Saturday, April 30, 2011

Pink Flamingos (1972)

The Movie: Divine (the late cult movie figure), after being named “Filthiest Person Alive” by the tabloids; moves to Baltimore with her traveling companion, Cotton (Mary Vivian Pearce), senile egg-obsessed mother (Edith Massey), and son, Crackers (Danny Mills), under the pseudonym Babs Johnson. They set up in a trailer out in the middle of nowhere in the hopes of hiding out for a while. Unfortunately, news of their presence in town reaches the wrong people.

Raymond (the late David Lochary) and Connie (John Waters regular Mink Stole, last seen on this blog way back in the beginning in my review of But I’m a Cheerleader) Marble are an extremely perverted couple who are convinced that they are the filthiest and most depraved people in the world. They certainly have a lot in favor of their argument. Their main source of income is a black market baby ring where they kidnap teenage hitchhikers, have their butler, Channing (Channing Wilroy) impregnate them, and sell them to lesbian couples. They also use some of that money to fund heroin dealers at elementary schools. In his free time, Raymond likes to expose himself to women in the park; which occasionally nets him some cash in the form of their dropped purses.

Hearing that their rival is in town, the Marbles are determined to eliminate her and claim the title of “Filthiest People Alive” for themselves. To locate her, they hire Cookie (the late Cookie Mueller) to seduce Crackers for the information they need. She succeeds, but it comes at a price; Crackers makes her have sex with him with live chickens between them.

The Marbles begin their vendetta, but they are in for a nasty shock. Divine didn’t earn her title by being a pushover. Once she and her family realize that the Marbles are gunning for them, they decide retaliation is in order. Things are about to get really ugly in ways no sane person can imagine…

The Review: Oh gods I hate my brain, or at least certain parts of it. I swear, it seems like certain thought processes have minds and personalities of their own, I’ve even given a few names. Well, recently I heard from a part of my brain that seems constantly out to hurt me. I’ve long suspected I’m a bit of a masochist, although it’s probably a common human motivation. After all, every one of us has times when we feel the compulsion to do something we know isn’t a good idea. We know it’s very bad for us, we know we’re going to really be hurting and hating ourselves for it afterwards, and yet still we really want to do it.

Anyway, this sado-masochistic part of my consciousness pointed out that if I wanted to review truly out-there movies, I needed to do at least one John Waters flick; and that there was no option but to review his magnum opus. Therefore, I was compelled to do something I swore I never would and rewatched Pink Flamingos so that I could do a review on it. Now other parts of my brain are curled up in little balls crying, or screaming in agony and horror. The things I do for my readers. You’re welcome, by the way.

You may be familiar with John Waters for films such as Hairspray (probably his most well known) and Serial Mom. However, his early films from the seventies and early eighties, those were something else entirely. How to get this across…

Well, let me just start by saying I rarely use the f-word. Not that I have anything against swearing, I just feel it is way overused. I had my lesson in the use of effective swearing in high school sophomore gym class, when a classmate overheard me using the word ‘damn.’ His reaction should tell you about my reputation at the time, he insisted I say it again so that he could be sure and tell people he had heard it come from my mouth. My vocabulary has expanded greatly since then, but I still try to keep the f-word in reserve so that when I do use it, people know that I mean it.

I tell you this so that the full impact will sink in when I say that the best adjective for an early Waters flick is ‘fucked-up.’ His more recent movies may diverge from the beaten path, but his early ones come nowhere within sight of it. We’re talking really low budget (Pink Flamingos was made on only $10,000), little to no actual acting talent, and long meandering dialogue. Divine, Waters’ leading lady for a lot of his films, was actually a 300 pound transvestite; and the rest of his cast, mostly friends and associates, look like the kind of people you could expect to find hanging around a bus station because they were exactly that kind of person.

As for what his movies were about, oh gods it’s hard to believe even after seeing it. The best way I can describe an early John Waters film is that it is like digging through an outhouse on a really bad drug trip, and even that doesn’t come close. He really went out of his way to be as weird and grotesque as possible, and his cast was willing to do things in front of the camera that many of us would probably have trouble doing in private. Watching one of these movies is definitely an experience you cannot forget, no matter how much you try.

Pink Flamingos is Waters’ most notorious film, and the one that made Divine an underground sensation. Just reading my synopsis of it provides only the smallest of hints of what you are in for. Ultimately, the whole point of the movie is to shock you, and it does just that. There are very few societal taboos that aren’t broken, often in graphic detail. All of our main characters are repulsive in their own way, often in a fashion that has to be seen to be believed.

And yet, it is apparent that Waters has talent. There are some seriously funny parts; my favorite a scene that just had Divine walking down the street with the camera following her and taking in the reactions of everyone she passes. Pink Flamingos is clever, but it is all the more vile for being so clever.

I’m not sure what else to say, so I will end on this note; Pink Flamingos is one of the few movies that could honestly be called the ultimate cinomasochistic experience. If you’re really into bizarre films, movies that go places you never thought it possible for them to go, you should see it at least once. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to see about taking a long shower and finding some steel wool to scrub my frontal lobe with.

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