Film Review

THE RUSS MEYER FILES: HEAVENLY BODIES (1963)

As Russ Meyer stumbled to the finish line of the nudie cutie craze, it was apparent that he was a filmmaker of commanding energy and imagination that had run through the proverbial store and exhausted it of its contents. 1963’s Heavenly Bodies, his last true nudie cutie, is indicative of both conceits. For Heavenly Bodies is quite literally a segmented movie in the spirit of Erotica that gives full-throated articulation, in numerous anecdotal ways, how the photography of beautiful women is the cornerstone to most commerce through advertising. Throughout each segment in the film, Meyer covers his models in every conceivable pose and situation in an attempt to justify the film’s reason for being. Unfortunately, the film is nothing more than a sixty-odd minute treatise on the not-controversial discovery that, if you already weren’t aware, sex sells.

Heavenly Bodies may not, in fact, even be a real nudie cutie. It’s sort of a combination between a nudie cutie and a pseudo-documentary on photography. This film is little more than Meyer shooting various cameramen shooting models in various states of undress; like a distilled Brian De Palma sexploitation picture in which the movie audience watches people within the movie watching. I might go so far as to say that this might be of equal interest for fans of Meyer’s parade of buxom women or those who have a raw enthusiasm for photography.

And just because the film is trite and silly and exhausted of anything that would make it work as entertainment, there is no denying Meyer’s skill for framing and composition. Some of the earliest images in the film wherein the camera is foregrounded aside Meyer’s models stunningly resemble the split-diopter shots that famously pepper the films of the aforementioned Brian De Palma. Additionally, the segment featuring Nancy Andre has a wild, unbridled energy that would later propel Mudhoney and Vixen showing once again that these nudie cuties were just wood shedding opportunities for Meyer. Just as the upshot view through the bed springs first made its storied appearance in Wild Gals of the Naked West, the utilization of the model in the spinning Danish chair looks suspiciously like a key moment in Cherry, Harry & Raquel.

Perhaps one of the film’s most interesting and revealing moments comes in the second segment as Russ Meyer leads his fellow buddies in the Army’s 166th Signal Photo Company out in the woods to photograph Althea Currier and Monica Strand. Less cheeky than some of the narration in this and the other films before it, Meyer almost deftly uses a photo field trip and all of its trappings to show a metaphoric group sex orgy in which almost every single line of narration could be taken as wry double-entendre. And it is only in this portion of the film that Meyer’s talent and wit collide to make something interesting. “Was your class reunion anything like this?” the narrator asks as Meyer’s buddies all snap away at the ladies as he stands behind them and directs them all. This is Meyer in a metaphoric nutshell. He was a tough, no-nonsense man who took his work very seriously but he was famously big-hearted and generous to friends and loved-ones. Meyer loved to work but he also liked to show people a good time and to be the ringmaster of such journeys. Here, the idea is made flesh and Meyer is showing his Army buddies, the closest friends he ever had, just how awesome his life is surrounded by tits and ass, encouraging them to indulge themselves.

But, honestly, that’s about all that can be said about Heavenly Bodies, the merciful end to Russ Meyer’s nudie cutie period. It’s a dull, mostly rote affair that, at 55 minutes, feels a little incomplete. But the fault in the film is more or less due to the depletion of the tank. For even after blazing the trail and exploring its outer limits, Meyer could still find ways to make the dullest of the sexploitation subgenres achieve a certain artistry in their visual execution.

That said, I sure am glad he only made a finite amount of them.

(C) Copyright 2021, Patrick Crain

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