Monday, March 7, 2011

Yes, Really with Wilde.Dash #17: Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965)

The usual caveat: Believe it or not, for someone totally obsessed with movies, I do a lot of selective editing, snubbing, and ignoring. That is to say: there are a whole lot of well-known movies I've actually never bothered to watch. I've spent a lot of time hunting down obscurities and not quite as much time seeing the movies you've probably been watching since you were 10 years old (for example: I decided maybe I should watch Saving Private Ryan in Winter 2008). Because of this, in conversation I frequently have this interaction. Me: "I've never actually seen that movie" You: "What? I've seen a movie you haven't?" Me: "Yes" You: "How have you not seen that movie?" Me: "I never wanted to" You: "Really?" Me: "Yes, really." Thus: Yes, Really with Wilde.Dash a feature in which I fill in my pop culture education, watch all the boring basics, and let you know whether or not I decided they were worth my time. Get it? Got it? Good.

When I tell you that I've been trying to watch Russ Meyer's 1965 cult film Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! for the last seven years of my life, I'm not exaggerating.  At one point or another, during the hullabaloo that surrounded the release of Kill Bill, this movie got a mention from one critic or another (could it be Ebert?  Meyer's friend and one time collaborator?  very possibly).  I'd heard the title before, of course, but I'd never had a context.  Suddenly it acquired these strange mystical properties.  It was an exploitation picture, but not simply that.  It was the right kind of exploitation movie: one filled with violent ladies, car chases, and the sort of dialogue Tarantino coveted.  I had to see it.  Had to.  It's been a long road, and sure, there's a chance that if I'd gone the torrent route I could have had it years ago.  But, uh, instead I waited it out. I've had a hell of a time getting my hands on a copy of this movie, but I finally prevailed.  I have been to the promised land of kitsch and camp.  I have seen Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!  Now you ask, dear reader, was it worth all the trouble?  Yes, dear reader.  Yes, it was.  It. was. glorious.  Glorious in that way that only the worst, most unpretentious objects can be.  It's the cinematic equivalent of a cheap plastic snow globe with a palm tree and a flamingo.  It's a jumbo slushee in a souvenir cup.  It's a novelty shop half full of costumes and gag gifts, half full of sex toys.  It's short and to the point, eighty minutes of go go kill kill nonsense in spectacular black and white.  The amazing thing is that at some point, this was actually risque.
By today's standards, Meyer's buxom team of bad girl strippers are remarkably tame.  A little lurid and raunchy, pulp femme fatales who talk a big game and walk about in skimpy clothing, but not much more.  The violence is PG at best, the sex is a male fantasy illusion built mostly because out of the omnipresence of top heavy femininity with architectural cleavage.  In 1965, I'm sure there were folks who said this was pornography.  There might still be people who consider this to be a film about breasts. It's Russ Meyer, after all, right?  I'm not going to lie: I don't see it.  Roger Ebert observed that Meyer's women used their bodies as weapons.  Tura Satana, with her jet hair and dark cat eye makeup didn't unzip her jumpsuit in an attempt at titillation.  To Ebert " her abundant cleavage seems as firmly locked in place as a Ninja Turtle's breastplate. One cannot think of her as fondleable." [source] There's a truth to that that doesn't read as some sort of dual edged misogyny.  These women are wicked.  They're formidable and statuesque, frequently shot from low camera angles that make them larger than life.  Every bit of their appearance seems tailored to make them all the more Amazonian.  The tiny hot pants, low cut tops and go go boots never seem to make them silly sex objects, but instead accentuate the enormousness of their physicality.  They're solid and dangerous and unconfined, proportioned like comic book villainesses; less suggestive and more Amazonian.  These ladies are tough broads in for the kill.  Even when they're busy fucking around, you know they're not fucking around.  We don't get much of an explanation for their actions, but nothing they do is surprising.  When they break that poor teenage boy down, snap his spine and steal his Gidget-weak girlfriend, it's just a thing.  It might be an average weekend, who knows?  These are ladies who drive out to the desert to play chicken in their own muscle cars.  They're in control.  The cars are an extension of their power, some phallic symbol re-appropriated for their own use.  They're the original Grindhouse girls; deranged characters who can only be used and abused by one another, but never by the man.  The men in the film are nothing. They're paralyzed or protectively maternal.  One of them, a muscle bound ignoramus, is actually called the Vegetable.  He's not a threat, just a sex toy with a screw loose.  In Meyer's film both genders are given the stereotypical qualities of the other.  It's not a subversion, but a perverse, simplified, exceptionally fun way of acknowledging the duality inherent in all humanity.  

Or, maybe that's reading into it too much.  After all, this is Meyer we're talking about.  It's a movie where the dialogue is a delightfully absurd blend of hyperbole and snarky come-ons.  It's very nearly Shakespearean in the reach of its cheese.  "Oh, you're cute... like a velvet glove cast in iron." Pure liquid gold.  If this film were made today, it'd be bloody, brutal, and too often nude.  Unfortunately, there are attempts to make this happen.  I'm not sure I'd want that.  As it stands, there's a purity to it.  Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! toes many a line, one of them being a bizarre almost adorable charm and absolute viciousness.  Is it grrrl power or sex and violence?  Lucky for us, the images are almost ambiguous.  It's up to you to decide.

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