Saturday 28 April 2007

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965) Russ Meyer

Here's the most famous movie from one of the truest film auteurs America ever produced, Russ Meyer. Welcome to violence, the narrator intones, over a unique opening sequence that is a growing number of copies of spectographs of the narrator's voice. And then we see the stars dancing in a go go club: Tura Satana with her exotic catlike looks, Haji the continental vixen with amazing eyes and Lori Williams the all American blonde. There's Meyer's typical fast paced editing, outrageous dialogue and all before even the title credits.

The credits run over the trio racing sports cars into the desert. Before long they're catfighting in water or on sand and then drag racing chicken races against each other. Of course none of them can act, Haji's Italian accent (if that's what it's supposed to be) is terrible, the girls miraculously dry off and their hair miraculously goes back to perfect condition and none of it matters. The laws of physics don't apply here. What matters is what Russ Meyer does with his cast and crew, especially as this is so low budget that the cast was the crew, because this was new in so many ways.

There are overtones of everything you can imagine here, most of which you just didn't see in 1965 in American films under the Production Code: lesbianism, violence, sexuality, powerful women who could outdo men at things that men traditionally believe they own. They run well beyond the obvious things like driving fast to more important things like dominance and they often also run way beyond overtones. These leads aren't just large in the usual Russ Meyer manner, namely the bust size: they're tall and powerful and know karate moves. Tura Satana, especially, simply oozes menace and control and she has no conception of how to hold back on either, but she can turn on the sexuality too, that's for sure.

I don't know which time through this is for me, but I see new things every time through. The attacks here were always so obviously against most American institutions but I didn't know how many of them were cinematic ones. On previous viewings I had no clue who Gidget was, for instance but I sure do now. She figures strongly in the plot, because there really is a plot in here beyond the general subversion and tone of the piece. Tura's character Varla kills Gidget's boyfriend in a fight in the desert, so she kidnaps her and ends up taking her along when she goes gold hunting. The gold belongs to an old man in a desert house that he shares with a brain damaged muscle man of a son, tastefully credited as The Vegetable, and a more savvy son played by Paul Trinka from Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.

Every time I watch this movie I'm amazed at the achievement. Sure, the acting's terrible (Tura Satana shouts most of her lines, Lori Williams whispers most of hers); but there's tension everywhere, sexual and otherwise; more symbolism than most films could ever bear; excellent editing, which was always one of Meyer's best and most distinctive talents, though it's less overt here than usual; superb composition of frame; solid and honest motivations, however unconventional for Production Code Hollywood; an amazing amount of unspoken subtext given how much is actually put on screen; and more moral ambiguity seen on an American film since the heyday of film noir: not one of the good guys is entirely a good guy and not one of the bad girls is entirely a bad girl.

There's also an influence that gets bigger with every year that passes. Russ Meyer spent a mere $45,000 on this, which makes it one of the most influential films of all time, if you're counting per dollar. I'm watching this time on TCM Underground, presented by Rob Zombie, who borrowed more than a little for his own work, and he wasn't the only one. I still can't give it a Classic rating in good faith, but this is one of my favourite films of all time and it amazes and impresses me every time I see it. It's a wonder and there are about a billion reasons why it shouldn't be.

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