Monday, August 13, 2007

Monday Movie Review: Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!

Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965) 7/10
Three women embark on a haphazard crime spree after killing a young man and taking his girlfriend prisoner. Directed by Russ Meyer.

I saw this movie several weeks ago, but I have to say, I'm at a loss as to how to review it. Certainly the rating is a shot in the dark, because it's impossible to choose a standard by which to judge. The acting is sometimes so bad that I burst out laughing. On the other hand, the movie is suffused with a raw vitality that is thrilling to watch. As Varla, Tura Satana is bursting at the seams; literally, in her painted-on clothes, and figuratively, too bombastic an actress, but also too angry, to hyper-energized a character. She is utterly evil, but also fully alive; a kind of oversexed, murderous, Übermensch. Her only motivations seem to be to keep moving, keep fighting, keep grabbing, keep controlling, and keep fucking. Her companions are not happy when she turns them into a gang of killers; Rosie (Haji) is interested only in her lover Varla, while Billie (Lori Williams) wants to fuck, get drunk, fuck, party, fuck, dance, and fuck.

So these characters are repulsive and yet compelling, and their opposition, a vile old man and his two passive sons, are never given the opportunity to gain our sympathy. Ultimately, Arthur and I found we were rooting for the "pussycats" despite ourselves, even with (or especially with) the annoyingly innocent Gidget-esque Linda (Susan Bernard) as their victim.

Arthur had this idea when we sat down to watch it that this would be a great movie to blog, kind of figuring with the title and the theme I could really sink my feminist chops into it. But that didn't turn out to be the case. You could twist yourself into a pretzel arguing that the pussycats are empowered, or that they're exploited. Clearly their cleavage is exploited. But if this movie has a theme, it is (on the positive side) vitality and life force, and (on the negative side) power and the abuse of power. As vital women, the pussycats are sexual and sexualized, but because they are all tall and busty and forceful, they don't seem objectified. Their gaze is direct and outward, not meek and askance, and their presence dominates the scene and the screen. They keep thrusting themselves forward and taking the lead in every experience. And it is definitely true that Meyers is interested in making sure this is "symbolized" shall we say, by their enormous breasts in tight outfits and all that. But these women have both agency and power, especially Varla, who is excited by abusing her power.

The most stereotypical woman is Rosie, who is going along with a lover who pushes her into situations with which she is unhappy. She is basically silent in the face of abuse and disloyalty; a lesbian battered partner. Her presence seems mostly designed to point to Varla's negativity; lest we enjoy her wildness too much, we are reminded that her own lover in her own gang is hurt by it.

I was surprised how much I enjoyed this, not just for its camp value, but for the waves of imagery and energy, the cleanly-constructed story, and the smart use of low budget to make minimalistic sets and locations really count.

(Hot-rodding, gun-toting cross-post)