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New Line Home Cinema presents
"Kill everyone now! Condone first-degree murder! Advocate cannibalism! Filth are my politics, filth is my life!"
DVD ReviewPink Flamingos
"Hello, moviegoers! This is Mr. Jay speaking to you from Dreamland Studios. This beautiful mobile home you see before you is the current hideout of the notorious beauty, Divine, the filthiest person alive!" - Mr. Jay (John Waters)
And with those fateful words, so begins the most important, most influential, and most disgusting underground film of all time, Pink Flamingos. It's hard to say anything new about Pink Flamingos, considering how infamous it is. Yes, this is the movie with the singing sphincter, a sex scene with a chicken, and where Divine eats dog droppings. And while it isn't John Waters' best film, it is the one that defines him as a filmmaker. Mention the name John Waters to someone on the street, and there's a good chance it won't ring any bells. Mention Pink Flamingos, and they'll probably know to what you're referring.
Divine, the "filthiest person alive," is hiding out in a trailer outside of Baltimore. Under the assumed name of Babs Johnson, she lives with her traveling companion, Cotton (Mary Vivian Pearce), her demented son Crackers (Danny Mills), and her retarded mother, Edie (Edith Massey), who has an infatuation with eggs. Divine and company are content to live out their lives being filthy, but when Connie and Raymond Marble (Mink Stole and David Lochary) decide that they are actually the filthiest people alive, starting a filth war with Divine and her kin. To accomplish this they send Divine a bowel movement in the mail, call the police while Divine is having a party, and more. Eventually Divine feels enough is enough, and fights back.
The plot is really just an excuse for a lot of funny and disgusting sight gags; the movie isn't known for its surprising narrative twists. Rather, it is known for transsexual flashers, bestiality, incest, and most anything else one could imagine. The truly amazing thing about it is that the actors aren't upstaged by the outrageous acts going on. Yes, the movie is shocking, and funny, but the biggest laughs come from the actors' lines. Edith Massey in particular steals the show as the Egg Lady. As John Waters has said, Edith acts "almost by accident," and the result is that her performance seems fresh and innocent, which makes it all the more hilarious. When Cotton tells her the story of Humpty-Dumpty, and she replies, "But Cotton, how can a person be an egg? How can an person be an egg??", it's so gut-wrenchingly funny that none of the crazy, sickening actions going on through the rest of the film can hold a candle to it.
Well, okay, one act can. And that is the infamous dog-walking scene. No matter how it is described to you, there is no way to prepare yourself for that scene. Watching Divine pick up fresh dog feces and stick it in his mouth is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I'm not sure if it's for better or for worse. Regardless, it was the only way to cap off a movie whose sole purpose was to shock the audience beyond anything they'd ever seen before. It succeeded then, and it succeeds now.
Style Grade: B
Substance Grade: A
"We have a theory that crime enhances one's beauty. The worse the crime gets, the more ravishing one becomes." - Donald Dasher (David Lochary)
What could John Waters do to follow Pink Flamingos? There was no way he could top it, and, if he tried, his career would simply become a series of movies that tried to one-up each other. Instead, he took the idea that crime is beauty and turned it into the funniest American movie ever produced in my opinion.
Female Trouble follows Dawn Davenport (Divine), starting as a teenager, where she runs away from home on Christmas because her parents didn't buy her cha-cha heels. A bum with soiled underpants (also Divine) picks Dawn up and gets her pregnant. Dawn gives birth to a daughter, Taffy (Mink Stole), and tries to be a career girl, but soon turns to crime to make her money. She frequents a beauty salon owned by Donald and Donna Dasher (David Lochary and Mary Vivian Pearce), then marries one of the hairdressers, Gator (Michael Potter), much to the ire of his Aunt Ida (Edith Massey). Donald and Donna contact Dawn about taking pictures of her committing crimes, saying that they believe crime equals beauty. Dawn agrees, and is soon carried up on a wave of underground success that later comes crashing down.
Female Trouble is, more than anything, a vehicle for Divine, John Waters' own Elizabeth Taylor. While there are many "career performances" in this film (for example, David Lochary and Mary Vivian Pearce as the hopelessly snooty Dasher couple), Divine's stands out, even topping Edith Massey, who usually managed to inadvertently upstage everyone around her (just look at Pink Flamingos, Desperate Living, and Polyester). Mink Stole manages to hold her own, as is evident during the auto accident, and the scene where she finds Dawn and Gator having sex. While Waters always demanded off-kilter performances from his actors, Female Trouble really proves that the regulars in his acting troupe were really far more talented than anyone ever gave them credit for.
