Monday, March 2, 2015

Up! (1976)

          To create the fever-dream narrative of Up!, unlikely collaborators Roger Ebert and Russ Meyer—forever bonded by their mutual fascination with gigantic breasts—reteamed for the first time since Ebert wrote and Meyer directed the notorious big-studio flop Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970). This time around, Ebert wisely used an alias to avoid tarnishing his status as a Pulitzer Prize-winning movie critic. Since the crazy plot of Up! is riddled with tropes that Meyer put into nearly all of his movies, including satirical jabs at the Third Reich and vicious portrayals of duplicitous women, one suspects that Ebert’s primary contribution was the nonstop barrage of whimsically overwritten dialogue. (One character is referred to as “Gwendolyn, holy champion of fornication,” and a lurid piece of narration teases viewers thusly: “But where does the killer lurk still? Recall the clues, for there are no more.”)
          Beyond the movie’s weird approach to language, distinguishing characteristics of Up! represent pure Meyer excess—frenetic editing that renders coherence and logic nearly irrelevant; outrageously excessive close-ups of bouncing breasts and female pubic hair; lyrically composed nature tableaux that are really just tarted-up peeping-tom angles of happily humping humans; and, most importantly of all, a playfully perverse melding of sex and violence. Oh, and lest anyone miss the phallic meaning of the title, check out the way the right-side serif of the letter “U” is styled in the movie’s logo. Meyer was a man who embraced his pleasures wholeheartedly, so Up! was clearly designed as a compendium of things that got him off, whether that comprised ogling a pair of massive mammaries or portraying a Hilter-like character as a grotesque bisexual who pays men and women to abuse him. (Brace yourself for the sound effects during the rear-entry scene in “Adolph Schwartz’s” sex dungeon.)
          The weird storyline of Up! begins with the murder of the Hitler character by a masked assailant, and then tracks the adventures of buxom drifter Margo Winchester (Raven De La Croix). After being raped and left for dead, Margo gets a job at a diner run by closeted lesbian Sweet Li’l Alice (Janet Wood) and her put-upon boyfriend, Paul (Robert McLane). Soon, Margo becomes lovers with both Paul and corrupt local sheriff Homer Johnson (Monty Bane), even as the identity of the masked killer remains unknown. While the movie’s  narrative is really just a slender clothesline on which Meyer hangs lots of softcore sex scenes, the story also includes bizarre interludes of ultraviolence. In the strangest such passage, not one but two different men recover from massive axe wounds during a brawl that occurs simultaneously with a gang rape.
          Even at his best, Meyer’s crude and maniacal comic sensibility was hard to take, and Up! does not reflect Meyer at his peak. Rather, the picture arrived near the end of his long run as an exploitation kingpin, since he only made one more fictional feature before retiring his stockpile of dildos and Nazi paraphernalia. Although Meyer displays enough skin for even the most depraved viewer, complete with periodic appearances by famed stripper Kitten Navidad as the film’s nude hostess/narrator, Up! can’t muster the zing of prior Meyer epics. Except for brief interludes of surreal glee, the movie is grotesque instead of irreverent, and trashy instead of titillating. Even the climactic nude knife fight between two bodacious ladies in a riverbed fails to generate the cheap thrills that it should.


No comments: