RIP Tura Satana

I was very sad to learn yesterday of the death at age 73 of a true grindhouse legend and an early icon of female empowerment. I had the good fortune of having a couple of longish chats with Tura Satana, the legendary star of Russ Meyer’s 1965 grindhouse tour de force, “Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!” and other light classics of exploitation cinema. We both appeared in my friend Cody Jarrett’s women-in-prison opus, “Sugarboxx,” though she actually got to speak. She enjoyed talking about the old days and I certainly didn’t mind listening.

One-quarter Japanese, Filipino, Cheyenne-Indian, and Scots-Irish, her story included a childhood stay in Manzanar, one of the internment camps where all Japanese-Americans on the West coast were illegally forced to spend World War II. She was a victim of a childhood rape who, she said, eventually tracked down all her attackers. That anger would later find an outlet in her work, to say the least.

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Her performing career began with notoriety as an exotic dancer and martial artist. A gig posing erotically for photographs by aging silent comedy superstar Harold Lloyd led Lloyd to suggest a career in movies. She eventually made a brief appearance in Billy Wilder’s “Irma La Douce” and that was followed by her bone-crunching interpretation as the villainous/anti-heroic Varla in Russ Meyer’s insane mix of sexual innuendo and, for the time, shocking violence. She would likely have appeared in later Meyer films, but she was unwilling to do the kind of nudity that was his usual calling card. A certain amount of tragedy followed her later in life and her 1970s career was cut short by a bullet wound, her children, and a second career as a nurse.

Tura wasn’t Dame Judi Dench, but then Dame Judi is no Tura Satana. She was one very cool, very brassy woman who held an audience’s attention in a way that was entirely unique to her and entirely unforgettable.

For more, please do check out some of the links at MUBI and also Kimberly Lindberg’s really great 2007 tribute and bio. After the flip, I have a few key moments of Satana.

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A day at the TV Land Awards

Cast Of The Love Boat

The TV Land Awards are not an “and the winner is…” kind of award show extravaganza. They’re more a series of honorary nods to the very popular shows of television’s illustrious, time-killing past with an emphasis on glitz. And so a bunch of us media types were invited to add to the hub-bub at the Sony Studios back lot on a breezy April, waiting on a red carpet for whichever celebrity was escorted to our assigned spots, with those from famed print and broadcast outlets obviously getting the first dibs. In the case of this lowly pixel stained wretch, I felt honored to chat with a few really terrific performers who, each in their own way, had made quite an impression on me personally.

That most definitely applies to Jane Leeves, the comedically gifted actress best known as Daphne, Niles Crane’s Manchester-born one-true-crush and eventual wife from “Frasier.” After confessing that I’d had a crush of my own on her since before her famed “Seinfeld” turn as “Marla, the Virgin” her response was typically blunt-yet-charming. “I’m not that old!”

“Neither am I!,” I blurted. (I later learned that Ms. Leeves birthday was the following day. My own birthday was two days prior. I guess age was on both of our minds.)

Aside from being no non-TV star herself, Ms. Leeves was there to promote her now show, coincidentally to be aired on TV Land in a rare foray into original programming, “Hot in Cleveland.” The show teams Leeves with Wendy Malick (“Just Shoot Me”) and Valerie Bertinelli (“One Day at a Time”). The three play “very L.A.” career women with show business-related backgrounds of various types. (Leeves plays an “eyebrow plucker to the stars.”) Feeling a bit aged out of the L.A. game, they attempt a trip to Paris, but instead find themselves marooned at the home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They quickly realize that beautiful, middle-aged women who can refer to celebrities by their first name are actually in fairly short supply in the midwestern metropolis and they decide to stay and be big fish in a smaller glamor pond. Betty White costars as a neighbor, perhaps a wacky one. Cue the glib comparisons calling this a “younger ‘Golden Girls.'”

Nevertheless, fans of Ms. Leeves should rest assured that her character is no retread of Daphne Moon. “She’s focused her whole life on her career and has forgotten to have a life. She’s the sort of smart aleck, wise-ass of the group, so it’s very different.”

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Then, perhaps feeling a bit star-struck, I went with the fallback question I frequently steal from our esteemed Will Harris. What project has she done that she doesn’t feel has gotten enough attention.

“It’s my cooking, quite frankly.”

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Your post-Good Friday movie news dump

A few remaining items worth mentioning this late evening/early morn…

* RIP John Forsythe. The watchably stolid actor with a nice touch at both melodrama and low-key comedy and a memorable voice passed away at 92 late Thursday. He worked a great deal on stage and in kept his hand in at the movies, but he’s did most of his work in multiple television series and, ironically, is probably best known today as the disembodied voice of Charlie from “Charlie’s Angels.” Still, he was a strong presence in a number of notable movies, including playing opposite a very young and very adorable Shirley Maclaine in Alfred Hitchcock‘s black comedy, “The Trouble with Harry” and as a vicious judge taunting a youngish but far less adorable Al Pacino in Norman Jewison’s “And Justice for All…” He also dealt with a murderous Robert Blake in “In Cold Blood” and fended off a nasty, nasty Ann Margaret in, yes, “Kitten with a Whip.”

* Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg — the Jewish-American twosome who struck a blow for the depiction of Asian-Americans as actual human beings, albeit hilariously stoned ones, by creating “Harold and Kumar” — are set to reboot the “American Pie” franchise with a film that is also a sequel. Also, the third go-round with ‘Roldy and Kumar is in motion, even if Kal Penn is currently employed outside of Hollywood. I mean, good roles for Asian American males should not so rare that they are all forced to go to work at the White House.

* The lovely and talented Emily Blunt will not be romancing “Captain America,” according to the Playlist’s Edward Davis. I’m not sure why he’s so convinced it won’t be a very good movie except for the fact that, of course, most movies aren’t very good and the bigger the budget, the more often that turns out to be true. But even so, I don’t quite get it.

On the other hand, I completely agree with the premise of another post by Davis: Yes, the thought of Tom Cruise uglying himself up in a major way to play Phil Spector really does have some demented genius to it. I’m not Cruise’s biggest fan but, well cast, he can be brilliant and playing lunatics seems to work for him. I have no idea why that might be the case.

And, yes, I like a third Davis post about a long-delayed movie being labored over by Cameron Crowe about the equally great and equally demented Marvin Gaye. Re: casting, I’m rooting for Jesse L. Martin of “Law & Order” — a terrific actor and the physical resemblance is pretty eerie.

* Another comic book adaptation for Ryan Reynolds.

* Don’cha just hate it when a star and director team up, get plenty of compliments, and then just repeat themselves? Well, fresh off their mostly good reviews and general decent business on “Greenberg,” about the personal travails of a bitter forty-something musician-cum-carpenter,  the two are simply rehashing the same basic premise with “Mr. Popper’s Penguins.” Oh, wait…

* From a couple of days back, Anne Thompson nicely summarizes the spreading conventional movie-geek wisdom on the making and consumption of 3-D films. Shorter version: really, not every movie should be in it, it’s worth a little extra to see movies actually shot in 3-D in 3-D, but the conversions from 2-D to 3-D are pretty much best ignored and may even end up ruining the fun.

* Sharon Waxman writes that a mystery bidder has entered the fray to purchase the studio original named for the Weinsteins’s parents, Mira and Max. Could it be Harvey and Bob W.’s long lost older brother, Mogul X, who fled in shame after his first producing effort sold exactly three tickets at Sundance, and vowed only to return only after he had become the world’s greatest movie executive? It’s a thought.

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