Thursday, 7 January 2016

The Meyer Files #1: The Immoral Mr. Teas (1959)

I needed a long-term project for the new year. What was it going to be? A TV series? Comic books? Cooking tips? In the end, I decided to go for something completely different from my usual stuff: the filmography of Russ Meyer.

I have always been a fan of Russ Meyer and his movies. However it was not one of his movies which made me a fan -- it was a book. Jimmy McDonough's 2005 biography Big Bosoms and Square Jaws is a highly entertaining, passionate encapsulation of why Meyer and his work is so great. Even if you are not a fan or have not idea who Meyer is (as I was), McDonough's book is well worth a look.

On to Mr. Teas and his immoral ways...
I have never seen this film before. I am more familiar with Meyer's more 'mature' works, so this was a real eye opener.

A couple of things are striking about The Immoral Mr. TeasMeyer is well known for his visual style -- the vibrant colour, the focus on montage to create comic juxtaposition and the use of pretentious voice-overs to add another layer of irony to proceedings -- and this film features all of these things, but in embryonic form.

Barely an hour long, it is basically a silent comedy in the style of Jacques Tati. The only sounds are the pompous voice-over and a faux-French comedy score. Overall, the film shows Meyer's background in industrial films, with the focus on following mundane events in exhausting detail. It basically looks like one of those shitty short docs they used to play before the movie on Mystery Science Theatre 3000 (think Hired! from The Bride of the Monster episode).

Like an industrial film, there is no real story. The viewer just follows the titular character in his daily life, as he goes about his work and enjoys his spare time. All the while, he pines for the bountiful beauties around him.

It soon becomes clear that this world is basically occupied by Teas and a group of beautiful women. However, whenever one gets close, Teas runs for the hills. There are men in this movie, but their faces are generally obscured (the reason being the actors, mostly Meyer's friends, did not want to be recognised for appearing in such a salacious picture). For the late 50s this might have been 'hot stuff', but in 2016 it is pretty tame.

There are huge chunks of this movie which are just montages of Teas delivering packages on his bike. They are so monotonous. The extremely annoying theme which plays during these sequences made me want to throw my laptop against the wall. About half an hour in, a vague plot kicks in. Teas has to go to the dentist for a tooth ache and the anaesthetic causes him to start seeing naked women everywhere.

In 1959-1960, this movie left a huge impact, mainly on its novelty value. Watching it in the 21st Century, long after the novelty has worn off, the flaws are obvious. Meyer's compositions are striking, with plenty of tilted angles and strong colour, but the editing -- the centrepiece of Meyer's style -- is slack, and the lack of onscreen drama adds up to tedium.

Following its blockbuster success, Meyer would go on to copy the Mr. Teas formula in his next couple of movies, before realising he would have to start thinking about including plots and characters. 

Don't worry. There's some good movies coming up. Speaking of which...
Russ Meyer will return with Eve And The Handyman!

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