Are exploitation films only about sex?
Tura Satana in ‘Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!’ by Russ Meyer
Text Domenico Paris
That move, the fierce swivelling of the hips back and forth, became such a distinctive element of his performances to earn him the nickname of ‘Elvis The Pelvis’, the same by which, forty years after his passing, he is still known in every corner of the globe.
Yet, only few people are aware of the fact that that irresistibly provoking, sexually-charged move was not his own work: Elvis was taught the move by a tall, bosomy girl with whom the King of Rock had fallen madly in love and that, over the course of their few months’ relationship, had tried to marry. Her name was Tura Satana and she is the patroness of all riot girls from the Fifties onwards.
When she met the Tupelo-born beau, Tura, whose Japanese, Indian Cheyenne and Irish heritage was rather unfathomable at the time, was already a seasoned woman with a tough life: she had spent some of her childhood years in a Californian internment camp, was sexually abused by five men aged nine and decided, in order to exact revenge, to become a proficient karateka. Aged only thirteen and following a failed marriage, she run away to Los Angeles to work as an exotic dancer whilst joining the all-girl motorcycle gang before transforming, still underage, into a sophisticated burlesque dancer. Following a fling with Elvis and a brief cameo in Billy Wilder’s Irma la Douce, in 1965 she found fame after Russ Meyer gave her the lead role in the legendary b-movie Faster, Pussycat…Kill! Kill! Her performance in the role of bombastic and aggressive Varla turned her into an exploitation film star and, over the course of the years, earned her the respect and devotion of American feminists and the unconditional love of several Hollywood names including Quentin Tarantino, who in an interview stated that he would have given five years of his life to have her in one of his films.
Legend has it that during the last few days before her passing in 2011, Tura Luna Pascual Yamaguchi – this was her real name – had eventually decided to wear the engagement ring that Elvis had given her over fifty years before and that he never claimed back, not even when their relationship had ended.