Wednesday, 30 September 2015
Faster Pussycat Kill Kill (5 Stars)
"Ladies and gentlemen! Welcome to violence!"
This is the seventh film in the Russ Meyer Collection, and the fourth and final film in his Gothic Quartet. It's difficult to believe that "Faster Pussycat Kill Kill" was made almost spontaneously, with very little planning. After finishing "Motorpsycho" Russ was speaking to his wife Eve (who was still his business partner even though they were separated), and he said "We've just made a film about a gang of three men. Why don't we make a film about a gang of three women?" Eve liked the idea, so Russ wrote a script and the filming began only a month later. The interpersonal relationships of the two gangs are so similar that it's even possible to see who represents who in the two films. Varla is Brahmin, Rosie is Dante, Billie is Slick.
The public's reaction was lukewarm. "Faster Pussycat Kill Kill" earned a staggering $36,000 at the box office. Nobody knew what to make of it. It was truly a film ahead of its time. 15 years later Russ, who personally oversaw the marketing of his films, decided to release it on videotape in France. He was surprised how successful it was, so he released it in America, and there still wasn't much interest. He tried releasing it in other countries, and it was wildly successful all over Europe, selling millions of copies. Things didn't change in America until the film received praise from an unexpected source in 1998. When appearing on the Johnny Carson Show the director John Waters was asked what his favourite film was, to which he replied, "Faster Pussycat Kill Kill is the best movie ever made, and possibly better than any movie that will ever be made".
Just like in "Motorpsycho", it's a gang on the road who are violent for the sake of it. The difference is in the equipment used. The men in "Motorpsycho" drive motorbikes. I'm no expert in motorbikes, but they look like relatively simple models to me. The girls in "Faster Pussycat Kill Kill" drive Porsches. They're not poor boys, they're rich girls. Rich, beautiful, powerful, cruel. They kill men for fun, and if they can earn money while they're doing it, all the better.
It seems strange in retrospect that this was the first film made by Russ Meyer that features no nudity at all. I'm not aware that he's commented on it. My guess is that he wanted to avoid any suggestion that he was exploiting women. The actress Tura Satana, who plays Varla, demanded a contract that stated that she wouldn't be shown nude, despite working as an exotic dancer. She was worried about the future. She thought she might marry a man who would become the president, so she didn't want nude films of her to exist that would harm his career.
This doesn't mean that Tura was prude. Far from it. Russ Meyer wrote in all his film contracts that his cast and crew were forbidden to have sex during the filming of a movie. This was because he started early every morning and wanted everyone to be fresh and full of energy. Tura complained about this, saying she needed sex every day. Russ grudgingly accepted Tura's demands, but asked, "How can you have sex? Your boyfriend isn't here". She told Russ she would pick one of the film crew. The man she chose was Gil Haimson, the assistant cameraman. Russ needn't have worried about Tura, she woke up fresh for work every morning. Gil, unfortunately, appeared for work exhausted every day, forcing Russ to do most of the camera work himself.
But the story doesn't end there. Apart from three drivers the film's budget didn't allow the use of stuntmen. The actors had to do their own stunts. The first man that Varla kills in the film, Tommy the car club member, was played by Ray Barlow. He was terrified of Tura Satana. Tura was 5'11" tall, and she had black belts in Karate, Aikido and Taekwondo. In the fight scene with her she was as gentle as possible with him, but he still injured his hand. Varla was supposed to break Tommy's back by standing on him and pulling his arms back, but Ray refused to do it, fearing he would suffer real damage. A replacement had to be found. Who stepped in? Gil Haimson. Luckily only one take was needed for the back breaking scene. Despite Tura's reassurances that it wouldn't hurt much, he was injured so badly that he couldn't work for the rest of the day. And yet she still demanded his sexual services that night, injured or not.
Tura Satana was able to play the role of Varla so well because it wasn't so unlike her real personality. She chose a man. She used him for her pleasure. She bruised his body. Then she abandoned him. When the filming was over she had no more use for him, so she never saw him again.
What makes "Faster Pussycat Kill Kill" so good? I've always considered it one of my top 10 films, but after watching it again today I feel like it should be in my top five. The action is so fast. The musical score is perfect. It's true, the girls are evil, but it's impossible not to take their side. And yet I can't put into words what's so special about it. It's a film that everyone has to watch before he dies.