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Fox Lorber presents
"I'm not trying to say anything; I'm just trying to give people a good time. You know, make 'em laugh and give them a little shock value for their money's worth."
DVD ReviewShock value is certainly what John Waters is all about; he even used that phrase as the title of his autobiography. This documentary covers Waters' development up through the filming of his first big hit, the notorious Pink Flamingos. This is accomplished with a combinations of vintage and present-day filmed interviews, and also on-set footage, mostly from the making of Pink Flamingos.
Few stones are unturned in the interview segments; we meet Waters' shocked parents and his bemused brother, Steve. Nearly every member of Waters' Dreamland Productions troupe is also interviewed; most of these are from 1972 or thereabouts, but there are modern-day interview clips with both Pearce and Mink Stole, two of the few surviving members of the group. Some of the choicest quotes, however, are from Mary Avara, who was the Maryland Film Board Censor, the last such person (we hope) in the U.S. She relates how taken aback and horrified she was by Waters' footage, and her difficulties in deciding what had to be cut. She would surely be equally offended if she understood the ironic context that Steve Yeager puts her quotations in this film.
The real prize in this documentary, produced by the Independent Film Channel, is the unbelievable making-of footage which was shot on the set of Pink Flamingos. Considering the kind of films which Waters had previously made, zero-budget backyard affairs, the prescience that Yeager had in filming and interviewing the cast members during the making of this trash masterpiece is remarkable. A fair amount of the program is devoted to the infamous concluding sequence of that film, waiting for the dog to do its business so that Divine could eat it.
Divine's role in Waters' ascent into filmmaking legend is not minimized here; Waters himself acknowledges that he'd be nothing without this charismatic 300-pound transvestite. The interviews with Waters are self-mocking as well as mocking of nearly everyone, other than Divine and the film processor who taught Waters the art of editing.
There are film clips from Multiple Maniacs, Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble incorporated into the program; however they are not given much context and the director assumes that the viewer is familiar with them. This documentary is not a good place to begin the John Waters experience: come back to it after you've seen some of his films, especially the earlier ones. The clips are in the same 1.66:1 ratio as the documentary, which means that these fullscreen films are cropped at top and bottom.
The least interesting portion of the program is devoted to a variety of talking heads—both directors who laud Waters and psychiatrists who attempt to analyze him. The first time the latter comes up, it's amusing, but the joke gets a little old.
One significant flaw is the scope of the program; it ends before Waters' career really gets going. However, anyone who likes Pink Flamingos will assuredly want to see this documentary.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: Considering the source material is largely nonprofessional film shot on the move, the image is at least as good as that of Pink Flamingos itself. This is not exactly a recommendation, but it's passable. The modern day interview material is sharp and crisp, with good blacks and shadow detail. Older video segments are somewhat smeary, but have decent color. Divine's red fishtail dress comes through quite nicely. Bit rates are medium to medium high, ranging from about 5 to 7 Mbps. Overall, satisfactory picture quality for a documentary.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: The audio is an acceptable mono presented in 2.0. Surprisingly, there is minimal hiss and noise on the older source material. The dialogue is almost entirely clear, with little distortion other than what is to be expected when shooting "making-of" material live on a set. The music is suitable for the off-kilter subject matter and comes through well and without distortion or clipping.
Audio Transfer Grade: C+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 8 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
We do get filmographies for Waters and Divine, as well as Yeager, and a list of awards that this documentary was nominated for (it won the Filmmaker's Trophy at the 1998 Sundance Festival). The chaptering is inadequate, with the 8 chapters being clearly insufficient for a program of this length. Finally, there is a weblink to Winstar Home Video's website.
Extras Grade: D
Final CommentsThose who like John Waters' films will find this to be a must-own; I was entranced by it. Everyone else.....well, should watch some John Waters movies, see if they like them, and if so pick this one up. Absolutely not for the easily offended.
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