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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

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Saturday, April 16, 2011

SATANA-IC RITES




I've no excuse for letting two months go by without writing a memoriam to the late Tura Satana, who passed on Feb 4, 2011.

Her best-known film role-- possibly the only really exemplary one she ever had as an actress-- is of course that of the villainous "Varla" of 1965's FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL!, which director John Waters called "the best movie ever made."

It's also one of the greatest examples of a movie that seems deceptively simple, but which has layers of evocative symbolism equal to the best of the John Ford westerns, with which PUSSYCAT shares some mythological territory.

Admittedly, Tura Satana wasn't responsible for the symbolism put forth in the script as envisioned by director Russ Meyer and writer Jack Moran. But then I don't think Meyer ever reached the heights of PUSSYCAT either before or after. This may mean that a lot of the stuff I like in the movie comes more from Moran, who had written only one full script for Meyer prior to PUSSYCAT: the still-pretty-obscure WILD GIRLS OF THE NAKED WEST (though he wrote two other film-scripts for Meyer after FPKK).

Nevertheless, Satana lived the role of Varla as few if any other actresses of the time could have. Prior to the film Satana had been best known as an exotic dancer, and by her own account her life was pretty tough. A good actress certainly doesn't have to have lived the experiences of a fictional character, of course. However, in 1965 it might have been tough to find a professional actress who could relate to a leather-clad lesbian go-go dancer who knew karate. Meyer himself admitted that Satana was a one-in-a-million discovery in that she was "strong as a horse" in addition to having some real karate training. Thus Satana's fight-scenes with her two male opponents in PUSSYCAT are a good deal more physically arresting than, say, those of Anne Francis in the HONEY WEST TV show around the same time.

(To be sure, the HONEY WEST fight-scenes are quite well-done; they're just not visually stunning.)

From start to finish the script of PUSSYCAT-- and Satana-- make Varla a titanic figure. Varla and her companions are first seen dancing in a go-go club, inciting the lusts of the men who watch but can't touch, and then the camera cuts to show them racing their cars along a desert road, while Varla herself laughs triumphantly. Though Meyer's biography makes clear that he was no women's libber, it's impossible not to read this moment as showing Varla in a position of strength: she dances for men but they can't control her or rein her in.

Varla's such a "go-go" type that she's honestly perplexed by the notion of altruism-- though she's no "noble savage:" when it looks like the whitebread Tommy is going to out-drive her during their car-race, she simply cheats in order to win. And when she dies, the film ends with a summing-up worthy of old Warner Brothers gangster pictures:

LINDA (looking at Varla's dead body as Kirk draws her away): "But-- you're just going to leave her?"
KIRK: "Well-- she's not goin' anywhere!"

RIP, Tura Satana.

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