From the editor and writers of Bright Lights Film Journal
Action! Interviews with Directors from Classical Hollywood to Contemporary Iran
(Anthem Art and Culture), by Gary Morris (Editor), Bert Cardullo (Introduction), Jonathan Rosenbaum (Foreword). London and New York: Anthem Press, 2009.
"I dare anyone to squeeze between two covers a more varied, useful and flat out entertaining sampling of the personalities that make the seventh art the liveliest."
David Hudson,
Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill!
Stand back when ballooned-up, masacara-drenched go-go girls leave the confines of their cages for a murderous desert rampage!
A cornerstone of both camp and punk cultures — no mean feat — Faster Pussycat Kill! Kill! (1966) shows the thrillingly lethal consequences when aggravated go-go dancers get bored. Russ Meyer's black-and-white desert Gothic melodrama — for some viewers the crown jewel in a flashy career — opens with crazed half-naked women dancing in shadow and thrusting their tits into the camera, while a pompous male voice in overdub details the horrors of the "predatory female" for its nervous target audience — the sexually paranoid hetero male sitting alone in Pussycat theatres across the country. This film slightly predates the phenomenon of couples going out to porno films that began more or less with Deep Throat. Here Meyer is still unabashedly exploiting his own fantasies of a world of dominant, sexually supercharged women who ruthlessly take out their anxieties on any man who crosses their path — or is lured into their "web."
Pussycat features a trio of tough women who spend their leisure time outside the go-go cage driving through the California desert in tiny sports cars that look particularly ridiculous given the women's larger-then-life breasts. These thrillseekers are ballooned-up archetypes — the Blonde (Lori Williams), tough but occasionally sensitive; the Ethnic (Meyer regular Haji) with masochistic, quasi-Lesbian impulses; and supremely, Varla (Tura Satana), a '60s summation of the scary-yet-desirable dominatrix with her black stretch jumpsuit, leather boots and accessories, and troweled-on mascara across evil slits for eyes.
In Meyer's world, broad comedy and playful impulses predominate, and these early riot grrls are no exception. They spend the first few minutes of the film romping through the desert, insulting each other, talking really loud, racing around in their miniature sports cars, jumping fully clothed into a lake, and roughhousing. But leader Varla's demand for "ACTION!" eventually supersedes these frolics, and they corner a very straight, handsome Joe Blow and taunt him into racing with them. Of course he can't know that Varla is not only an expert racer, but an ultra-powerful judo expert whose hobbies include murder. In a brilliantly shot sequence, Varla kills him with her bare hands and the three go-go dancers kidnap his sniveling girlfriend Bunny (Susan Bernard) and take it on the lam. For good measure, they shovel sleeping pills down Bunny's throat and laughingly concoct a plan to palm her off as a rich girl in trouble that they're "escorting."
Since this is a fantasy, Meyer suspends any sense of checks and balances and, though logically these three would be easy to catch up with and arrest ("Three Dominatrixes with Huge Tits and Tiny Sportscars Sought in Murder"), they somehow elude the law and barge in on an old cripple and his two sons, who they've learned have a fortune hidden on their ramshackle desert property. One of the sons, the appropriately named "Vegetable," is a typical Meyer male buffoon — the hunk who can't fuck — and the director gets plenty of comic mileage counterpointing the oversexed girls' longing for Vegetable with their inability to land him. The old man (Stu Lancaster) is another stock character, the wizened cripple-with-a-secret who can't fuck.
Meyer's subtle detailing of these relationships makes Faster Pussycat look like a William Inge play, with a warped quasi-family slowly destroying each other. Of course, the director doesn't neglect the cheesecake; he includes consciously gratuitous shots of the girls showering, strapping on their bras, and so on. Yet there is surprisingly little real (well, simulated real) sex in this one; Meyer exploits the goings-on more for their dramatic and violent possibilities. Eventually all the secret tragedies of the past that drive these characters emerge, and the ultra-violent ending (best not to reveal), with its razor-sharp editing and tight framing, is one of the director's most dynamic.
Trivia to keep in mind while watching Faster Pussycat: the score is classic '60s trash by the Bostweeds, now available on CD; the Cramps did a cover version of the title song; most of the women in the film, including the little goody two-shoes Bunny, were ex-Playboy playmates; Tura Satana, "half-Cherokee and half-Japanese" according to Meyer, became a dental hygienist ("open wider, you sonofobitch!"); it has a little-known companion film (the male version) called Motor Psycho; and of course Russ Meyer is a genius and this film is a masterpiece.
April 1996 | Issue 16

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