Tuesday, November 27, 2018

CANON OF FILM: "FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL!"

FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL! (1965)

Director: Russ Meyer
Screenplay: Jack Moran based on the story by Russ Meyer



When I originally wrote this years ago, which,- (scoffs) here's a long story that I won't be finishing..., but this article actually originated as a sample piece I had written for a job as a porn critic that I ended up not taking, I started the article with the line: 

"This one will take some explaining, but it’s actually much more logical than one may think." 

On the one hand, I think that sentence is hogwash now. I'm by no means the first person to include "Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!" among the pantheon of essential cinema, nor the first to acknowledge the cultural importance of the film's director Russ Meyer. Yes, this movie is certainly a cult film, and that status will remain always, but it’s influence is not overlooked by any knowledgeable person in film. Rumors have been abound for years now that Quentin Tarantino was prepared to shoot a remake of "Faster, Pussycat!...", and it's not at all hard to see how he's influenced by much of Meyer's work. We also credit Meyer for being an influencer on artists as wide-ranging as John Waters to Norah Jones to Patton Oswalt to Madonna. Hell, his influence is so widespread that we're often giving him credit for inspiring filmmakers who weren't inspired by him at all. That happened recently with Anna Binder's masterpiece "The Love Witch", a movie that most viewers and critics, myself included, felt that the aesthetic and themes of female empowerment were inspired by Meyer when in actuality, she not only wasn't inspired by him, she finds the comparisons completely detestable.

Which is what the other hand is for, 'cause-eh, in a post-#MeToo worl-, okay scratch that- I'm calling it something else. In an era now where we're more sensitive to the widespread realities of sexual harrassment, assault and objectification against women in their daily lives, Russ Meyer's films aren't exactly en vogue right now. 

Russ Meyer, is one of the unsung heroes of independent cinema. His low-budget skin flicks, (in fact he’s credited with inventing the skin flick) would lead to the creation of popularly accepted soft-porn pornography and would eventually influence not just the high-grossing pornos of the 70s, but his comic book-like action and vibrant pop imagery and campiness that in some ways has completely overtaken the cultural aesthetics landscape.John Waters has called “Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!,” “…Beyond a doubt, the best movie ever made. It is possibly better than any film that will be made in the future.” I think “Citizen Kane,” and “Casablanca,” might have better arguments, but he might have a point. 

That said, a closer look at his films now reveal well, an abundance of females with enormous breasts; his favorite image to photography. Still, it's a towering female with enormous breasts and most of his work shows strong, independent female lead characters who are as strong, if not stronger than most male characters within those film. They may be naked or close to it through much of the movie, but his females were not exploited, quite the opposite, they disregard their sexual liasons with men the way most pornography throws away the female "characters". 

I know that sounds, basically like a description of Kim Cattrall's character from "Sex and the City", but this was the late '50s and early '60s, these archetypes and characters were decades away from being mainstream; he was the one creating them. Take the Varla character in this film (Tura Satana), she dresses in all black leather complete with a low-cut black top that holds closely in place her oversized breasts. Yet she is abrasive, confrontational, greedy and strong, strong enough to KILL A MAN WITH HER BARE HANDS!!!!!! right in front of his small-pint hourglass girlfriend Linda (Susan Bernard), and yet still has to fend off gas station attendants from ogling her. 1965!!!! I remind you. This wasn't "La Femme Nikita" either. All the main characters are buxom go-go dancers by night, but during the day, Varla along with her European accent girlfriend Rosie (Haji) and co-worker Billie (Lori Williams) relieve themselves the stress of their week of being eyefucked by the lowest of the male species by hitting the desert and ripping it up and driving as fast as possible. 

After a race with the musclebound kid eventually leads to his death, they drug his girlfriend and start heading back towards town until getting distracted by a colossus-built specimen (Dennis Busch) who’s father reportedly has hidden loads of money he got from the government for a train accident that left him paralyzed. Now comes the tricky balancing of simultaneously searching for the money on the property, keeping all the men, including the paralyzed old man (Stuart Lancaster) entertained and distracted, and keeping the half-pint’s mouth shut and keep her from running off to tell the old man’s other more competent son. It's actually a rather mundane, simplistic plot, but it's the executioning that pulls it together. Or more than that, it's that the women, these women, are the ones that seems to be doing what in most films, would take a literal army, or at least a ragtag band of misfits, but almost always, were men.

Meyer would make numerous films, not only his skin flicks but would dabble in film noir, and even some serious drama. The only other films of his I’ve seen is the southern nightmarish “Mudhoney,” and his campy X-rated satire “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls,” the latter of which is just as popular a cult classic, and yes, was actually written by Pulitzer-Prize Winning film critic Roger Ebert. I wonder what he would think of this world we live in today; much of his writings make it seem like he's just as infatuated by breasts as Meyer was. He might say what's wrong with that, and technically I don't necessarily think there is.  Hey, if Pauline Kael can write whole reviews based on a person's face....

Love him or hate him, Meyer’s work has invigorated the pop culture scene to this day, “Faster, Pussycat…” and “Mudhoney,” became names of rock bands. It might be harder for some to see it nowadays but look closer at his work. Long before many people had ever even heard of the term, in his own top-heavy way, as one of film’s first true feminists.


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