Not long into director Russ Meyer's outsized 1970 Hollywood satire Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, the filmmaker introduces all of his principal characters via a sex-drugs-and-rock-and-roll party held at the Los Angeles manse of a dandified, reptilian music impresario who speaks primarily in Elizabethan English. As a sea of beautiful gyrating bodies gets down to the sounds of the real-life psychedelic-pop group the Strawberry Alarm Clock performing its 1967 hit "Incense and Peppermints," Meyer's camera leaps from dancing couple to dancing couple, lingering just long enough for viewers to overhear a series of outrageous one-liners: "When I'm with you, pussycat, who needs grass?" and "It wasn't very long, but it was four inches thick," and "I was so anxious to get out of bed, I stepped on her face." Taking the hand of the gorgeous ingenue frontwoman of an all-female band that arrived in town earlier that day, the host surveys the bacchanal and declares, "This is my happening, and it freaks me out!"
That line, borrowed in 1997's spy spoof Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, deftly encapsulates the singular cinematic career of Hollywood iconoclast Meyer, who died September 18 at age 82. As producer/director/screenwriter/cinematographer/editor, he functioned as a veritable one-man studio, making 25 features between 1959's The Immoral Mr. Teas and 2001's Pandora Peaks. Unapologetically he stocked his movies with leggy, long-haired, impossibly chesty women, who looked as if they just walked out of a men's mag centerfold (hardly surprising, given that Meyer served as a photographer for Playboy before turning to filmmaking). Fast-paced, cartoonish, and highly entertaining, his fleshy sexploitation pictures demolished prudish industry barriers, with more than a few becoming box-office bonanzas.
This Saturday the Miami Beach Film Society toasts Meyer with a com-bust-ible double feature of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and his 1965 black-and-white ode to Amazonia, Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, wherein three leather-booted, sports-car-driving go-go dancers with dominatrix tendencies wreak havoc on pantywaists in a Southwestern desert. Director John Waters calls Pussycat "the best movie ever made -- possibly better than any film that will ever be made in the future."
Equally cherished in certain quarters, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, one of the few movies Meyer helmed for a major studio (with a script by film critic Roger Ebert), gleefully savages Hollywood conventions while simultaneously celebrating them: an unfired gun in the first act; small-town girls corrupted by big-city excess; a plucky cripple; a money-grubbing attorney; a straight-arrow boyfriend; an epicene showbiz Svengali; a flowery, moralistic epilogue delivered by a stentorian narrator; a deliriously happy ending. "It is by far the most important film I ever made," Meyer confided to the Toronto Star in 1995. "Roger and I embrace that one to our bosoms, or co-bosoms."