Of course, it also helps that this film has the funniest lines out of all of Waters' films. While most of them can't be repeated here (and besides, reading the lines don't do justice to the actors' inspired deliveries), suffice it to say that Waters lampoons just about everything in this film, and the results make for a movie that comes closer to the proverbial "non-stop laughter" so often touted by outlandish critics, more so than any other movie yet made.
Style Grade: B+
Substance Grade: A+
"I worry that you'll work in an office, have children, celebrate wedding anniversaries! The world of heterosexuals is a sick and boring life!" - Aunt Ida (Edith Massey)
In the end, both Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble succeed because they have no pretensions of seriousness, and no fear of the reactions they provoke. The fact is that while some people will spew venom at the mere mention of these films, there are others who realize just how absurd the situations presented are, and aren't afraid to laugh at just about anything. Sometimes you just have to leave political correctness at the door. Everyone is trashy on some level; it's just that some people are afraid to accept it. But forget them. Pick up this set and revel with the people who aren't afraid to be as trashy as they can be, and, in some weird way, become glamorous for it.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: A+
Image Transfer Review: Considering how we're used to seeing John Waters' older movies, blurry images, bleeding colors, indiscernible details, these transfers are something of a revelation. For one thing, colors come off as true without bleeding. Blacks are solid; you can see most details pretty well. Of course, these are 16mm movies from the early 1970s, there's no way they'll ever look perfect. Every shot is grainy, period. Not only that, scratches and marks abound, although there are more on Pink Flamingos. While certainly the best these movies have ever looked, we can all relax, they still look really cheap. Something to note here is that both of these movies have been matted at a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. This doesn't pose much of a problem with Pink Flamingos, where Waters approved the matting, and there is only one scene where the matting becomes a problem (Channing is standing up and his head is completely cut off). Female Trouble really suffers from the matting, as hairdos get cut off (and hairdos are important in this film), as do bottoms of shoes and things. I'm not sure if Waters approved this matting, since in the commentary he refers to things that we can't see in the frame. Also, I know that New Line had a 35mm print commissioned that had the full 1.33:1 frame visible (I should know, I've seen it), and considering that Desperate Living was presented in its original aspect ratio, I can't understand why New Line would matte these films. It's just as bad as pan & scan, you know (These transfers in their original aspect ratio would garner a B-, but the matting lowers it to a C).
Image Transfer Grade: C
Audio Transfer Review: Both discs have a mono and stereo track, and there isn't much difference between them. Neither of these films display much audio quality, but considering their origins, this is no surprise. The important part is that everything is audible and understandable, which they are, much more so than on older VHS copied, where dialogue and sound effects would be muddled. While these don't sound great, this is due to the source material, and is not the fault of the disc itself.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu
Scene Access with 50 cues and remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
12 Deleted Scenes
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by John Waters
Extras Review: As with all John Waters' DVDs, both films have a commentary track. And, like all John Waters' commentaries, they are some of the best. John tells production stories, inspirations for certain scenes and lines, where cast members are now, things that have happened to him later in life that relate to certain scenes, and more. The commentaries are alone worth the price of the disc, even if the movies were terrible, which we know they aren't.
The version of Pink Flamingos presented here is the 25th anniversary edition, which means that we watch the whole movie, and then we see a collection of deleted scenes, most of which are hilarious. Interspersed through the scenes are comments by John Waters. This section ends with the original theatrical trailer. If you watch the film with commentary, when we get to the deleted scenes, Waters keeps commenting! It's probably the first time someone comments on their filmed comments on a scene. And this commentary isn't a rehash of the previously filmed comments either, making it all the more valuable. Both the trailer and the scenes are available to view separately from the movie, as well, and there is also a trailer for Female Trouble on the corresponding disc.
Extras Grade: A-
Final CommentsThe ultimate examples of trash culture, Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble are outrageous, funny, and, believe it or not, influential. These movies have a true independent spirit in them that will keep them fresh for as long as people have the courage to look beyond the mainstream. Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble have made their marks on countless individuals, myself included. I think we should all thank our lucky stars that there are people like John Waters out there, who take a look at the world in a different way, and make fun of what they see. For in the land of the trashy, the director with the largest drag queen is king.
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