Wednesday, 3 February 2016

The Meyer Files #9: Mondo Topless! (1966)

This movie is mad. Completely and utterly off its rocker.

Right from the outset, this movie sets out to destroy any conception of rational thought. It's all about moving from one 'buxotic' to the next, with little rhyme or reason beyond Meyer's peerless editing, the never-ending rock soundtrack and the mighty John Furlong's unbelievable narration to link the whole thing together.

Together it makes a strange kind of sense -- a fever dream of breasts, lips, cars, signs, trains and transistor radios. In its individual set pieces, it makes a different kind of sense -- like glimpses into a live action Road Runner cartoon with Mansfield-shaped women to lend perspective. Does that make sense? Of course not! Let's move on.

Boiling it down, this movie is a souped-up version of Europe in the Raw. The reason for its creation was not artistic. The fact is Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! was a massive flop which drained Eve Productions of funds. In need of a quick hit, Meyer shot a bunch of random scenes with a bunch of new discoveries, cut in some old b-roll he'd shot of Lorna Maitland, pilfered whole scenes from Europe in the Raw, locked Furlong into a closet with some scribbled sheets of paper and a microphone, and boom: he had an instant smash that brought him back into the big time.

The major difference between Raw and Mondo is where Raw comes across as somewhat solemn and sterile (it's pretending to be a documentary, after all), by Mondo, Meyer had lost all pretence of respectability. His focus no doubt sharpened by his need for profit, Meyer cuts straight to the point. There is no attempt at context -- just get to the bosoms, and then the next ones, and the ones after that. Mondo is Meyer playing on his audience's most basic urges, but taking it to the next level.

While this relentless approach may sound exhausting (and it is), without the berserk editing, watching a topless woman swing on powerlines while another go-go dances beside a speeding train would be dull as ditch water. As cut together in Mondo Topless, they are glorious snippets of Meyer's insane universe, a place where big bosoms and square jaws rule supreme. And then there's John Furlong, the unseen wizard who keeps the whole thing afloat.

A supporting player in several Meyer epics (he was the sympathetic lead in Mudhoney), the narration in Mondo Topless! is Furlong's greatest contribution to the Meyer canon. Bellowing without respite, he encapsulates the madcap, OTT nature of the whole enterprise. Completely straight-faced against the backdrop of Meyer's visual fireworks, Furlong's narration feels like soundbites from a deranged Cronkite broadcast.

Lustily describing San Fransisco's 'bulging peaks and deep canyons' and the Coit Tower 'thrusting its bulk majestically to the sky', Furlong turns everything onscreen into a reference to the film's main attractions. Without him, this movie would be unwatchable -- with him, it's a deranged, strangely innocent view of late 60s California.

On top of all this, Meyer clearly felt that the movie made too much sense. Originally, he had recorded interviews with the film's female cast to lend some kind of context to proceedings. For some reason, he chose to eliminate his questions, resulting in a series of bizarre monologues about the women's personal lives which veer out of nowhere to punctuate Furlong's bluster. It's a surreal aural patchwork which adds to the movie's diabolical sense of anarchy.

This review has probably been the least illuminating of the set. Frankly words cannot describe Mondo Topless -- well, only John Furlong's can and the only way you can hear them is to gather a group of friends and watch the film.

Russ Meyer will return with Common-law Cabin!

For previous entries...

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

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