Tuesday, October 03, 2006


After watching the phenomenal Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, I decided to check out some previous Russ Meyer films and arrived at Vixen. Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was made at 20th Century Fox, and he made full use of the resources the studio offered him. Vixen has a much lower budget, and also a lower scope. The thing I love about Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is the way that Meyer just throws everything in there. There's comedy, there's horror, there's songs, and the filmmaking style is full of really bold cutting and narrative technique.

Vixen is pretty straight forward, a series of narrative episodes that can be summarized thusly: Vixen encounters a person then has sex with them. The best parts of the film are where Meyer plays up the camp sense of fun that he does so well. The opening scene with Vixen and the Mountie (or mountee in this case) is the strongest. Backed by some smooth 60s music we see Vixen seduce the mountie then they crack some jokes about her husband and run through the woods naked. It's funny, it's peppy and it's sexy, and I think that's what Meyer's intention is with the whole film.

I don't think it's a particularly notable film, but it's always entertaining and a lot of that is do to Erica Gavin. She's really beautiful, in a very 60s way. I love the makeup and hairstyle trends of that time, they hold up better than anything that followed in the 70s, 80s or 90s. Gavin was likely cast for her breasts, but she brings an interesting screen presence. She's very fierce, always the aggressor in any situation and the fun of the film is watching her cross every possible societal boundary.

It was pretty shocking to hear her dropping racial epithet after racial epithet, even more curious considering the relatively progressive racial landspace presented in Dolls. I'm guessing the intention was to demonstrate how ingrained racist attitudes are, this is a woman who will have sex with her own brother, but won't call a black man by his name. At the end of the film, they come to a mutual understanding, he recognizes that trying to overthrow the system would lead to chaos and she sees him as a human being for the first time. It's a bit odd that the film spends so much time on this political debate, considering the first 50 minutes or so consisted almost exclusively of sex scenes.

The most boundary breaking of these would be Vixen's encounter with her brother. I think this would have been more effective if their relationship hadn't been played as sexual right from the beginning. That numbed the impact of her eventual decision to sleep with him, I was pretty much expecting it from their first conversation. That said, the use of the showerhead in that scene was well done.

So, the opening and closing were pretty solid, I think the film went awry in the middle, with the couple's visit to the lodge. Audiences at the time were probably there just to see the sex, but having seen what Meyer could do in Dolls, I wanted more than just that. I'm not going to complain about watching Erica Gavin naked multiple times, but that's just a surface attraction, the film isn't giving us anything more.

But, I think the ending worked well, and the film stands as a snapshot of social relations at the time. This film was the first to receive an X rating, and it's representative of a culture where the sexual revolution is in full swing. You wouldn't see this kind of plotting outside of porn these days, but what separates this from porn is the joy present behind the work. At its best moments, the film allows you to share Vixen's joy at transgressing societal boundaries and just living her own way. I just wish the film aimed higher and attacked a broader canvas of issues. After having seen Faster Pussycat and Vixen, it seems that Dolls is the realization of all Meyer's previous potential into one epic piece of pop entertainment.

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