Saturday, February 05, 2011

Tura Satana 1935 -2011

There's still a glimmer of hope that this is not true given that an official press release has not yet gone out. But it appears as if a comment from a family member here has de facto confirmed it. So I'd like to take this opportunity to say goodbye to Tura Satana who gave one of the most singular performances in cinema history as Varla in Russ Meyer's 1965 Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!

As befits someone who survived a brutal childhood, a gunshot to the stomach, and two years in the hospital after being hit by a car at 60mph, Satana imbues the character of Varla with a take no prisoners potency. A butch, hot roddin' go-go dancer, Varla wants kicks and she wants them now. She'll even kill to get 'em, a proclivity which stiffens the backs of the holier than thou set. But as always with campfests like Faster, Pussycat!, the surface narrative throws up a smokescreen against what's really going on - an early encounter with the smugness of the 1960s counterculture in the form of banal do-gooder Kirk (Paul Trinka).

Incense nor peppermints swirl around Kirk. In fact, he looks too old to be a part of the happenings that haven't quite yet happened. But he's definitely one of the gentle people Meyer's Carrie Nations would sing about later in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970 - a bit too late in this instance - Meyer was definitely not in lockstep with the 1960s zeitgeist). Soft-spoken, dull, with a live and let live attitude, he's Dove to Varla's Hawk - in short, a proto-hippie (a fact reinforced by the knowledge that Trinka was a vegetarian...with bad breath to boot!).

But Varla sees through him. Kirk rolls around in the hay with Varla in one scene and calls her "a very sick girl" in the next. He remains brain dead for most of the film about the danger posed by his lecherous father and brother. Indeed, a rape needs to occur in front of his eyes in order for him to take up the mantle of hero. And Varla nails his wishy-washiness every step of the way with lines that become increasingly less camp and more just flat-out correct as the film moves on. As per the code of 1965 narrative (as well as Meyer's, face it, conservative cinema), she has to die at Kirk's hand (really his truck) for his sins of wussdom. But like all saints, she continues to inspire, especially now after (hopefully) the most apocalyptic week of 2011. In a world of moral weaklings, self-absorbed hypocrites, and armchair/internet tough asses, Satana's Varla still oozes with use value.

And in a film choked with eternal one-liners, this straightforward exchange currently hits the hardest:

Kirk (about his slow-witted brother): He'll have to be committed. He can be a person'll take time.

Varla: Too much time!