Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Miyazaki and Gorman (Who?) Meet Russ Meyer


My friend Roxanne Lane, once the powerhouse PSA coordinator for Women in Film, is serious about movies and the status of women. That’s why she turned me on to a blog called “Cherchez La Female,” in which entertainment journalist Krystyna Hunt muses about “the power and influence, good or bad, of women in films.” So far Hunt has discussed The Hunger Games, Winter’s Bone, Chicago, and the work of Hayao Miyazaki, whose strong female leads in animated features like Spirited Away strike her as the best possible role-models for young girls. Hunt describes her topic thus: “The roles of women in film have most often been controlled by men. Sometimes the portrayals have been very good (such as those produced by Studio Ghibli), sometimes they have been very bad (such as those directed by Roger Gorman).”

Hey, wait a minute! There’s no question that Studio Ghibli, which is Miyazaki’s home base, has produced wondrous heroines. But Roger Gorman? (The misspelling is Hunt’s, and reminds me of all the ways that Corman writers and directors have amused themselves by sneaking Roger’s name into their cast of characters. On TV’s The Phantom Eye, he himself played a mad scientist pointedly called Dr. Gorman. And I recall an oddball neighbor named Namroc, along with other variations.)

Anyway, though women in Roger Corman movies definitely serve an eye-candy function, I wouldn’t be so quick to see their roles as entirely negative. I’m thinking, for instance, of Angie Dickinson in Big Bad Mama. She’s strong; she’s tough; she’s sexy as all get-out; she takes charge of her own destiny. There are lots of other kick-ass women in Corman flicks too, and even the heroines of his slasher movies (like Slumber Party Massacre) have what it takes to survive, bloody but unbowed. Then there’s the fact that Roger has always made a point of promoting women behind the scenes. Many an established writer, director, editor, production manager, and crew member got her start thanks to Roger. Most notably, he discovered the talents of producers-to-be Barbara Boyle (Phenomenon) and Gale Ann Hurd (Terminator, Aliens, Armageddon) at a time when Hollywood was even more of an all-male club than it is today.

I suspect that a better example for Hunt of really offensive female characters can be found in the oeuvre of the late, unlamented Russ Meyer, who used his movies to work out his own obsession with the female anatomy. I admit to a certain fascination with Meyer’s sado-masochistic girl-on-girl slugfest, Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! But his much-talked-about Vixen (which I watched in the line of duty while researching the films of the late Sixties) just left me queasy. Its leading character’s exuberant sexuality is matched by her racism, her lack of scruples, and her overall bitchiness. Amazingly, in 1970, Twentieth Century-Fox gave Meyer a shot at the big time, with an assignment to direct the big-budget sexploitation flick, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. (The screenplay is by Roger Ebert, of all people, and I consider it not just trash but unwatchable.)

Nor was Meyer open to women on his creative staff. My old buddy Stan Berkowitz, who crewed on Supervixens, tells me that on the set he saw plenty of women, most of them
flaunting the audacious "Guns of Navarone" bazooms that were Meyer's stock in trade. But
on the production team there was not a female to be found, and the pneumatic starlets were
strictly off-limits. Meyer made movies to feed his personal fixations. He wanted his crews,
like himself, in a permanent state of arousal.



7 comments:

  1. You're right Beverly. Thanks for the critique. The "G" in Corman was a typo and I will correct that immediately -- and thanks for letting me know about this blog.

    ReplyDelete
  2. My pleasure, Krystyna. By the way, check out the spelling of Miyazaki's first name in your header for your "Making the Best Movies for Girls, Ever" post. Sorry to be persnickety, but once an English major always an English major. (I hate to think what typos I'M making!)

    I'm delighted we've found one another, and I look forward to reading more from you in future. Perhaps this is the start of a beautiful friendship!

    ReplyDelete
  3. OMG, you actually worked for Roger Corman! And you've had a very interesting life.

    I substituted his name with Russ Meyer's because Russ Meyer is totally, indisputably awful while Roger does have many who sing his praises. I must admit that what I've seen of Roger Corman's movies(most of the Edgar Allen Poe stories) were schlocky fun.

    On the other hand, if I had not mentioned Roger "Gorman" would Roxanne have passed you on to my blog? Now I'll probably hear from someone who worked for Russ Meyer who will not like my using his name in that context. Never mind, as long as they come over, I'm happy. I'm glad Roxanne came across my blog, because I only launched it last week and Roxanne is definitely outside my circle of friends and contacts.

    Actually I think the worst director of women, who is a good director, is Oliver Stone. His women are often one-dimensional and irrelevant -- just background noise in a world run by men.

    And thanks again for noticing the mistakes. As you can probably tell, my budget doesn't include an editor.

    I will definitely be coming back here, and nice of you to drop by my way once in awhile.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Roxanne is a smart, capable lady, and I am pleased she introduced us, so to speak. I promise to return to Cherchez la Female, and I'd be pleased if you'd visit me again. You can write to me here, or at beverly@beverlygray.com

    ReplyDelete
  5. Noooooo! Corman's Poe pictures... schlocky?!?!?! Surely the Poe's post Corman's involvement, but stuff like HOUSE OF USHER, PIT & THE PENDULUM, MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH, TOMB OF LIGEIA... Oh, well. I love'em, lol.

    Anyways, great post as always, Beverly. The thing I find most fascinating about the use of women in 70s exploitation movies is how the filmmakers often end up with the best of both worlds. The women are often stronger than, and ultimately dominate the men, Pam Grier being another example. They may lose their clothing, but this, too, is often as a tool of domination, or subjugation. It still may be viewed as degrading by some, but these characters (Cheri Caffaro's movies immediately come to mind) still evoke strength through this sexuality.

    I must admit, that it occurs so often in these movies that on the scant occasion that a particularly attractive female character (whether she's a strong central character, or some incidental onscreen for sensationalist purposes only) doesn't end up topless or teases some skin, I almost feel a bit disappointed, or slightly cheated. I guess you come to expect that sort of thing in these movies as it's happened with such frequency, we've been programmed to think that that sort of thing HAS to be in there somewhere.

    I will also admit I have seen some films that were far more proficient than the average trashy picture aiming for loftier aspirations. Then there'd be some gratuitously intrusive nudity or some extended sex scene that seemed a bit unnecessary and just did not fit. In these cases, the experience was lessened.

    Going back to Corman, he produced a film in 1976, one of the first films of Tommy Lee Jones entitled JACKSON COUNTY JAIL. I'm not sure if you worked on that one, Beverly, but it was unusually restrained in terms of exploitation, but what a non-typical New World Picture that one was. Wonderful movie, imo. It followed in the footsteps of the massive Drive In success of MACON COUNTY LINE (1974), yet the films trailer made it seem like the movie look more like an action picture than the suspense drama it really was.

    This same sort of thing seemed to "plague" some of Stephanie Rothman's movies. Her films strove to be more than mere exploitation, yet the trailers often made them appear that way.

    I've seen very little of Meyer's work, but from what I've seen, read, and perusing your own comments, Beverly, I take it I would probably come to the same conclusions!

    I seem to have rambled on a bit too much so I will shut up now, lol.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Well, no one will be surprised that I will continue to sing the praises of Roger Corman/Gorman/Harvey Korman and his heroines. Poor Russ Meyer. Everybody seems to have grabbed sticks and started whaling on him. Well, at least you could all come to an agreement on him!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Poor Russ Meyer indeed! From the biography I read about him, he doesn't seem like such a bad guy, just one who's a tad obsessed with tits!

      Delete