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New Line Home Cinema presents
John Waters Collection #1: Hairspray/Pecker (1987/1998)

"It's got a good beat, and you can dance to it!"
- Amber von Tussle (Colleen Fitzpatrick)

Review By: Dan Lopez  
Published: May 30, 2001

Stars: Ricki Lake, Sonny Bono, Debbie Harry, Divine
Other Stars: Edward Furlong, Christina Ricci, Mary Kay Place, Martha Plimpton
Director: John Waters

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: R for (sexuality, graphic nudity, language, brief drug use) Hairspray rated PG (for suggestive themes)
Run Time: 02h:57m:00s
Release Date: May 22, 2001
UPC: 794043523021
Genre: comedy


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B BAB+ B+

DVD Review

John Waters is, in my opinion, one of the great showmen of our time. True, many of his films have been incredibly bizarre and sick, but there's an inescapable charm in his obsession with bending reality into something funny—and very twisted. I admire how he has managed to find success with so many people; yet, even at his most popular moments, he has never 'sold out', never compromised a vision just to make big bucks. He remains his good ol' trashy self over the years, and perhaps the last, true B-movie visionary. New Line Cinema has decided to release his works in double-packs in the DVD format, and it may be one of the great values of the decade to have so many cool movies packaged together!

The first offering in the John Waters Collection: Volume 1 is 1988's Hairspray. Ironically, this was Waters' first film since his ultra-trash classic Polyester in 1981, yet it would be rated 'PG' and turn out to be one of his finest projects to date. Hairspray takes place in the early 1960s in Baltimore. Going back to elements of his own youth, Waters tells the story of teenager Tracy Turnblad (Ricki Lake, at 19 years old) who is obsessed with the rock music and fashion of the era. Specifically, she loves to watch the "Corny Collins Show", an American Bandstand-style television show aired locally. Unfortunately, her parents (Divine and Jerry Stiller) don't particularly like her obsession. Parents be damned, Tracy auditions to be a regular on the Corny Collins show and, sure enough, turns out to be quite popular.

However, her rival, Amber Von Tussle, enlists the help of her well-to-do parents (Debbie Harry and Sonny Bono) to sabotage Tracy's new-found world of fun. This simple but brutal rivalry is what primarily drives the film, along with a subplot about the racism of the times. John Waters brilliantly manages to create what many people regard as one of the most realistic visions of early '60s Americana, but at the same time, injects it with ridiculous, trashy elements. Obviously, the casting holds much of Hairspray's attraction—I mean, how can you go wrong with Divine, Sonny Bono, Debbie Harry, and Ricki Lake? You can't, but Waters doesn't stop there. We also get some great, brief appearances by Mink Stole, Pia Zadora, Rick Ocasek, Ruth Brown, and Jerry Stiller. And what would a movie about 1960s dance competitions be without good music? Some of the classic tunes of the day are belted out with authentic dance moves, wonderfully re-creating the atmosphere.

Without a doubt, Hairspray is a charming, simple look at the age, with some great hilarity mixed in for good measure. As a period piece, I'll take Hairspray before over-produced, over-manufactured "greatest hits" compilations like That Thing You Do!, or the television mini-series The 60s, any day. Amazingly, John Waters is also able to mix in themes of racism and make them darkly humorous; something you just don't expect. As a result, he never turns in a serious "message" film, but rather something more lighthearted.

Style Grade: A
Substance Grade: B+



"Pubic hair causes crime." - Pecker's father (Mark Joy)

The second title in this set is Waters' 1998 film, Pecker, which gets back to Waters' roots in true "trash" filmmaking. Very much like Polyester and Female Trouble, Pecker is an exaggerated, far-fetched, ridiculous saga of a young photographer, Pecker (Edward Furlong), and his overnight success in the art world. Pecker takes photos of everything, including his bizarre family, and thinks of it all as inspired art. Of course, to most people, it's banal, but when he showcases his work at a Baltimore pizza parlor, an artists' agent from New York adopts his work as some kind of bold, new artistic statement.

