Festival Highlight: Women Who Kick Ass Marathon
Tura Satana And Pam Grier On The Big Screen
Friday, October 19, 2012
Aired 10/19/12 on KPBS News.
Women kick ass in this month's genre film marathon sponsored by FilmOut San Diego on Saturday at the Birch North Park Theater.
FilmOut is San Diego's annual LGBT film festival. But programmer Michael McQuiggan works all year-round doing monthly screenings and quarterly genre marathons.
"I've been wanting to screen "Faster Pussycat, Kill, Kill!" and "Foxy Brown" as monthlies so I figured let's tie those two in together and we just snowballed it into this Women Who Kick Ass Marathon."
There's no better introduction for FilmOut's Women Who Kick Ass Marathon than this opening narration from Russ Meyer's 1965 film "Faster Pussycat, Kill, Kill!"
NARRATOR: Violence devours all it touches, its voracious appetite rarely fulfilled. Yet violence doesn't only destroy, it creates and molds as well. Let's examine closely then this dangerously evil creation, this new breed encased and contained within the supple skin of woman. The softness is there, the unmistakable smell of female, the surface shiny and silken, the body yielding yet wanton. But a word of caution: handle with care and don't drop your guard.
Damn right, these women were a new breed and they were dangerous. Perhaps the most dangerous being Tura Satana as Varla in "Faster Pussycat, Kill, Kill." I can't remember the first time I saw Satana's Varla but she made a vivid impression -- she was dressed all in black with a plunging neckline, and long black hair with severe bangs that framed her face in a hard, dramatic way. But what was most memorable was how she refused to obey any rules and how she ridiculed society with every breath.
"Let's just time Lancelot as he comes charging to the rescue, 3 and a half seconds, champ you were great," says Varla to the square-jawed young man racing to his girlfriend's defense.
Satana's Varla was breathtaking to behold, always sexual but never a sex object. For me as a young girl it was impressive to see a woman on screen who was supremely confident and thoroughly unconcerned with what society or anyone thought of her behavior. She was like a film noir femme fatale on steroids. Here this strapping lad tries to tangle with her on a desert racetrack.
MAN: You trying to say something?
TURA: I never try and say anything I just do it. Like I don't beat clocks, I beat people. Wanna try me.
Foolishly he tries her and is beaten both physically and emotionally. Satana was no feminist icon but in her own way she led a revolution to redefine women on screen. No one before or after her has had quite the same ferocious vitality and carnal energy (you felt like she might just devour you in a variety of ways) but the one who comes closest is Pam Grier.
Here's how the trailer described her: "Pam Grier that one chick hit squad who creamed you as Coffy is back to do a job on the mob. As Foxy Brown... You tell me who you want done and I'll do the hell out of him..."
Both Grier and Satana worked in B movies and because of that their films rarely get the attention or respect they deserve. But it was precisely because they worked outside mainstream Hollywood that they were able to explode sexual stereotypes as they did. Okay, they might not have been what you'd call "positive female role models" but sometimes something more ambiguous is far more interesting. They played women who were smart, sexy, and most definitely could kick ass. Check out Grier's Foxy Brown in this bar fight.
FOXY: Now you wait a minute this is none of your business.
WOMAN: Before you start talking it up I better warn you I have a black belt in karate.
FOXY And I got my black belt in bar stools.
Grier brought some social consciousness to these woman and frequently was motivated by a cause.
FOXY: I want justice for all of them whose lives are bought and sold so a few big shots can climb up on their backs.
MAN: Sister that sounds like revenge.
Okay, sometimes her causes did end up sounding like just revenge but we always felt she was justified. Grier and Satana broke down barriers so that actresses in following decades could kick ass a little more easily. Michael McQuiggan says he wanted to tap into the diverse range of these roles.
"'Thelma and Louise' is pretty mainstream so that's why we chose that, and 'Bound' we kind of wanted to stick to a little of the LGBT element since we are an LGBT film festival. "And then for 'Terror Train,' I specifically chose that because Jamie Lee Curtis kicks ass especially in her early films."
These films provide a great showcase for some kick ass women, and Grier and Satana are such larger than life icons that their films deserve to be seen on the big screen with an audience cheering them on.