Vixen! May 25, 2020 10:05:09 GMT -5
Post by StevePulaski on May 25, 2020 10:05:09 GMT -5
Directed by: Russ Meyer
Directed by: Russ Meyer
Erica Gavin is Vixen(!) Palmer.
Shot and released three years after Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and predating his Roger Ebert collaboration Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Vixen! proves that even relatively early in his popularity, Russ Meyer knew the kinds of movies he wanted to make. He wanted to subvert the formula of softcore porn by making satirical pictures that made good on their promise to deliver copious amounts of skin and ribald humor. His pictures exist in this eclectic gray-space where characters are caricatures, social politics are woven in but kept light and fluffy, and the world in which we inhabit for a short amount of time is essentially one big cartoon. All of these ideas mesh together, with a standout performance from Erica Gavin, and give Vixen! the fire and attitude it needed to be a successful amalgam of softcore skin-flick and light-hearted social commentary.
For an inoffensively brief 65 minutes, we are plunged in the heart of the Canadian wilderness with Vixen Palmer (Gavin) at the center of attention. She's sultry and assertive, sexually confident and operating with her id above anything else. While Vixen craves attention and sex from just about any male she comes across, you get the sense the confidence factor is what drives her pursuits. Released during a tumultuous time in America when the counterculture was rising to the mainstream, seeing a sexually liberated woman take control of her life in ways similar to a man played into the country's shifting paradigms. Gavin is not only perfect for the role, in many ways she's emblematic of the attitude.
The only issue: she's kind of unlikable outside of that quality, for she's terribly racist towards her husband Tom's (Garth Pillsbury) black friend Niles (Harrison Page in a strong supporting performance), who is a draft dodger. From the first moment the two are on-screen together, they hurl racially charged insults to one another with Tom playing the instigator, suggesting Vixen wants to be seduced by Niles and her bloviating is simply a way to increase sexual tension. One of Tom's kinks is seeing his wife in bed with other men, but Vixen doesn't just stop there. Throughout the film, she seduces a Canadian Mountie (Peter Carpenter), a sex-starved housewife/friend (Vincene Wallace), and even her own brother, Judd (Jon Evans) in an uproariously funny sequence. "We decided to stop doing this when we were 12," Judd tells his sister when she climbs into the shower with him.
The film's most erotic moment is shared between Vixen and Wallace's Janet. Janet is beside herself one day when Vixen stops by, mourning her lack of intimacy and feelings of listlessness. You can sense there's a measurable amount of shame in Janet's mind as well, for she hasn't been told how to cope with these feelings of sexual frustration nor does she know how to manage her own emotions particularly well. Vixen sees her sulking on her bed one afternoon. "Can I come in?," she asks. "Not unless you like bourbon," Janet quips. The cocktails work their magic and before long, Janet is informing Vixen she looks better without her clothes on, which of course piques her interest. The two have sex and just as Vixen leaves, Janet's husband returns and tries to seduce Vixen outside. "Not tonight, Mr. King. It's your wife's turn!"
It's there we see some of Vixen's underlying motivations that make her insatiable appetite for sex more than just primitive carnality. In that instance, she was a quiet buffer between Janet and her husband. Sure, part of it was motivated by Vixen's own kinky desires, but the potential outcome of sparking more intimacy in her friend's marriage wasn't lost on her. Vixen is the appropriate balance of selfish and selfless.
Meyer later commented on the inspiration of Gavin's character rather thoughtfully, stating he believed an awful lot of women would've liked to have the freedom and courage to act like Vixen a handful of times in their own lives. "To have an afternoon in which they could have laid three guys [and] have an affair with their best girl friend, that would straighten a lot of people out," he added. "Everything [Vixen] touched was improved. She didn't destroy, she helped." Vixen! performed overwhelmingly well at the box office, particularly with female audiences too, and of course, Meyer keeping the men in mind, added: "I think that every man at one time or another would thoroughly enjoy running into an aggressive female like Vixen[....]She was like a switch-hitter. You show this girl as being like a utility outfielder: she could cover all the positions." He ain't wrong on both counts.
The third act takes an unexpected but not wildly unwelcome turn with a tense political argument aboard a small aircraft between Vixen, Tom, and a red-bearded Communist (Michael Donovan O'Donnell) who pokes and prods Niles into channeling the rage he feels as a marginalized second-class citizen in a country that wants him to fight a war but doesn't want to extend him equal opportunity and treatment. Going out on something of a limb, having only seen a couple, it might be the deepest, most political a Meyer film has even gotten. Moreover, it's handled with the same cartoonishly comic sensibilities as the rest of the film.
Vixen! thrives off of the lustful energy of Gavin, who unfortunately only starred in a handful of similar films (Meyer's Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, the infamous prison skin-flick Caged Heat in 1974) before retiring to a quiet life as a stylist in California. If you were to consider Vixen! Gavin's tour-de-force, you likely wouldn't be mistaken, for the natural, climactic energy and fervor she brings to any given sequence acts as a tentpole for the whole project, which is loose all around, purposefully so. Her and Meyer, working with a script cowritten by Anthony James Ryan, breed life into what could've been just another marginally titillating softcore drama and infuse it with era-specific commentary and erotica that show just what the genre is capable of in the right hands.
Starring: Erica Gavin, Garth Pillsbury, Harrison Page, Vincene Wallace, Michael Donovan O'Donnell, Jon Evans, and Peter Carpenter. Directed by: Russ Meyer.