1) Pink Flamingos Review: John Waters’ unique, individualistic style can attach an adjective like ‘great’ to a noun like ‘trash’ to form ‘great trash’. Now that’s an achievement.
Pink Flamingos – The Movie is a rare bird which not only makes trash enjoyable but also a good film. Just a single clip of trashy reality TV shows Jerry Springer or The Maury Show on YouTube and what we witness is nonstop display of vulgarity, sleaze and uncontrollable behavior. On the other hand, we have a plethora of terrible films like The Room, the entire Friday the Thirteenth series, Caligula etc that are unintentionally hilarious but all in all unwatchable. Pink Flamingos is a sure shot delight for the voyeurs of violence, sex, deviance, coarseness and trash, albeit one that is made with uncanny expertise. John Walters is the small-scale Quentin Tarantino who can conjure unique, quirky characters and make them cult figures; we are not perturbed by the characters’ wrongdoings and we usually end up rooting for them to commit another misdeed.
The story here is narrated in an androgynous manner, probably by a flaming gay man or a transsexual, who takes us into the pink, tawdry and shabby trailer of Divine (who is living as Babs Johnson to evade police attention) and her family- her pretty, lusty blonde traveling companion Cotton who possesses the looks of a yesteryear’s’ star, her bucktoothed, long-maned chicken loving son Crackers and her egg obsessed cutie-pie mother Edie. Divine has long remained the undisputed ‘filthiest person on the planet’, unbeaten, unchallenged by anyone and is a small-time cult figure who makes it into shoddy newspapers. She is settled now, and does no harm to others other that warming beef between her legs to save on money. Her son seems more wayward at first, but only in sex (chickens are his favorite partners, it seems). Cotton exhibits only voyeuristic tendencies and likes to hang posters of beefy men next to her bed – but that seems acceptable. And sweet Edie only thinks and talks about eggs, their shape, size and color, Humpty Dumpty nursery rhyme, what happens if all the chickens disappear?, when will the egg-man arrive etc. No one seems to transgress modesty to an unlawful extent except perhaps Crackers. But all this changes when the team is challenged by Raymond and Bonnie Marble, a husband-wife team who vie to steal Divine’s esteemed (at least according to them) title. Raymond exposes himself to unsuspecting souls but that is just the tip of the iceberg- the couple discreetly orders their homosexual manservant Channing to impregnate kidnapped women, so that the new-born can be sold to happy lesbian couples. The pitiful kidnapped woman in tattered clothes and straggly hair castigates Channing whenever he enters the basement; she hasn’t even seen the actual perpetrators of her misery. When this terrible couple takes on Divine and her flamingos, it is WAR!
I believe that the degree of crime committed by Connie and Raymond automatically makes them antagonists; while most of Divine’s victims are simply killed without much introduction, we are constantly updated about Connie’s victims’ sufferings. Even the effect from the disturbing chicken scene with Crackers and the spy Cookie is palliated by the previous scene where we are told of Cookie’s deception.. Divine and her gang shoot, chop and eat their victims in one scene but it is too hilariously over-the-top to be offensive. The sexuality on the other hand is something that is bound to gross out or p-ss off certain audiences, with the idea of incest itself can be unnerving for many, but again who really finds Divine to be role model or even a woman, with her androgynous appearance and her ludicrous make up (actual name: Harris Glenn; yes, a man!).
The entire setup seems like shots from a sleazy reality show, the budget of the film being so tight the entire product was the master copy. We see choppy editing, shadows creeping up often in the background, cameras shaking furiously while closing in on a person and passersby gawking at Divine’s appearance as if completely unaware of the film. However, it is this low-quality which make the action look more authentic, as if Divine is an actual C-grade celeb who has made her name through malefaction. The songs, a mix of rock and roll and country make the scenes more lively and enjoyable, and also mitigate the actual violent acts that occur when the music is played.
Watch Pink Flamingos if you want to see a kick-ass trashy exploitation film. It is hilarious at moments (the ‘trial’ scene) and deliciously (in a slightly gross way), wickedly and divinely entertaining.
My Rating: 7.4 out of 10
2) Multiple Maniacs Review: Misleading title should’ve Been Named ‘We Don’t Have Enough Money to Make Pink Flamingos, but We’ll Give You This Sh-t Till Then!
The reason Pink Flamingos has been recognized as John Waters’ signature film of the ‘exploitation’ genre is the uncomplicated script with the sole purpose to titillate with acts of depravity. It is a film that shocks, albeit making no particular reference to any event of the period in which these movies were made. Nearly everyone who watches Pink Flamingos would’ve heard of transsexualism, cannibalism, foot fetishism, voyeurism, zoophilia, coprophilia etc and therefore the film can be enjoyed by a person who wasn’t born in the seventies. The script has been written with devilish acumen, incorporating over-the-top sequences and campy humor to tone down some of the objectionable content. The film was shot in color, and thus could highlight some of the outrageous palette John Waters used for the house and Divine’s costumes. All these reasons give Pink Flamingos its noteworthy status in the world of trash, not just the singular coprophagous moment.
