by Jimmy McDonough, reading at Powell's City of Books, 1005 W Burnside, Fri June 22, 7:30 pm
The hotly debated film career of Russ Meyer spanned the course of 30 years (1950s-'80s) and produced more than 50 movies whose subject was essentially the women starring in them. To some, Meyer lived parasitically off of these women as a misogynist exploiter, taking advantage of their Amazonian physiques for his own monetary and libidinous gain. To others, Meyer promoted a new kind of feminism, highlighting the timeless power of monumental womanly sexuality. Whichever camp you're in, Meyer was, below all else, an innovator in independent film and the fight against censorship, and a worthy predecessor/contemporary of such fetishist immortalizers as John Waters and R. Crumb.
Biographer Jimmy McDonough chronicles the life of this controversial icon with zealous fanboy detail in Big Bosoms and Square Jaws. Like his embattled biography of Neil Young, Shakey (for which Young later sued McDonough and the publisher), he writes of Russ Meyer's life in plain language, often using the figurative voice of a burlesque barker. His colorful descriptions of the women often even read like a Russ Meyer film looks, conveying Meyer stars like Lorna Maitland as, "A stiff swirl of cotton candy blonde hair, lips like a pair of overstuffed couches mating, a lethal weapon body…" The anecdote-charged life of Meyer comes off the pages in an id-rattling read that will leave you thirsty for a tall glass of milk.
A truly thorough biographer, McDonough leaves nothing out of his account of Russ Meyer's life. From his humble but rough and tumble beginnings with an appropriately dominant mother to his confusion-addled end days in the Hollywood Hills, Big Bosoms is a 450-page must-read for Meyer fanatics and anyone remotely interested in filling the voids in their independent film lexicon. It's a worthy and sometimes painful tribute to the man who, through film, aptly addressed the love/hate relationship between men, women, and the tidal societal constraints affecting both sexes. Ultimately, McDonough shows us who Russ Meyer really was: a painfully honest son-of-a-bitch whose love of women and cameras conquered the American subconscious.