in Criterion Month, Review, Uncategorized

Pink Flamingos (1972)

After I watched John Frankenheimer’s Seconds for my last review, I really wanted to write something. After I watched Pink Flamingos, I wanted to film something. NOT like anything in this film. Oh god no! What appealed to me wasn’t the shit eating or the singing asshole, but the camaraderie between John Waters and his cast, lovingly referred to as the “Dreamlanders”.

Early John Waters’ films remind me of when I was high school making films. Again, I want to reiterate we did NOT make films like this. But there’s a kind of “on-the-fly” to John Waters’ early work. As if he and all his Dreamlanders didn’t necessarily know what it was to make an actual film, they just shot what they thought was funny, or filthy. And even after fifty years, Pink Flamingos still feels fun and still feels filthy.

The film follows notorious criminal Divine, under the pseudonym of Babs Johnson, as she lives with her “quirky” family in a trailer on the outskirts of Baltimore. Divine lives with her perverted son Crackers (Danny Mills), her traveling companion Cotton (Mary Vivian Pearce) and her egg-obsessed mother Edie (Edith Massey) who spends most of the movie in a playpen crying for eggs to be delivered by her beloved Egg Man (Paul Swift).

After being dubbed “the Filthiest Person Alive” by the tabloids, a pair of jealous black market baby runners, Connie Marble (Mink Stole) and Raymond Marble (David Lochary), set out to sabotage Divine and usurp her title. The Marble’s send Divine shit for her birthday and spy on her but Divine retaliates by licking and contaminating all of the Marble’s furniture before fellating her own son. I don’t remember all the steps of Joseph Campbell’s the Hero’s Journey but I’m pretty sure this film follows them for the most part.

Already I’ve skipped over a bunch of disgusting acts and insane monologues that happen in between these “plot points”. We see how the Marble’s operate their black market baby market by kidnapping women and having their manservant Channing (Channing Wilroy) impregnate them. There’s also numerous scenes of Raymond exposing himself at the park with a kielbasa tied to his penis so he can steal purses. I’d like to see Darth Vader do something that diabolical.

All of the scenes I’ve described may sound like random acts of perversion but there is a point to it all. I saw a clip from the documentary “Divine Trash” where John Waters talks about 1972 becoming the year that porn became chic in movies like Deep Throat. Exploitation was dead. So John Waters had to find a different way to shock audiences. Which he did. Oh boy did he for sure. It’s been fifty years and people still talk about Divine eating dog shit at the end of this movie.

It’s also interesting how John Waters likes to revisit the theme of “fame” time and time again in his films. The things we do for fame or our obsession with being famous. Which is why Divine was the perfect star for these kinds of movies. A diva and a provocateur of the highest order, Divine is a one in a million performer. I don’t think anyone could deliver this line better than Divine:

“Kill everyone now! Condone first degree murder! Advocate cannibalism! Eat shit! Filth is my politics! Filth is my life!”

How great is that dialogue btw? John Waters’ technical filmmaking may leave something to be desired but the man has an amazing way with words. Even when his Dreamlanders clumsily wade their way through dense monologues, John Waters’ words never lose their sardonic wit.

Pink Flamingos is the film that put John Waters on the map. I’m not sure if it’s his best (I’ve heard a strong argument for a film that Colin will review on Monday the 18th.) but Pink Flamingos feels like John Waters at his most unfiltered. It just makes me want to get out there with my friends and a camera and shoot something crazy. Again, I would NOT make anything like this. I am not going to eat shit. Only Divine can do that.