You could burnish the apple and say Russell Albion Meyer was the Rembrandt of soft porn. But why bother? The skin flick's most celebrated auteur who died of complications from pneumonia at 82 on Sept. 18 never aspired to high art; he reveled in the campy excesses of his fleshpot fantasies (including Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, Mondo Topless, and Mudhoney), all paeans to empowered, amply endowed supervixens (and the wimps they ultimately whupped). ''His message was that women aren't going to be walked on anymore,'' says Pussycat star Tura Satana, who claims to have been the only actress to break his ''No sex during shooting'' rule. ''For Russ, women ruled the world, whether guys believe it or not.''
''Russ' movies were essentially comedies and parodies,'' says critic Roger Ebert, a longtime friend who cowrote Meyer's Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. ''He was vastly amused by his own movies. He once told me there was no such thing as a sex scene that could not be improved by cutaways to a demolition derby or a rocket launch.'' Though Meyer had no delusions of grandeur, Ebert says he never got proper respect. ''He was a pioneer of American independent filmmaking. Before Sundance, Russ made his films his way and distributed them very successfully. They could have been shabby little sex films, but he was a craftsman whose photography was exact and whose editing was dynamic.''
In all, Meyer made 23 films, beginning with 1959's The Immoral Mr. Teas(about a man who can see through women's clothing); the picture cost $24,000 and made more than a million bucks—a business model he stuck with until his last theatrical release in 1979, Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens. ''There was no sitting around,'' says Satana of Meyer's cost-efficient sets. ''If you weren't in the shot, you were holding reflectors or the clapboard or moving props around or cooking dinner. It was like summer stock.''
Legitimacy came from Ivy League colleges offering Meyer film screenings, the Museum of Modern Art (which owns three of his films), and the endorsement of feminists. ''His women had an exuberance and vitality you rarely see in film anymore,'' author Camille Paglia told EW in 1996. Meyer was tickled, but for him, it was all about sex...and the mammarian valleys of his beloved dolls. ''I'm prone to say, yes, I do exploit women,'' he once said. ''I exploit them with zeal and gusto.''
Though Meyer preferred double Ds, both of these classics get As.
1966 Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!
John Waters called this ''the best movie ever made, and possibly better than any movie that will ever be made.'' A sadomasochistic thrill ride with psychotic go-go dancers, it stars Haji and Tura Satana, and showcases Meyer hallmarks: fast pacing, sumptuous photography, dreadful acting, a schizophrenic score, and some of the best bad dialogue ever.