just that I've got to find that kind of women, and Playboy really isn't coming up with it. The woman here, Melissa Mounds, whew! Big, big, big. Casting a long shadow.
O: So, you think that the women in Playboy don't have large enough breasts.
RM: Yeah, by and large. I've taken [Hugh] Hefner to task many times. He says, "Look, you just bring someone around and I'll put them in my magazines."
O: You don't think it's possible to have breasts that are too large?
RM: No, no. You've got to have big breasts, casting huge shadows. Just so the women don't buckle at the knees.
O: Of all the films that you've made, which is your favorite?
RM: Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls. Ebert and I went for the big time. That was it. An agent was helpful in that instance, so I can recall the first time Ebert came to work as a writer. I had another friend who was doing some stuff for Elvis Presley, and knew women and so forth. I remember one of the first women sent to me by this man. Ebert was in the next room, typing away. Every production person at the time had a couch, the kind with a big hump at each end, so the woman could lay back and accept the dick comfortably. I remember, there was this girl—Elvis Presley had been whacking away at her—and he sent this girl over and put her in there. I told her, "Look, what I want you to do is to lie on the couch and put your pussy right up in the air." So I called Ebert, and I said, "Ebert, I want you to come in here and look at something." And he says, "I'm working on a script; I have no time for that." And I say, "Will you just get in there?! There's something in there that I think you will find very, very interesting." And he went in, and all he did was turn back to me and say, "Hollywood!"
O: Did Elvis Presley ever visit the set of Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls?
RM: Yeah, a couple of times. He was in and out, and that was it. He wasn't there for the purpose of nailing some girl. He had so many, he didn't need it.
O: What did you think of Elvis?
RM: A charming, charming, exciting, incredible man.
O: Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls is quite a cult film now.
RM: A fact that both Ebert and I find extremely gratifying now. But I have problems with Ebert now. His wife is always there. We just don't have the same communication and close friendship anymore. She realizes that Meyer is a bad influence.