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Incredibly Strange Films Excerpt: Russ Meyer

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RE/Search: Where do you find your women? I walk down the streets all the time and never see anybody quite like—

RUSS MEYER: There’s only a very few, and I’ve been fortunate to find a few of them. Those that I find and can’t use, it’s either because of a difficult boyfriend or a husband who doesn’t want the bird to flee the nest as it were. That’s the most asked question in interviews. That, or, “Does your mother have big breasts?” By and large, the girls are from the show business world—premiere strippers that make four or five thousand a week, or others that someone will recommend to me. They’re not easy to find.

R/S: They also have a certain larger-than-life quality to them. I remember watching Faster Pussycat and you had Susan Bernard, the Playmate, in it and she looked like a tiny dinky thing compared to Haji and Tura. Tura Satana in action

RM: She was a little squirt, very definitely…by and large women are not that tall, you know. If you get a woman that’s five foot seven, that’s pretty tall for a lady. In the instance of Tura, she was wearing boots and she was so voluptuous—big hat, big pair of hips, big boobs—a great Juno-esque looking lady…

R/S: She takes on a kind of mythical quality in that film.

RM: She’s part Cherokee and part Japanese. That was one of the few times I’ve really lucked out in a casting role—I couldn’t have found another girl that had the configuration, and really knew judo and karate and was as strong as an ox, and had never acted before. She’d been a stripper.

R/S: When you started making films did you come up with a story and say, “Hey, this would make a great sexploitation movie?”

RM: I didn’t know what sexploitation was. The Immoral Mr. Teas was the first breakthrough film in the sense that it popularized and established the “nudie.” Teas simply was an idea which I scripted out in a document and we shot it in four days. It was based on my experiences doing stills for Playboy. There’s a lot of stuff on the girl-next-door, the common man, the voyeur—little nude photo essays. So Teas was a film that was imitated by so many people—I imitated it, in a sense.

R/S: People always talk about your women, but I notice that certain male characters show up in your films, like Charles Napier and—

RM: Stuart Lancaster. I have a band of players. Lancaster was in Mudhoney: Uncle Luke with the bad heart, kindly and totally good, always rising to the defense of his niece. He played the narrator on Ultravixens which was a take-off on Our Town. Super guy, but never having done anything, largely because he inherited a fortune from his mother.

R/S: Another male character that comes to mind is Hal Hopper—what a sleazy guy!

RM: Poor Hal, he’s passed on. He was brought to my attention by an actor named James Griffin. Hal made a great nasty son-of-a-bitch..but he was also the guardian of little Jay North of Dennis the Menace. So here’s this whole other side of him. I wanted to use him again in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls but he was very ill. I’ve always felt comfortable using certain people, like Haji—she’s been in a lot of my films.

R/S: She’s one of the few woman characters that crop up again and again in your films.

Haji in Motor PsychoRM: She’s been in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Motor Psycho!, Faster Pussycat, Kill!Kill!, Good Morning and Goodbye, Supervixens, and Up!…With some of these people I feel very comfortable. Trouble is, with girls—generally I use them once and not again. It’s almost like having a wondrous affair, even though I might not have one—I have an affair with the camera with them. To put it very simply, it’s a miracle that these films are ever completed. Just a miracle. I mean the emotional problems, the insecurity, the loss of interest after three or four days—it’s a miracle films are finished—certainly mine.

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