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Artisan Home Entertainment presents
Cecil B. Demented (2000)

"Power to the people who punish bad cinema!"
- Cecil B. Demented (Stephen Dorff)

Review By: Dale Dobson   
Published: January 13, 2001

Stars: Melanie Griffith, Stephen Dorff
Other Stars: Alicia Witt, Adrian Grenier, Mink Stole, Patricia Hearst
Director: John Waters

Manufacturer: Laser Pacific Media Corporation / WAMO
MPAA Rating: R for strong crude sexual content, violence, language and drug use
Run Time: 01h:27m:37s
Release Date: January 23, 2001
UPC: 012236113584
Genre: comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ CA-B+ A-

DVD Review

Cecil B. Demented (Stephen Dorff) is a terrorist filmmaker, a director determined to make his movie, his way, at any non-financial cost, in John Waters' latest comedy. Cecil's gang of misfit filmmakers (the Sprocket Holes) carry out an elaborately choreographed kidnapping, spiriting spoiled Hollywood star Honey Whitlock (Melanie Griffith) away from the premiere of her latest romantic comedy, Some Kind of Happiness and using any means necessary to induce her to perform in Cecil's project, Raving Beauty. Eventually, Whitlock begins to see the world through Cecil's twisted viewfinder, becoming a willing Sprocket Holes guerrilla and rebelling against the system that made her what she is - or was.

When Cecil B. Demented works, it works wonderfully well in a Waters-esque way. Film buffs will applaud the script's in-jokes—I can't think of another film that references William Castle, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Sam Peckinpah and Spike Lee in the same scene—and Waters' basic concept of "cinema unrest" is funny, original and well-taken. I can't say I'd be deeply sorry if a few sequel-saturated, family-oriented mall multiplexes were destroyed for the sake of art, and while Cecil takes things too far, it's not hard to sympathize with his cause. The film's best scenes have energy to spare, and Waters explores some new ground as a filmmaker, proving himself a competent action director.

The cast brings revolutionary fervor to the project, playing it straight without the slightest hint of smirk or put-on, with nice work from Dorff as the 150% dedicated Cecil, Alicia Witt as ex-porno star Cherish, Adrian Grenier as enthusiastic druggie Lyle, Eric M. Barry as Fidget, and Maggie Gyllenhaal as cute Satanist chick Raven. Melanie Griffith is unaffected and seems to be having fun as Honey Whitlock, and a number of Waters regulars are on hand as well, with Mink Stole, Patty Hearst (whose real-life ordeal serves as comic inspiration here) and Ricki Lake in small but significant roles. Everyone handles Waters' outrageous, notoriously difficult-to-act material with complete commitment, especially Witt, who must contend with a number of ludicrous declarations and the de rigeur "Waters moment," which in this particular case involves a gerbil going where no gerbil has gone before.

Unfortunately, the film is a throwback to Waters' more primitive work in many ways. It lacks the comic discipline of Serial Mom, the gleeful indecency of Pink Flamingos and the good-natured hyperreality of Hairspray or Pecker. It resembles nothing so much as Waters' early Female Trouble, which inverted social values to comic effect with the decree that "crime is beauty," and the jokes are a little too obvious; while the movie gets off to a rip-roaring start, its premise ultimately runs out of steam. Waters fans will still find plenty to enjoy here—he's a uniquely witty filmmaker whose brand of social comment is always good for a few laughs—but as a film, Cecil B. Demented doesn't hold together as well as it should. I've seen the it three times, and I've laughed out loud at the film's best moments every time, but I have to admit it's not Waters' strongest work—it's more a collection of funny ideas and moments than a coherent film, and you can see the strings a bit. It's flawed, but still funnier than much of what passes for big screen comedy these days; if Waters' edginess is no longer as risky as it once was, his observations are still worth the price of admission.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: C


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.77:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Cecil B. Demented is presented in its 1.77:1 widescreen theatrical aspect ratio, with a very nice anamorphic transfer drawn from a clean source print. Shadow detail suffers slightly in a few darker scenes, but colors are bright and detail is solid throughout with few distracting digital artifacts—the dual-layer transfer is definitely up to contemporary DVD standards.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Artisan presents Cecil B. Demented in Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, as the film was presented in theatres. The mix is generally centered and front-heavy, as one would expect from the director who once criticized Dolby for assuming that everyone in the audience wants to be a recording engineer. Still, music has a solid stereo presence, Waters' lunatic dialogue is crisp and clear, and there are a few atmospheric sound effects heard in the rear speakers; my only real complaint is that LFE bass is seriously underutilized and greatly missed during the film's explosions, gunshots and fires.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
2 Original Trailer(s)
1 TV Spots/Teasers
Production Notes
1 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director John Waters
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:09m:28s

Extras Review: Artisan supplements Cecil B. Demented in style, with 24 full-motion menu chapter stops, thematically consistent menus (including a great startup "gag menu") and a wealth of standard, solid extras:

Theatrical and TV Trailers:

Two different theatrical trailers in Dolby Digital 5.1, one in 1.85:1 nonanamorphic letterbox, the other in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, as well as a TV spot in 1.85:1 letterboxed format and Dolby 2.0 Surround. All of the trailers are consistent with the tone of the movie, and if they're not particularly innovative, at least they don't misrepresent the film in any way.

Comedy Central's Canned Ham: Cecil B. Demented:

A twenty-two minute (commercial-free) TV special produced by and originally aired on the Comedy Central cable network. It's nicely presented on DVD, with a very sharp 1.33:1 full-frame transfer and un-bleeped clips from the film. The content goes beyond the normal promo special, including interviews with John Waters, Stephen Dorff, Alicia Witt, and Waters cast and crew regulars Patricia Hearst, Mink Stole, Pat Moran, Bob Adams and Vincent Peranio; it's still designed to sell the film, but it's not a typical studio "puff piece."

Cast and Crew:

Nicely written biographies and filmographies covering quite a few people, 16 cast members and 12 crew members in total. Unfortunately, this section has one glaring quality assurance gaffe—Waters veteran Mink Stole's biography features photos of Rosemary Knower rather than the inimitable Ms. Stole.

Production Notes:

Quite a few screens' worth of text notes about the film, mostly quotes from Waters about the project's genesis and theme. They're well written and different from the keepcase insert notes, which focus on the film's music.

Director's Commentary:

This track provides a solid stream of humorous anecdotes, jokes and comments by Mr. Waters, who's never been reluctant to talk about his work. He pauses more often than usual here, but Waters is always great fun to listen to, generous and honest as he shares thoughts on the production, his favorite Baltimore theatres (many of which are featured in the film) and anything else that strikes him as interesting. Another fine commentary from one of the best.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

Cecil B. Demented is undoubtedly a John Waters film, not as sharp as his best work but sure to elicit a few unexpected laughs, especially among film students and movie buffs. Artisan's DVD features a fine transfer and solid supplements. The DVD is a worthy addition to anyone's John Waters collection; the uninitiated may want to rent it, at least.


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