Big Bosoms and Square Jaws: The Biography of Russ Meyer, King of the Sex Film

Would you look at that title. Just look at that wonderful, wonderful title. What a helluva a title, and so appropriate for a biography about Russ Meyer, director of such films as Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, Vixen and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. The man was the king of sleaze, and I don’t mean that in a negative way.

I picked this book up the same time I picked up Bloody Sam: The Life and Films of Sam Peckinpah, and I damn near read both back-to-back. Good thing I took a break with Brian Keene’s Dead Sea because, honestly, that might just have been to much mysoginism. Even for me.

Like Bloody Sam, Big Bosoms covers the life of its subject with lurid on and off the set. Meyer was a mean sonovabitch, particularly to women, but he also dished it out to his friends. Its really amazing how much Peckinpah and Meyer were alike, yet so different, when it came to women. Both saw women as objects, but where Peckinpah showed them as weak in his films, the ladies in Meyer’s films were nothing but strong Amazonian types. Yet, off screen, it’s obvious that neither men held women in any high regard.

Big Bosoms and Square Jaws: The Biography of Russ Meyer, King of the Sex Film

Big Bosoms is really a fantastic book. Sadly, not much is known about Meyer’s childhood, and the book starts from just about the time he joined the Army. I would really love to know what went on in his household. With Peckinpah, it was rather easy to see why he felt about women the way he did. But there is so much disinformation about Meyer’s relationship with his mother (from the book, Meyer seemed to really love his mother, or fear her, or maybe both). Since Meyer never had anything bad to say about moms, one can’t even really speculate on the true relationship. However, it was noted that mother always referred to Meyer’s girlfriends and wives as ‘cows’, so maybe there is something to be said for that.

One major problem I had with the book, though, is the voice of its author, Jimmy McDonough. For the most part, it’s a well written novel, but there are times where he jumps into a hardcase crime type of voice, and it really doesn’t work. I can completely understand the reasoning behind it. There’s a certain vibe you get when you think of Meyer and/or his films. He’s got a style, for sure. But McDonough’s flaw is he’s not consistent with his voice, and when he drops to the hardboiled type of writing, it completely breaks up the flow. I believe part of it is it just might not come natural to McDonough. Either that, or its so different from other parts of the book, and it hurts the novel some.

Yet, with that said, the wealth of information and interviews within the book make up for it. It can’t be overlooked, but the book is still very enjoyable. It just could have been better.

I think the biggest travesty of all, though, is I’ve never seen a Meyer film, but I’ve certainly heard of them. It’s just that a damn decent release of them is so hard to come by. The U.S. releases suck, and the U.K. box set costs over $100. But, after reading Big Bosoms, I certainly have my eye on it. The book makes it clear that after Meyer’s death, the people that took over his estate obviously don’t give a damn about Meyer’s legacy, and only care about the coin. And that’s a damn shame.

Bloody Sam: The Life and Films of Sam Peckinpah

I was first introduced to Sam Peckinpah’s work rather recently (within the past year or so) when I finally sat down and watched Straw Dogs. I was rather underwhelmed, considering the high regard Dogs is held. I expressed my feelings on the HorrorTalk boards, and Chuk, a Peckinpah fan, recommended I watch The Wild Bunch, which I did. While I enjoyed it a little more than Dogs, I still was not grasping why Peckinpah was heralded as a Great American Director.

After discussing with Chuk my feelings on Bunch, he gave me one last movie recommendation — Bring Me the Head of Alfreda Garcia. Chuk said that Garcia would be right up my alley, and if I didn’t like it, he couldn’t help me. Well, I liked it, a lot. But there was something I noticed in Garcia that stuck out in Dogs. Both had rape scenes in which the woman seemed to enjoy being victimized.

I brought this up to Chuk, and he then gave me a book recommendation — “If They Move… Kill ‘Em!”: The Life and Times of Sam Peckinpah. Chuk explained that the book would answer some of my questions. As I’m always buried in books, I threw Kill ‘Em on my wish list over at BookMooch (if you read, and aren’t a member, join).

Kill ‘Em sat in my wish list for a while (apparently no one had it, or no one wanted to give it up), and I was getting to the point where I would have to actually break down and buy it. Fortunately, I was at my local Daedalus book store (a fantastic bookstore, go if you have one near you) scouring their film section, when I came across Bloody Sam: The Life and Films of Sam Peckinpah by Marshall Fine. I figured, what the hell. It was about 7 bucks, 464 pages and I was tired of waiting for Kill ‘Em. This would have to do.

And do it did.

Bloody Sam by Marshall Fine

Bloody Sam is a no-holds-barred account of Peckinpah’s life and film career, starting with his family histroy before his birth all the way to just after his death. I didn’t just get an education on his movies, I got an education on the man. This is very important, as I found out why his films, at least the ones I’ve seen to date, seem so incredibly misogynistic. Well, that’s because his mom was such a bitch. Controlling, manipulative and vindictive, it’s quite easy to see why Peckinpah treated women — both on screen and off — the way he did. It certainly doesn’t excuse his actions, but at least I have an understanding why.