Pecker, his girlfriend Shelley (Christina Ricci), and his entire family are suddenly swept up in a frenzy of popularity in the New York crowd; unfortunately, their trashiness is the reason they're so popular. In the process, Pecker loses the confidence of his family and friends, and soon discovers that success is not all it's cracked up to be. We've seen this story before, obviously; it's a very clichéd idea, done in many dramas and comedies. Except here, Waters makes sure to make the characters very weird and twisted. From Pecker's sister (Martha Plimpton) who works in a gay strip club, to his grandmother who talks to the Virgin Mary through a puppet, there's so much to love with these folks. Of course, there's great dialogue as well; Pecker's emotional declaration, "I love you more than Kodak!" and an angry, lesbian stripper proclaiming, "Nobody makes money off my pelt but me!" In fact, this has some of the greatest one-liners I've heard in almost any film. If anyone thought John Waters was mellowing in his Hollywood years, Pecker disproves that theory rather nicely.

It would seem that bad taste has become 'chic' these days, with everyone trying to out-offend each other in cartoons, sitcoms, and commercials. Pecker manages to embrace foul humor like a child cuddling his or her favorite blanket. Some argue that it lacks some of the structure that made Waters such a hit with Hairspray and Serial Mom, but I think there's a clear line between this kind of film and a very 'PG' experience like either of those movies. Of course it's juvenile and slightly stupid, but that's exactly the point. I mean, where else will you see Patty Hearst dancing half-naked on a barroom table? On second thought, don't answer that.

Style Grade: B
Substance Grade: B+

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B

 

Image Transfer

 OneTwo
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyesyes
Anamorphicyesyes


Image Transfer Review: Both films are widescreened at 1:85:1, with anamorphic transfers. The two look extremely good; up to par with New Line's typical solid work. Hairspray shows a touch of age with some occasional grain in the image, but otherwise seems practically new. Very fine color and black-level balance are apparent, as even the darkest scenes are clear and crisp with easily definable on-screen activity. The image is steady and rock-solid with no artifacts or other movement to distract you. Pecker is basically the same quality, but uses different cinematography, so it's a harsher film in that sense (it looks more like reality than the dreamy tones of Hairspray). But the transfer is still excellent and shows no signs of degradation.

Image Transfer Grade: A

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Both films are presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, which seems to be merely a clarity upgrade of the 2.0 mixes. Surrounds are not used at all, and it would seem that Waters' penchant for Ultra Stereo mixes was not interfered with. Hairspray is very well done, with the soundtrack taking most of the energy, sounding perhaps better than any remastering of "classic" tunes on CD. None of the dialogue is obscured or unbalanced and everything sounds as it should. There's no real "action" in Hairspray so directional effects are minimal and the majority of the film is mono-oriented, save the occasional ambient or crowd noise. The same can pretty much be said of Pecker, which operates in the same manner. Subtle and simple, the mixes add excellent quality but don't really use the "surround" element. Dolby 2.0 mixes are also included, but are pretty much topped by the 5.1 mixes and the upgrade in overall effectiveness.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 39 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by (Hairspray) Director John Waters, actress Ricki Lake, (Pecker) Director John Waters
Packaging: other
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Interview with photographer Chuck Shacochis.
Extras Review: Both films include commentaries by John Waters, with Ricki Lake joining the track for Hairspray. Both are very fun to listen to and expose a lot about the making of each film. Ricki Lake mainly talks about her experiences as a newcomer and then working with John Waters (which probably caused some interesting trauma). Lake isn't actually live with Waters on the commentary; her comments are edited in from what appears to be a separate recording, but it's still a good listen. The Pecker commentary is filled with anecdotes and sources of inspiration for Waters, along with some choice pieces of wisdom ( "I think everyone in laundromats is thinking about sex because it's so boring there").

The Pecker disc includes a 10-minute interview with Chuck Shacochis, the photographer who actually created all of Pecker's "work" in the film. The interview takes place in the photo store where he is employed and is generally informative. There's also a few shots of the actual photographs (which you never really get to see too well in the film).

Each disc comes with its theatrical trailer and has similarly themed menus (with audio/video clips from the movies). I'm assuming this is going to be the running theme with the rest of the John Waters Collection discs, along with the fold-out packaging. On a side note, the New Line logos can be highlighted on the menus to get production credits for the DVDs.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

You can't really go wrong with this reasonably priced 2-pack of John Waters madness. These are enjoyable, slightly off-kilter comedies from a director who is truly master of his domain. Recommended.

 


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