FASTER PUSSYCAT KILL KILL! Screening at Schlafly Bottleworks August 2nd
Russ Meyer’s FASTER PUSSYCAT KILL KILL! screens Wednesday, August 2nd at 8pm at Schlafly Bottleworks Restaurant and Bar (7260 Southwest Ave.- at Manchester – Maplewood, MO 63143) as part of Webster University’s Award-Winning Strange Brew Film Series. The film will be followed by an interview with its star Tura Satana that was conducted on-stage at the Way Out Club in St. Louis in October of 2008. Admission is $5
In 1953 Playboy magazine debuted and one of its first centerfold photographers was Russ Meyer, who had been a combat photographer in WWII. Meyer had a knack, and a passion, for photographing gorgeous, busty women and felt that the gals in the nudist camp movies that were popular in the ‘50s were far too plain-looking for his tastes. In 1959, Meyer scraped together $24,000 and made THE IMMORAL MR. TEAS, a quaint, colorful, and cartoonish movie about a nerdy fellow whose life is constantly interrupted by beautiful large-breasted women in various stages of undress. There was no sex in Meyer’s film and he made no pretense of presenting nudity as a lifestyle choice, as did the nudist camp movies. It was a simple and honest film about voyeurism and the display of the unclothed female form. THE IMMORAL MR. TEAS was a huge hit, the genre known as the nudie-cutie was born, and for the next twenty years, Russ Meyer was known as the “King of the Nudies”.
Russ Meyer was a true American film artist who wrote, directed, edited, photographed and distributed all his own films. He financed each new film from the proceeds of the earlier ones, and became a wealthy man in the process. A Russ Meyer film is instantly recognizable – superior production values, rhythmic editing and wide-angle shots leering up at the impossibly top-heavy actresses that populated his films. Meyer spent a lot of time at ‘The Body Shop’, a famous Sunset Boulevard strip club where he discovered many of these bra-busting starlets. After achieving success with more “Nudie Cutie” such as EVE AND THE HANDYMAN (1960 which starred his wife Eve Meyer), and WILD GALS OF THE NAKED WEST (1961), Meyer embarked on a more ambitious phase in his career with quartet of black-and-white films that combined his love of female anatomy with potboiling melodrama. LORNA (1964) and MUDHONEY (1965) were Erskine Caldwell-inspired backwoods morality tales while MOTORPSYCHO and (1965) were violent desert gothics. All three are bold and energetic films that were way ahead of their time on many levels and have aged well but these actually contained less much nudity than his earlier color films and were not box-office successes. But it’s Meyer’s FASTER PUSSYCAT, KILL KILL! (1965) that is his masterpiece and one of my favorite films of all time.
Opening with a narrator intoning “Ladies and gentlemen – welcome to violence!”, FASTER PUSSYCAT, KILL KILL! tells the sordid tale of a well-endowed trio of bisexual amazongo-go girls on a neck-breaking crime spree in the Californian desert. This politically incorrect, black-and-white desert Gothic melodrama was made as a quickie for the Southern states’ undemanding drive-in market in 1965 but over the years has developed into one of the most beloved cult films of all and is the crown jewel of Meyer’s career. FASTER PUSSYCAT, KILL KILL! is a prime example of female empowerment. The pussycats consistently dominate the male characters, showing them up as wimps, dolts, or both. Tura Satana’s Varla, the scary-yet-desirable dominatrix with her black stretch jumpsuit, leather boots and gloves, who wears her troweled-on mascara proudly across her evil eyes is one of the great villains in movie history. The director’s audacious sense of eroticism (though there’s no actual nudity), comic timing, and social satire is off the charts in FASTER PUSSYCAT, KILL KILL!, everyone’s favorite Russ Meyer movie.
What makes FASTER PUSSYCAT, KILL KILL! so memorable (other than the script which features such nuggets as “I don’t beat clocks, just people!” ) is the presence of the unique and otherworldly Tura Satana. If Tura had done nothing else in her life except star as Varla, she’d still be one of the queens of cult cinema. Tura, whose exotic looks came from a Japanese father and Cherokee Indian mother, ‘developed’ early and began her career as a very popular Burlesque star at age 15, known on-stage, among other monikers, as ‘Miss Japan Beautiful’ and ‘The Living Statue’. In the mid 50’s she met Elvis Presley, before he was launched to mega-stardom. and the two became engaged. As Tura tells it, Colonel Parker pressured Elvis to break it off, fearing association with a stripper would hurt his career, but Tura continued to wear the engagement ring he gave her on her finger until her death. Her big bust and unusual looks caught the attention of film director Russ Meyer, who was moving from the ‘nudie cutie’ stage of his career to the berserk blend of sex and violence he became known for. Tura’s Varla was a shamelessly violent (Tura was an accomplished martial artist) yet sexy and feminine character who’s startling to watch in the film today and whose influence can be found in music, fashion and the work of other filmmakers such as Quentin Tarantino (watch the way Kurt Russell gets beat up at the end of DEATH PROOF. Straight out of FASTER PUSSYCAT).
John Waters was an obsessive fan of FASTER PUSSYCAT (calling it “Not only the greatest movie ever made, but the greatest movie that will ever be made”) and tracked Tura Satana down for an interview for his first book Shock Value in the early 80’s. That interview ignited the film’s cult status and FASTER PUSSYCAT, which had been a b.o. flop in its initial release, received a theatrical revival in 1995, which is when I saw it for the first time when it played here in St. Louis at the Tivoli. But I first became aware of the Super-Sexy, Super-Violent, Super-Vixen Tura Satana when I was a child and ASTRO ZOMBIES used to play here on television a lot in the early ‘70’s. I was mesmerized by the odd-looking woman who wore so much eye makeup I wondered how she could keep them open. She was far more compelling than the goofy zombies who held flashlights to their foreheads to maintain their power. I had the pleasure of spending some time with Tura in October of 2008 when she was a guest at the Kitbuilder’s Monstrous Weekend Convention here in St. Louis which I helped run. We flew her in a day early and had an ‘Evening With Tura Satana’ event at the Way Out Club the Thursday night before the convention. After a screening of FASTER PUSSYCAT KILL KILL, I interviewed Tura on stage and moderated a Q&A with the audience. This was followed by a burlesque show on the Way Out’s stage while she signed autographs off to the side. I treated Tura to Sushi at Crazy Fish and she talked about how thrilled she was to be back in St. Louis decades after she had been danced burlesque in our town’s legendary but long-gone gaslight square district in the Central West End, shimmying at clubs here like Peacock Alley and Starlight Burlesque. She talked at length and uninhibitedly about her many famous paramours. Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack buddies performed often at the Chase Park Plaza in those days and when their shows were over, they would head down Lindell Boulevard to Gaslight Square where they would take in the shows of Tura and the other girls followed by all night partying. Tura was a lot of fun and had amazing stories to tell. As a child, she lived for over two years at an internment camp in California with her father, and spoke of how her mother, who as an Indian was not interred, would visit and sing to her through the fence. She penned her autobiography titled ‘My Kick-Ass Life’ but at the time of her death in February of 2010, it had not been published.
I hosted had an ‘Evening With Tura Satana’ event at the Way Out Club Thursday October 23rd, 2008. After a screening of FASTER PUSSYCAT KILL KILL, I interviewed Tura on stage and moderated a Q&A with the audience. I will be showing 30 minutes of that interview at Schlafly after the film ends. I will also be displaying some Russ Meyer and Tura Satana memorabilia.