Saturday 19 May 2007

Mudhoney (1965) Russ Meyer

Russ Meyer's innovative filmmaking is obvious from moment one here. We know exactly what's happening: lowlife Sidney Brenshaw is drunk, angry and on his way home to see his wife who doesn't want to let him in. He's persistent enough to wake up everyone in the neighbourhood, almost drive through the wall or break the door down to get in, where he's hardly going to behave. Yet we never see anyone until he's inside when we finally see both him and his wife up front and personal.

Then we get introduced to everyone else in the story, cleverly with dialogue and character insight and intriguing camera movements. Calif McKinney is the new kid in town, not that there's much of a town because we're mostly way out in the countryside. He's on his way from Michigan to California but ends up in Spooner, Missouri meets up with Maggie Marie, played by the unique Princess Livingston, her two daughters, the nymphomaniac Clara Belle and the deaf, dumb and not altogether there Eula, and their hired hand, Injoys. They shake his world up but point him towards a job, working at the Wade farm, and given that it's 1933 and the heart of the depression, he needs the money. Uncle Lute Wade runs the place, in the able form of Stuart Lancaster who would return the same year for Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!

Then there's Sidney and Hannah Brenshaw. Hannah is a good girl, but a victim in denial at the hands of Sidney, about whom nothing good to be said. He spends his life drinking, abusing people and screwing around with any of the buxom young ladies that tend to populate Russ Meyer movies. 'Mudhoney... leaves a taste of evil!' reads the title screen. Hal Hopper is that evil as Sidney Brenshaw, an abusive husband just waiting for his wife's uncle to die so he can take over the farm, but everyone else is as morally undefinable as only Russ Meyer was willing to write them back in 1965.

Maggie Marie seems to be a friendly character but she's busy whoring out her two daughters and brewing the local moonshine even though it's 1933 and prohibition is in effect. Calif is certainly the hero, but he's only recently been released from a five year stretch in jail. Eula is the strangest character morally because her lack of mind has left her without any morals. She loves everything and everybody, from her little kitten up to Sidney Brenshaw. The man of the lord in Spooner is Brother Hanson but he's the most intolerant of the bunch, deceived by Sidney into turning the town against Calif and Hannah. In contrast, Uncle Lute is completely forgiving of Calif and the fact that he'd been locked up for manslaughter, but in trying to save his niece, actively encourages her in adultery.

What this all adds up to, with all its amazingly rough edges, is about the most honest look at the dark reality of rurul America during the twin blights of depression and prohibition. As Uncle Lute points out to Calif, the town of Spooner, which isn't unlike any other rural town of the time, is suffering under the times and has to find something to hate. The hate can be channelled but it's always there. As the sheriff points out later on, they're good people but when they get something stuck in their head it's hard to get out. There's real truth in here, real honest truth, and the film is powerful way way way beyond it's budget and the limited acting ability of its cast, many of whom never appeared in another film.

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