It’s one of the most surreal situations in the history of counterculture cinema. Russ Meyer was an exploitation pioneer who made his name combining strong central female characters with obvious softcore sex undercurrents, creating a crazy combination of nudity and notoriety. With films like ‘Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!,’ ‘The Immoral Mr. Teas,’ and ‘Vixen!,’ he became a celebrated drive-in dynamo. When 20th Century Fox was looking for someone to helm a sequel to their successful adaptation of Jacqueline Susann’s potboiler ‘Valley of the Dolls,’ a script submitted by Meyer and neophyte film critic (and friend) Roger Ebert won over the studio. While not really connected to the first film (Fox even added a disclaimer to emphasis the difference), it was a biting satire of late ’60s/early ’70s cinematic conventions.
Such an unusual partnership practically begs for a cinematic explanation and restaging, and now independent producers are planning to bring ‘The Simpsons’ and ‘SNL’ scribe Christopher Cluess’ screenplay ‘Russ & Roger Go Beyond‘ to the big screen with none other than Will Ferrell in the role of that famous flesh peddler Meyer. The popular comedian does look a little like the late filmmaker, and he can definitely do a period persona. What may be more interesting is who they decide to hire to play Ebert. The Deadline.com article announcing Ferrell’s interest suggests Jonah Hill or Seth Rogen. For me, since he was in his late 20s at the time, someone like Josh Gad would make a far more sensible, and excellent, Ebert.
Of course, the bigger question will be how Meyer’s notorious womanizing and semi-chauvinistic views about his female leads will be handled. There’s legendary tales about his various liaisons, less than tactful way with his actresses (sexual harassment, anyone?), and an overall sexual objectification that makes our current pro-PC proclivities blush with embarrassment. Indeed, Meyer made his myth out of the naked mammary, so it will be interesting to see if this film touches on that at all. Apparently, his working relationship with Ebert was excellent, as the two continued to collaborate on films like ‘Up,’ ‘Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens,’ and the aborted Sex Pistols spoof of ‘A Hard Day’s Night,’ ‘Who Killed Bambi?’ As someone who followed these stories over the year, seeing them illustrated on film will be a hoot. Of course, it’s whoever plays Meyer and Ebert that will make or break this film, and with Ferrell possibly essaying the former, ‘Russ & Roger Go Beyond’ is off to a good start.