In the two decades between Russ Meyer’s last proper theatrical release, Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens, and his straight-to-video swan song, Pandora Peaks, the once-on-top-of-the-world pervert auteur suffered a long line of never-completed projects. He mostly attempted to continue his thread of warped, post-Beyond the Valley of the Dolls retreads of his former glory days that started with Supervixens. This included the never-realized The Jaws of Lorna; The Jaws of Vixen; Blixen, Vixen, and Harry; Mondo Topless, Too; Up the Valley of the Beyond; and Kill, Kill, Pussycat! Faster!. Even more intriguing were the announced anthology projects Hotsa, Hotsa & the reportedly 17 hour in length The Breast of Russ Meyer. Worse yet was the nearly-realized Sex Pistols film Who Killed Bambi?, with a Roger Ebert screenplay ready to go. Dejected by the endless assault of false starts, Meyer had pretty much resigned himself to retiring from filmmaking altogether & focusing on his 1000+ page autobiography A Clean Breast (which actually did see the light of day). It wasn’t until a friend introduced him to the money-making possibilities of the home video market that he decided to return to his home behind the camera.
Pandora Peaks is a home video advertisement for its eponymous stripper/porn star. A supposed “documentary on Pandora at the peak of her popularity, the film plays like an episode of HBO’s Real Sex or a Playboy TV exclusive. Narrated by Meyer himself, Pandora Peaks resurrects the rapid-fire montage & non sequitur background chatter of the feverish go-go dancing nightmare Mondo Topless, but distinctly lacks that film’s white hot passion. You can also find traces of his home movie tourism in Europe in the Raw in sequences featuring a Hungarian stripper named Tundi (whose “interview” dialogue is provided by Meyer vet Uschi Digard), but again the film lacks any of the paranoid jingoism that made that “documentary” special. Perhaps the saddest part of the whole going-through-the-motions affair is that he director continuously references the glory days of past works in the film, particularly the successes of Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! & Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. As clips from better Meyer times & shots of Pandora doing her thing at old shoot locations roll in, it’s apparent that the director is in an exhausted, retrospective mood, clearly disinterested in making earnest art out of what ultimately feels like a DVD extra.
There are some residual Meyer charms lurking in Pandora Peaks, mostly in the way the innocuous narration mixes harshly with the supposedly titilating imagery to crate a disorienting effect. As Pandora herself tells fond childhood stories about her enormous breasts & her over-active libido, Meyer blandly intones passages from his 1000+ page autobiography A Clean Breast. His anecdotes about how his boob fetish saved him from a dull life toiling away in a battery factor & why he loves to go fishing with his old war buddies are oddly sober & level-headed, far from the unfocused ramblings of the madman vision in his previous two pictures: Up! & Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens. The best effect the film has is in its way of lulling the viewer in to a dulled, hypnotic state, one occasionally interrupted by slide whistle & sqeaking toy sound effects. In its worst moments, though, it’s an entirely dismissable home video of a nightmarish Dallas strip club on a field trip. Even excusing his diminished enthusiasm, Meyer’s aesthetic didn’t translate well to the modern, plastic era. The plastic Walkmans & modern street signs of Pandora Peaks have nothing on the old world radios & hand-painted advertisements of Mondo Topless, Similarly, the director’s love of gigantic breasts had reached its crescendo in its final picture, with Pandora trying to pass off her HHH-sized busom as a natural phenomenon, fooling no one.
If Meyer hadn’t already entered the arena of self-parody critics had been accusing him of since Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Pandora Peaks pretty much solidified the transition. It’s a little disappointing that his career ended with such an empty exercise instead of a more ambitious project like Who Killed Bambi? or The Breast of Russ Meyer, but there are honestly worse possible fates. At least Pandora Peaks is far from the morally reprehensible depths of Blacksnake or Motorpsycho!, except maybe in a couple isolated moments of casual homophobia. The saddest aspect of the film is the way in which the auteur & eternal perv is yearning in some way to make sense of his own career, reaching back to past glory & repeatedly cutting to a mosaic representation of his own face as if frustratingly gazing into a mirror & asking what will become of his legacy. 15 years after Pandora Peaks & 11 years after Meyer’s death the answer to that question is still ambiguously hanging in the air. He’s a tough artist to pigeonhole, a complicated brute of a man that defies you to defend everything he’s said & done in its entirety. And yet he’s made some of the most vibrant, idiosyncratic films the world has ever seen. The question is what are we to do with the mess he’s left behind? It’s been fun picking through the pieces of the wreckage, but I doubt I have any significant answer to that conundrum now that I’ve made it through to the other side. I doubt I ever will.