A Tribute To Tura Satana (July 10, 1938 – February 4, 2011)
Almost 22 years ago to the day, Griff, Jill and I went to the Glasgow Film Theatre to see a double bill that would change our whole cinematic lives around, and set the tone for what would become one of the greatest years of our lives.
In late January 1989 we went to a double feature that comprised 'Blue Velvet', a film by David Lynch from a couple of years before that we had heard about but didn't know an awful lot about as it wasn't given much of a release in Scotland; and 'Faster Pussycat Kill! Kill!', a cult exploitation movie from the 1960s that we definitely hadn't seen as it was(at the time) banned on TV and video, but could be shown in approved theatres.
More than three and a half hours later we stumbled puchdrunk out into the cold Glasgow air, kicked senseless by two extraordinary performances; Dennis Hopper as Frank Booth in 'Blue Velvet', and Tura Satana as Varla in 'Faster Pussycat Kill! Kill!'.
'Blue Velvet' has been discussed and dissected to death, so lets look at 'FPKK' and Tura Satana who tragically passed away on the 4th of February.
One of the most important books I ever bought in my lifetime I purchased on Christmas Eve 1983. It was 'The Golden Turkey Awards' by Harry and Michael Medved. The book is a kind of alternative Oscars, giving awards to the worst and most inept movies in cinema history. Why I consider it so important is that it showed me that there was more to cinema than all that Hollywood churns out. It taught me about independent cinema and exploitation cinema, and I was hooked from the get go. You have to remember that back in those days it was nigh on impossible to get ANYTHING other than Hollywood fare on video, and so it would be a long time before I would ever get a chance to see all these weird movies I read about so passionately. As the years went on, my library on alternative cinema grew ever more expansive but actual chances to view the films seemed forever distant.
That's why as Griff, Jill and I made our way to the GFT, I was far more excited in seeing the silly old exploitation move than I was in seeing some surreal murder mystery by the guy who made 'The Elephant Man' and 'Dune'!! I was FINALLY getting to see a Russ Meyer movie, and on the big screen to boot!
After 75 minutes I sat there thunderstruck. I had finally seen the other side.
The constant bombardment of voluptuous, buxom women kicking seven bells out of macho he-men was all too much. I sat there drained. Even the brilliance of Lynch's masterpiece couldn't cloud the fact that I'd seen something that had turned my perspective of cinema upside down.
As we sat on the train going back home, we tried to talk about both movies, but all I could talk about was 'FPKK' and Varla, played by the stunning Tura Satana. To say I was smitten was like saying I like the occasional Smiths tune. I was in love with this black-leather-clad goddess.
Within a fortnight I owned the first of my numerous 'FPKK' tee-shirts which I wore non-stop that year (and beyond) and spoke over-enthusiastically about the film to everyone I met, even though I knew they might never get a chance to see the film.
Time, and the small screen. have not been kind to 'FPKK', I'm afraid. When I finally saw the film on video about 6 years later, it just didn't look the same. It had lost it's edge. On the small screen the film falls incredibly flat after the exhilarating opening 15 minutes and becomes, and it really kills me to say this, quite boring in places. Also, without the sense of a once-in-a-lifetime experience, which it felt like back in 1989, it just becomes another exploitation movie. And once you finally watch all those exploitation movies you only ever read about, the mystique is shattered and the movies all merge into one cheaply shot, badly acted blur.
However, I made it a point to try and collect all of Tura Satana's work over the years, which proved surprisingly easy as she only appeared in a couple of other movies, namely 'The Doll Squad' and 'The Astro-Zombies', both made by Ted V Mikels.
As far back as 1994, just after he released 'Reservoir Dogs', Quentin Tarantino claimed that Tura was top of his list of actresses he wanted to work with, something that Tura herself reminded every interviewer who tracked her down in later years. Sadly, the call never came, even though Tarantino has been linked with a remake of 'FPKK'!!
Like Bettie Page before her, Tura would go on to influence pop culture long after she stopped contributing to it. The Cramps would prove to be huge fans (hardly a surprise), but sadly the two bands who could claim biggest influence were the execrable hair-metal atrocity Faster Pussycat, and the turgid alt-metal rubbish that called themselves Tura Satana....how dare you, you blackguards!!!
Tura's passing this week has raised barely a ripple in the entertainment media; British news services completely failed 100% to mention it, and according to the IMDB she's still alive!
The very least I can hope for is that the self-righteous buffoons who run the Oscars honour her within their 'In Memoriam' section at the Academy Awards.
Goodnight sweet Varla, R.I.P xxx
Keep running fast and free
Child of the night