”I’m standing here stark naked,” announces Russ Meyer, over a transatlantic phone line from his suite at a London hotel, ”and I’m getting excited just talking about all this.” By ”all this,” the 74-year-old pioneering soft-core auteur means the strippers starring in his upcoming videotapes, Meyer’s return to form after a long dormancy: Pandora Peaks in A Tale of Two Titties and his ex-fiancée Melissa Mounds in Melissa Mounds. ”She’s the hottest woman I’ve ever worked with,” Meyer says of Mounds, who, he adds somewhat breezily, ”disappeared” about six months ago. Meyer, in Europe to receive an honor from the Royal Film Archive of Belgium’s film festival, hopes to release both 60-minute tapes this year.
Meyer is slightly less enthusiastic about the recent video release of his Mandingo-meets-9 1/2 Weeks potboiler Blacksnake!, not because he didn’t like the 1972 movie but because British star Anouska Hempel ”wasn’t the typical Meyer girl,” he says. ”She didn’t have the usual accoutrements.” Hempel, he says, replaced the original, busty leading lady, who was incapacitated by a drug overdose three days before filming commenced.
Since video porn’s proliferation in the ’80s, Meyer has been turning on fewer and fewer audiences. Though all of his 22 films are available on video (mostly from Meyer’s own R.M. Films International), he hasn’t made a feature since 1979’s Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens. ”As soon as the porno people came in,” Meyer laments, ”I couldn’t find a place to play.” Longtime Meyer fan Camille Paglia wishes he still could. ”He understood that sex was fun,” says the feminist author. ”His women had an exuberance and vitality you rarely see in film anymore.”
On a recent visit to his Hollywood home, the thrice-married Meyer, gray yet youthful looking in a T-shirt and short shorts, proudly pointed out the floor-to-ceiling posters of such cult classics as Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and the Roger Ebert-scripted Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. He’s still pining for Melissa Mounds, but he’s not too worried. ”She’s a spectacular lady,” says Meyer. ”If she doesn’t come around, I’ll find somebody else. I’m never alone.”