I know it’s strange, but your body really turns me on!
Vixen! proves that, even if it wasn’t made by cult filmmaker Russ Meyer, you can find the least expecting films to subvert perceptions of what their content should be like. In its beginning it very much feels like American softcore cinema of the time – low budget, gentle pace, with the same presentation of (and this is not a dismissive comment) an empirical or educational film in look, and a cheery view of sex and sexuality that occasionally skirts with other areas, innocently rather than luridly, like bi sexuality and multiple partners. The sexual content is pretty chaste for the time, and for Meyer, topless and rear nudity for the women only, but as an erotic film celebrating sex and showing nudity without shame, it would have been striking even without the other content in it that is upfront. Then there’s the fact that it’s a Russ Meyer film – his obsession with large breasts, growing larger and larger like air pump grown silicon as he went on, is matched by an equal obsession with strong dominating women with independence, toughness, and a individualistic and voracious sexuality. Call it patronising depending on your beliefs of gender politics against these softcore films, but at least with Meyer, his fetishes were entirely with female characters (and actresses) who were distinct, fiercely independent and, with the case of cult legend Tura Satana, were able to stand toe-to-toe with men in real life and be the stronger of the two.
Vixen! is a very short film, almost a series of vignettes that build on the same small group of characters. It’s titular lead (Erica Gavin). busty and raven haired, homely yet seeming in her true home in the Canadian wilderness as well as the log cabin she keeps with her husband, is having sex with anyone she desires including guests at their cabin that also acts as a vacation home. It’s difficult to say much about the first half of the film because of its concentration is entire on the softcore sex, as Vixen eyes up the husband of a red haired guest and eventually gets close to her as well. It’s comparable to another film I’ve seen from the subgenre from this era called The Notorious Daughter of Fanny Hill (1966), despite being an attempt at low budget period erotica, barely over sixty minutes long and devoting large amounts of its time to heavy petting. Far from a waste of time, although Vixen! is a superior and more interesting film, this sort of cinema is fascinating for admiring the aesthetics of the time, the candy colours of the Sixties filtered through the natural woods of Canada and an upbeat, jazzy score that continues this series’ secondary theme of this kind of subversive cinema, in all forms, having really interesting soundtrack and sound choices.
The film however, setting this up from the beginning, has a far more different tone as it continues, already knocking you aback at the start before finally diving into this tone later. Meyer, aside from his obsession with the mammary, also doesn’t play his films safely in terms of content and tonal shifts, always going into a direction unexpected for the viewer with discomforting or wildly different results. Two other important characters are Vixen’s kid brother Judd (Jon Evans) and his friend Niles (Harrison Page) , an African American who has escaped up north for a better life. Her relationship with her brother is more than close, which Luis Buñuel could have probably been proud of. Her relationship with Niles however is disconcerting and even more uncomfortable in this current era, openly racist against him and willing to use any racial slur or stereotype to wind him up. He is a likable character, thanks to Page’s performance, but considering we’re also supposed to be on Vixen’s side in her sexual romps, her reprehensible personality is a brave move for Meyer to have made. Like the few other films of his I have seen, Meyer was clearly trying to get reactions out of his viewers and when Niles is dangerously about to be turned into a stereotype, it’s the director using exploitation cinema to jab the issues brought into the film bluntly. It’s a softcore film that openly brings in issues of the time it was made in, Niles having fled from America for not wanting to be enlisted into a country’s army, for Vietnam, that still treats him as an inferior. Never would I thought, before seeing this film, I would see a softcore movie, which has up to then fixated itself on Gavin’s naturally plump breasts exposed in the Canadian mountain air, suddenly have a hostage situation that boils down to the contradictions of Communism and Capitalism, and a man having an existential crisis about how he will think and act for himself, but Vixen! proved me wrong and threw in an Irish man too for good measure.
Is Vixen! a good film? Yes, yes it is. Despite criticisms you could make of it being erratic and more of a mass of various different sequences, it lives up to the creed of exploitation cinema of keeping you entertained and on your toes. It’s tone and willingness to cross political commentary with some saucy sexploitation shows how this cinema can create curious juxtapositions with each film. Alongside Gavin’s figure and distinct personality, the rest of the film is very much its own creation as to be expected from Meyer. Having now started to go through the man’s filmography as a cult film fan, it’s a case of having discovered an entirely new mind view of the world, one where the women are tough and all the repressed desires for boobies, tapping into the male id’s obsession with them from being deprived of suckling a mother’s breast, burst thought with a double H bust.