Multiple Maniacs released about two years before Pink Flamingos and made on a shoestring budget (even though the latter itself was a low-budget film) of about 5000$. Therefore, one actor assumes multiple roles and we are to believe a different hairdo implies a different character (by the way, read an intriguing explanation by a reviewer who elaborates on the religious connotation of the films. It sounds credible at first, but I rather stick to the general belief that Jesus and his followers didn’t represent Divine and her vagabonds. Edith who plays both a bar owner and Virgin Mary wasn’t a part of the Cavalcade, otherwise the reviewer’s explanation would’ve held more credit) The film is shot entirely in black and white on 16mm and the camera shakes horribly at times and is sometimes so overexposed you can barely see the actors’ bodies. The horrible white circle (indicating change of reel) flashes luminously like some extraterrestrial sign. Honestly, this film is dreadful and rather introductory to John Waters’ Pink Flamingos, a vastly polished effort compared to this shoddy piece of junk.
When I read the plot line, my mind swirled with images of a colorful circus with Divine and her crew treating the audience with their acts only to slaughter them in the end. This does happen in the beginning of the film but it digresses into a completely different act that places massive focus on ‘Divine’, contradicting the title of the film itself. What happened to the puke-eating guy or the foot-fetish girl or the homosexuals remains unknown with the focus suddenly switching to Divine, her promiscuous daughter, her estranged boyfriend David, her brief lesbian flinger Mink and a nemesis Bonnie. In fact, while it was Divine and Mary Vivian Pierce (who plays Bonnie) taking on the duo of David Lochary and Mink Stole in Pink Flamingos, the characters are simply switched here. This makes the movie seem a rough-cut version of PF, instead of continuing with the circus act to raise the shock value.
The movie also makes references to Sharon Tate’s mother and a Weatherman Underground organization, but they flew over my head since I wasn’t born then (plus I’m not from US). At that time, such a facetious approach towards incidents like these would’ve caused a storm (I read about Ms. Tate’s incident later and found the film’s take on the event offensive), but now they seem irrelevant. The blasphemous religious sequence here would’ve made Lady Gaga blush (at least Gaga puts the rosary beads in her mouth). The final fifteen minutes are just codswallop and bullsh-t.
Had the movie developed on the lines of Freaks (a 1932 classic), but edgier, crasser, vulgar and campier, it may have worked. Instead, it succumbs like Rob Zombie’s first attempt ‘House of 1000 corpses’, which was completely overshadowed by the wicked ‘The Devil’s Rejects’.
My Rating: 0.8 out of 10
3) Mondo Trasho Review: 95 Minutes and We Still Can’t Understand Whether the Film Wants to Entertain or Shock. Very Pointless Watch
John Waters’ first offering doesn’t intend to have any purpose, unlike his third effort Pink Flamingos, which sublimated the effect of shock and disgust to laughter. Multiple Maniacs, his dismal second film only offended with its objectionable religious references, but at least it incited some response from the viewers. Mondo Trasho seems like an empty void that generates absolutely no definite response. How should we, as the audiences react? Should we laugh at the characters’ situation or turn away our faces in disgust? How the hell should we feel?
The plot is obsessed with Mary Vivian Pierce’s feet, and begins rather interestingly with her character Bombshell getting her feet licked by a foot fetishist. Not to forget the opening sequence that highlights John Waters’ thrill for animal cruelty. As Bombshell begins moaning and panting, she visualizes herself as Cinderella being rescued by her Prince Charming (played by the foot fetishist). The explicit Cinderella sequence is a nice allusion and Waters’ could’ve progresses with an erotic romance angle which revolved around Bombshell’s search for the foot fetishist. Rather, John Waters brings in his trademark lady Divine, who surprisingly looks feminine unlike her androgynous appearance in the later films. The bad chick is ogling at a nude hitchhiker when her car hits a lost Bombshell who is gravely injured. Divine helps her by visiting a discount house, stealing a gown from there, and then by entering a laundry, where she changes Bombshell’s bloody clothes. Bombshell miraculously is still unconscious like those Shakespearean characters in Midsummer Night’s Dream who manage to fall asleep in a jiffy, and the blood on her face disappears. There are sporadic appearances by Mother Mary and her what-can-I-say ‘apprentice’ who purge Divine of her sins. Also, a rather bizarre visit to the asylum where we find that foot fetishist again, but this time he murders a fellow inmate, and to a sadistic hospital which operates on patients with knives and saws.
The only surprising aspect of the film is Divine’s good-hearted nature, since we have never seen Divine help someone at the risk of her own life. But everything else is inexplicable, even the Wizard of Oz inspired resolution. The camera is less shaky than in Multiple Maniacs and the sex is less raunchy. The choice of music, an assortment of rock and roll and classical, managed to hold my attention to the otherwise pointless sequences. Had the film worked on having a plot, it would’ve gained a better reputation today.
My Rating: I won’t be rating this work since it doesn’t even know what kind of a response it aims at from its audiences.