Last night, as I struggled to get some sleep, I ended up turning on the television to HBO and watching a truly infamous film — 1970’s Myra Breckenridge. Based on a novel by Gore Vidal (a writer that I generally have little use for), Myra Breckinridge is infamous for being one of two X-rated film released by 20th Century Fox in 1970. (The other one was Russ Meyer’s Beyond The Valley of the Dolls.)
Why Was I Watching It?
Because I’ve read a lot of books devoted to “the worst films ever made.” And all of them mention 1970’s Myra Breckinridge as being one of the worst ever made. And having seen the film, I can say that they’re right.
What’s It About?
Well, that’s a good question. Okay, there’s a bisexual film critic named Myron Breckinridge (played by an actual film critic named Red Reed). Myron gets a sex change operation from a pot-smoking doctor played by John Carradine. “It won’t grow back,” Carradine warns him.
Next thing you know, Myron is Myra and is now being played by Raquel Welch. Pretending to be Myron’s window, Myra goes to the acting school that is run by Myron’s uncle Buck (John Huston) and ends up falling in love with an acting student (played, pretty badly in her film debut, by Farrah Fawcett). Unfortunately, Fawcett’s in love with a cowboy from Oklahoma so Myra ends up anally raping the cowboy with a big dildo.
Oh, and a 70 year-old Mae West in the film for some reason. She plays a talent agent.
It all sounds a lot more interesting than it actually is.
Nothing. Just in case I’m not being clear, allow me to clarify: Nothing. Seriously, this may indeed be the worst movie I have ever actually sat through. What’s said is that it didn’t even work on a “so-bad-its-good” level. I love trashy film but Myra Breckinridge isn’t really interesting enough to be trashy. It’s just an amazingly boring film that thinks it’s about sex.
I’ve also read some who have claimed that this film, bad as it is, has a certain camp appeal. And, if you’ve never actually seen a campy film, you might think that Myra Breckinridge is camp. However, camp is not boring. Myra Breckinridge is.
Actually, there is one scene that has an odd, “you’ve-got-to-see-this-crap” appeal to it and here it is. Mae West sings “Hard to Handle.”
What Doesn’t Work:
The entire freaking film. Seriously. I mean, I don’t even know where to begin or what specifically to point out because, if you simply take this film’s failings on a problem-by-problem basis, it creates the false impression that the film is somewhat watchable.
Okay, here’s a few things that I simply will not be able to live with myself if I don’t take a few moments to be a bitch about:
1) There’s a lot of bad movies that are distinguished by interesting or, at the very least, watchable performances. It’s as if the actors realize that they’re going to go down with the ship unless they bring something new to the film. (Meanwhile, so-called great films feature some of the worst performances this side of Avatar…) Unfortunately, Myra Breckinridge is not one of those films. The cast alternates beyond going insanely overboard (like John Huston and Rex Reed) to delivering their lines with a dull contempt that seems to be directed as much at us as at themselves (like Raquel Welch.)
By the way, Raquel Welch is actually one of my favorite of the old school film stars. For me, she’s a bit of a role model, a strong Latina who never felt the need to apologize for being both a sex symbol and an intelligent, succesful woman. But Welch really does give a pretty bad performance here. Then again, I would argue that she gives the material exactly the amount of effort it deserves.
2) As bad as the cast is, no one is as terrible as Mae West. The 70 year-old West came out of retirement to play her role here. Anyway, it’s hard to understand why she’s in this film. At one point, when she meets a 6’7 actor, she says she’s only concerned with the seven inches. Now, imagine this being said by your great-great-great-grandma and you have some idea what it’s like to watch her performance here.
3) This film was made in 1970 and it attempts to be all counter-cultural by having “hippies” wandering around in the background. As well, we get a lot of hard-hitting political satire. By that, I mean that various fat men in cowboy hats pop up and complain about “smut” and “nudity” in the movies. I guess the audience is supposed to go, “Oh my God, they’re talking about movies like this!” It’s for this reason that I think that Myra Breckinridge is actually secretly meant to be a piece of right-wing propaganda.
4) Finally, for no real reason, clips from old 20th Century Fox films are littered throughout the film, popping up randomly to…well, I was going to say “comment on the action,” but few of them manage to do that. Basically, it works like this: you see Raquel Welch anally raping a man with a dildo. And then you see a clip of Stan Laurel for a few seconds. Then, you’re back to Raquel anally raping the man. Suddenly, there’s a clip of Claudette Colbert smiling. Suddenly, Raquel’s back and she’s still anally raping the man. And by the way, I’m not just making this up so I’ll have an example. This is what actually happens in the film.
5) And again, allow me to clarify that this film — which features Raquel Welch using a dildo to anally rape a man — is still one of the most boring things ever made.
6) “Okay,” you’re saying, “if you hated it so much then why did you sit through the entire freaking movie, Lisa?” I did it because, once I start watching a movie, I can’t stop watching until it ends. That’s my addiction. That’s my curse. That’s a duty that I’ve proudly accepted as a film lover. And not even Myra Breckenridge is going to keep me from doing my duty.
“Oh my God! Just like me!” Moments:
Yes, I know that this is where I traditionally offer up some sort of teasingly vague comment about my first year at college or where I admit that I’m scared of dogs, heights, swimming, and the area directly behind the television. And you would be justified in thinking that a film that claims to celebrate sexual freedom and bisexuality would give me the perfect excuse to be all sorts of TMI.
But you know what? There were absolutely no “Oh my God! Just like me!” TMI moments in Myra Breckenridge because there was not one single moment that, in any way, rang true or seemed to possess any sort of insight about…well, about anything. For an X-rated film that was specifically about sexuality, Myra Breckinridge left me as dry as the Sahara.
So, sorry — for the first time, I can say that I watched something that had absolutely no “OMG! Just like me!” moments.
I will watch anything.