My recollection of Roger Ebert, another view

By Lucy Komisar
April 8, 2013

Russ Meyer and Roger Ebert

Amidst the wide-ranging hagiographic praise of film critic Roger Ebert, who died last week, I can add a remembrance of another type. I knew Roger from National Student Association congresses of the 1960s. I liked him. In 1970, he invited me and a friend, Nanette Rainone, both of us strong feminists, to appear at a Russ Meyer Film Festival at Yale Law School. We accepted partly because we thought that Yale Law students might seriously consider our views and partly as a lark. It was the early days of the new feminist wave.

I don‘t remember it all, but the NY Times story says, “The women accused Mr. Meyer of having a ˜breast fixation‘ and said that his films showed sex as something ˜sinful and evil.‘”

Ebert-Meyer panel members.

When Meyer suggested that he and the women “compare our latest sexual experiences,” the Times wrote, “‘Some of us never were in that locker room stage,‘ responded one of the women, Lucy Komisar, of the National Organization for Women (NOW).”

The current articles about Roger that I have seen were all written by men. So perhaps his Russ Meyer phase did not seem worth remembering. But the event says something about Roger and about the Yale Law School, which at the time admitted women but appeared to have no problem giving a platform to a sexist film maker. (Alumnae of that era include Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (LLB 1973) and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor (LLB 1979).

Meyer and 2 Feminists Exchange Barbs at Yale
‘Meyer and 2 Feminists Exchange Barbs at Yale’ March 1970

We did not know at the time that Roger had co-written with Meyer the script of “Beyond Valley of the Dolls” that appeared that year. It was supposedly a take-off on Jacqueline Susann‘s “Valley of the Dolls” and Susann sued the studio.

Wikipedia says: “Many critics perceive the film as perhaps the greatest expression of his intentionally vapid surrealism  ” Meyer went so far as to refer to it as his definitive work in several interviews. Others, such as Variety, saw B.V.D., as funny as a burning orphanage and a treat for the emotionally retarded.[9] Contractually stipulated to produce an R-rated film, the brutally violent climax (depicting a decapitation) ensured an X rating (eventually reclassified to NC-17 in 1990). Though disowned by the studio for decades to come and amid gripes from the director after he attempted to recut the film to include more titillating scenes after the ratings debacle, it still earned $9 million domestically in the United States on a budget of $900,000.”

Perhaps Roger changed his attitude in later years. The point is that when you write about a person‘s life, you need to include all of it that matters. Roger’s role in promoting a sexist image of women certainly does.

Click to download  Russ Meyer film festival program and press release.



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