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Russ Meyer: Porn to Be Wild

The late Russ Meyer was probably the only director whose works were equally at home in the art house and the porn theater, and in both venues the audience got a lot more than it anticipated. The presence of heroines with gravity-defying fun bags was by no means Meyer's only defining directorial trait. Throughout the many phases of his career, his work overflowed with an infectiously wicked vitality, busting out with over-the-top performances, biting dialogue and wildly inventive camerawork. The equipment was usually toted by Meyer himself, who was involved in every aspect of producing films that unashamedly exploited his own feverish fantasy life. After a slew of pioneering skin flicks that established him as a money-making entity at the box office, he came into his own with the black-and-white features he made in the mid-'60s. The first of these is Lorna. It opens with a wild-eyed preacher standing on a lonely road beneath an ominous sky. A marathon tracking shot snakes into the small wood-frame town occupied by the lust-driven sinners at whom the Man of God's execrations are directed. Although the film is shot in Northern California, its tone is unmistakably Southern Gothic: a less-than-subtle tale of moral retribution. The central force of nature here is former showgirl Lorna Maitland in the role of a bored young newlywed. She is unsatisfied by the insipid ministrations of her husband, and her wanton carnality finds expression in such lovingly shot outdoor pursuits as gamboling naked through the fields and bathing in the local river (while her betrothed toils in a salt mine, enduring endless ribald jokes at the expense of his marriage). Eventually, Lorna's frustrated passions boil over in the rapacious arms of an escaped convict; much banging, brawling and boozing ensues. Meyer stated that he wasn't satisfied with a scene unless he was aroused by it, and we should be grateful that he had the audacity to inflict his twisted mind and singular cinematic sensibility upon an audience. Cinefamily's Meyer retrospective continues every Friday night through the end of February, culminating on the 29th with a double feature of Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and Motor Psycho. (Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theatre; Fridays at 10:30 p.m., through Feb. 29. www.silentmovietheatre.com.)