The book also breaks down the troubles Peckinpah had with actors, producers, studio execs and crew on each of the films. And, believe me you, most of those troubles were due to Peckinpah’s thickheadedness and overall asshole demeanor. He was an alcoholic through most of his life, and a coke addict almost to the end (these vices most likely contributed to his death at the relative young age of 59, two months shy of his 60th birthday).

Bloody Sam seemingly covers everything about Peckinpah, and has motivated me to check out more of his films, as well as giving the three I’ve already scene another spin. I honestly don’t know if my opinion will change on them — in particular, Straw Dogs — but I’m quite sure I’ll look at them in a different light because of the wealth of information the book provided me with.

I highly, highly recommend this book to anyone who’s a fan of film. Hell, I wasn’t a big fan of Peckinpah, and I completely dug it. Bloody Sam is well written, chock full of tidbits, anecdotes and behind the scenes anarchy (one of my favorites being when Peckinpah pissed off Charlton Heston so bad, he (Heston) came at him with a saber. I’m not a fan of Heston). It pulls no punches, and doesn’t attempt to paint Peckinpah in a glamorous light. And that’s what makes it great. It lays out all of the information in front of you and says, “Hey, this guy might have been an asshole, but look at what he accomplished and think of what he could have accomplished if he was given a little more free reign.”

The question the book leaves you — or at least me — with is: Would Peckinpah had been even bigger, if he wasn’t so damn hard to work with?

I guess we’ll never have the answer to that, but Bloody Sam: The Life and Films of Sam Peckinpah certainly gives you enough information to draw your own conclusions.

Devil’s Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three

On May 6th, 2003, the battered bodies of three young boys were found in a creek in West Memphis, Arkansas.

About a month later, three teenage boys would be arrested and charged with the crime.

Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, two documentary makers, headed down to Arkansas to film this interesting case. The two young filmmakers arrived with the assumption that the three charged — Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Miskelly — were guilty. Hell, Miskelly had apparently confessed to the crime. It seemed the case was open and shut.

But, as time went on, the two noticed that there was no evidence against the three defendants. Other than some minor scrapes with the law, there was nothing pointing to the fact that these three teens killed the boys. Oh, wait, they wore black and listened to heavy metal music. And they also had that confession from Miskelly (who, buy the way, is borderline retarded).

When I first saw Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, the finished documentary, I was blown away at the miscarriage of justice. Not only did it feel like I was watching a real live witch hunt, I couldn’t fathom how backwoods and ignorant the people involved with the case were, from the police investigating all the way up to the useless fuck of a judge overseeing the case.

Then its sequel, Paradise Lost 2: Revelations came out. Having not knowing much, I figured this documentary would have a nice update, such as the teens getting released, or at the very least, new trials. No such luck. All the sequel did was piss me off more, as it suggested another possible suspect in the case, Mark Byers (one of the victims’ father).

So, when I heard about Mara Leveritt’s book, “Devil’s Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three,” I knew I had to read it. But, arriving late in the game, it was a hard book to track down. It seemed that it was often sold out at Amazon. But I lucked out a couple weeks ago and picked it up from a bookstore in B’more (the name of it escapes me, but it was one of those great bookstores that has all those types of books you can’t find anywhere else).

Devil's Knot - Mara Leveritt

Wow. What an asskicking this book gave me.

I knew Echols, Baldwin and Miskelly had gotten completely railroaded at their trials — the documentaries showed this. But the book complements the docs perfectly, as it goes into more detail on how completely the State completely and utterly mishandled both the investigation and the trial. And we’re not just talking about a very questionable confession. We’re talking about leads not followed up on (like the bloody man that stumbled into a Popeye’s that no one ever bothered to investigate, or the kid who admitted to killing the three young boys, but no one bothered to follow through with checking out the story).

Leveritt is an extraordinary writer. While it’s obvious she feels the boys are innocent — any reasonable person would, I think — her writing is still level. Hell, while I hated the prosecutor after watching the documentaries, I found that, while he was extremely misguided because of the pressure he was under, he came across as, dare I say it, somewhat likeable. It still pisses me off that you get the feeling that he, the prosecutor, knows he fucked up, but he won’t swallow his pride and re-open the investigation.

Leveritt doesn’t bother throwing out a lot of potential suspects for the murders. Instead, she displays the entire case, from start to finish, in front of you and asks you to make the call.

I intentionally kept this post as vague as I could. If you ever get me talking about the case, I get angry as I talk more about it. But, if this sort of thing interests you, I want to be vague so you can make your own decision.

If you want to see one of the biggest courtroom injustices in recent history, I implore you at the very least to watch the documentaries. And if you are moved by them at all, to read “Knot.”