Not quite nude enough to satisfy nudie-cutie enthusiasts and just a shade too blue to work as a light documentary on the finer tourist spots in Europe, I’m not entirely sure how one could successfully classify Russ Meyer’s 1963 oddity, Europe in the Raw. Conventional wisdom states that it is one of Meyer’s most trifling efforts; a complete bore from which some of the nude bits were put to better use three years later in Meyer’s somewhat similar Mondo Topless. But, in the year of our Lord 2021, I’m not so sure this assessment is entirely correct given the almost incalculable value viewers will get from seeing beautifully shot Europe as it was in 1963 and also due to the fact that, Darlene Gray aside, Mondo Topless is a pretty tiresome affair itself. So, yes, on one hand, Europe in the Raw is pretty dull. On the other hand, it’s at least pretty. And after the forced, mixed bag that were the nudie cuties that came before it, there is a pleasantly unshackled and relaxed exhalation that can be felt coming from Meyer which is refreshing even if it is inconsequential.
So, I guess we could just classify Europe in the Raw as a travelogue with boobs, and, to the latter point, only sometimes. As a travelogue, Europe in the Raw shows just what a gifted filmmaker Meyer was and, ironically, it is this aspect is the film’s greatest achievement as the copious amount of footage of vintage neon signage and staggeringly captured European architecture makes the nudity almost a secondary concern. Through his forcefully delivered corny dialogue and angles so Dutch that they’re almost an x-axis, Meyer bounds through Europe and shutterbugging everything he can, making the film feel like a vacation slide deck where a few errant images of a more adult nature “accidentally” got slipped into the carousel to liven up the party.
But, let’s face it, as he would find out later with (better) pictures such as The Seven Minutes and Blacksnake, things that don’t have even the most tangential relationship with enormous tits are not exactly what people who came to a Russ Meyer picture paid to see. Europe in the Raw begins with a breathless promise to bring you some of the most verboten and libidinous footage ever captured on film through a hidden camera, the discreetness of which is about on par with trying to conceal the presence of a full-sized chainsaw simply by holding it behind your back (as is actually attempted in Pieces, Juan Piquer Simón’s anti-masterpiece from 1982). It’s a hokey device and only some of the footage shot with the camera was used due to Meyer’s difficulty with operating it (“A pain in the ass” is how he described it), but the various low-slung POV tracking shots through the streets lined with authentic sex workers and a slow walk through a lace curtain that leads into a prostitute’s room both have definite pulses.
And while the latter bit is most definitely staged, it feels more genuine and alive than the majority of the routines that occur on actual stages. Save and except the routine by German dancer Avundabida, the vast majority of the elements that would make this a Russ Meyer film are listless, drab, and lacking the kind of energy that creates the wonderful two-way street with Meyer’s work. Where the carefully snipped, wild undulations of Uschi Digart could cause the entire celluloid of Cherry, Harry, and Raquel! to almost combust, the only chemistry between subject and camera in Europe in the Raw seems to be when Meyer is shooting structures and not strippers.
Again, if you honestly dig the photographic work of Meyer and appreciate him as a master craftsman, there is much to love here, most especially as time begins to take their toll on these locations. Likewise, a high-angled scene with a prostitute in Copenhagen has a candy-colored giallo spirit to it, illustrating how innately gorgeous and eye-popping some of Meyer’s lighting and color schemes could be. Even more so than the opening moments of Wild Gals of the Naked West, Europe in the Raw is all the evidence one would need to prove that Meyer’s work was worth the expense that was sadly never sunk into the preservation or restoration of his work.
While its reputation as a worthless endeavor kind of precedes it, Europe in the Raw is neither fish nor fowl. It’s not a sad effort that stirs any adverse feelings in me nor is it something that I have to force myself through, but it’s certainly not the title I would pull off the shelf when introducing a living room full of people to the work of Russ Meyer.
What I would do, however, is throw it on as if it were a slide show, casually yelling out “Whoops! How’d that naked lady get in there?!?!?!?” to that same living room full of people while simultaneously pounding my third gin and tonic and yukking it up with our guests.
What can I say? Shit gets wild over here.
(C) Copyright 2021, Patrick Crain