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What can you make of a guy like Russ Meyer? Meyer's films, and no doubt Meyer himself would agree with this assessment, were created for the sole purpose of having beautiful women with huge breasts grace the screen. Yet at the same time, Meyer has created a body of work which even stuffy critics analyse for some sort of meaning, and, in truth, the man has an undeniable skill which allows his films to be as impressive as they are. Faster Pussycat Kill Kill was a brilliant B-movie, containing some genuine - if sleazy and nasty - psychological motivation and insights in its characters. And Vixen!, clearly a soft-core flick, has moments of some interest, although it's unlikely that Meyer expects the target audience to care about those moments - well, except for the moments when Erica Gavin is without clothes.

Buy a Vixen Poster!
Buy a Vixen Poster !

The story takes place in British Columbia, of all places, where a bush pilot and his wife (the Vixen of the movie, played by Gavin) reside, flying visitors to and from their cabin. Vixen is not the faithful wife, however, as, in her very first scene, she makes it with the local Mountie. Later, she gets it on with both the husband and wife who are the latest guests in the bush pilot's cabin. Other character's in this movie include Vixen's brother, whom she taunts about as aggressively as she does with non-familial relations, and the brother's friend, Niles, an African-American who, like many people of the era, jumped the border to escape the Vietnam draft.

In FPKK, the buried subtext was the weakness of men when faced with aggressive - sexually and otherwise - women. All of the male characters were weak in some way, and the climax was heavy on significance, as only another woman - and a "good girl", at that - was able to stop the most evil woman, and the man who puts in the most effort to fight off these women was mentally challenged. In Vixen!, racial politics and political ideology are buried themes, although the themes are more obviously window-dressing, and I've read comments on the Internet Movie Database which say these themes border on the tasteless for the kind of film this is. I won't say that it is tasteless, but these subjects are pretty odd in a film of this kind. But because Meyer has talent, he is able to use all of these elements in such a way that the film seems complete, and has purpose, even when we realize that he probably just added the politics as an afterthought, so he couldn't be accused of making a pornographic film.

It is difficult, in truth, to figure out Meyer's frame of mind during much of the film. Vixen uses enough racially explosive phrases to make Archie Bunker proud, while Niles responds with comments which subtly mock her prejudges, even as Vixen believes that his mocking is in fact confirmation of her beliefs (much like the dynamic between Bunker and Lionel Jefferson in the first few seasons of All in the Family, don't you think?). For a long while, I wondered what was going on, and what Meyer was really thinking when he introduced this material. Is Meyer a racist??? But during the climax, things make sense, as I understood that Meyer was about to make a point about racism and politics, he just wanted to show us 60 minutes of sex first before he got to the message! We discover that his friend, Vixen's brother, really has little respect, and is willing to humiliate him. And when a Communist arrives to secretly hijack the bush plane, Niles joins in, somewhat intrigued by the Commie's vision of equality among the peoples. But this is followed by some impassioned speech-making by Niles in which he blows the lid off both Communism and democracy, suggesting that both are oppressive in their own fashions. His conclusion is that democracy is better, not because it is noble, but because it is "the lesser of two evils." And Vixen finally understands. Pretty heady stuff for a soft-core, hmmm?

So there is at least one psychological insight in Vixen!: she is so selfish, so narcissistic, so focussed on "decadence" and "perversity", and self-gratification, that of course she would be bigoted to people who aren't like her. Interesting, don't you think, that in both Meyer films I've seen, the lesson is that women who are aggressive and sexual are also evil, or in some ways wrong? But why? What is the point in showing us sexy women if you are going to suddenly call them wrong in the end?

Now the real reason people watch Meyer: the women. Erica Gavin can't act at all, but, like the other Meyer women, she is there for our visual enjoyment, and she is attractive on that score. What is interesting is that she is not the skinny waif/model you'd see in a current soft-core. She is voluptuous, and some rude individuals would probably even call her "chunky". But that is what a real woman would look like if they were large-breasted: large breasts on a larger body, etc. She looks natural, and that is a good thing. The sex scenes are pornographic (well, in 1968 they were), of course, but that's the point, so you really can't object too much to them. Besides, just think, they could be shooting at each other, so when you look at it that way, isn't it much more pleasing for them to just have sex? Sex is so much more enjoyable!

I found the whole Canadian aspect very funny, being a Canadian myself. For me, it was quite amusing to see the very first shot, a close up of the Canadian flag, followed by other shots of what is probably Vancouver, accompanied by fairly appropriate music.

Well, Vixen! is merely a soft-porn, not like the bizarre intrigue of FPKK, which is why it only gets two and a half stars. It is put together reasonably well, because Meyer has a talent to go along with his obsession with attractive women. Overall, it's a somewhat amusing foray into the mind of one of the most unlikely of famous directors.

Copyright 2001 David Macdonald

David Macdonald's Movie Reviews

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