The life and times of Baltimore film maker and midnight movie pioneer, John Waters. Intercut with a 1972 interview of Waters are clips from his first films and recent interviews with his ... See full summary »
The life and times of Baltimore film maker and midnight movie pioneer, John Waters. Intercut with a 1972 interview of Waters are clips from his first films and recent interviews with his parents, his brother, Divine's mom, actors and crew, other directors, film critics, a film curator, psychologists, and Maryland's last censor, who shudders at the memory of Waters's pictures. Also included is footage of Waters making his early movies, culminating in an up-close and in-depth look at Pink Flamingos: the script, the set, the filming conditions, its editing, its distribution, and its impact. In sweet ways, this documentary is also a celebration of Divine (1945-1988). Written by
The various film clips show Waters' unique kind of freak-glamour -- to him (and to many of us as watch the films) these are the most glamorous people in the world. The films have always worked so well in part because they're silly and they're outrageous in a good-spirited way (Waters brilliantly points out that "Pink Flamingoes" is essentially a baby movie that would likely play well for Kindergarteners), but really in the sense that, as Paul Morrissey points out, they make fun of what's proper, thereby being quite serious films themselves, even though they're ludicrous -- and in such a way that it still seems outrageous today: a pretty girl with a penis; an obese man-woman being raped by a giant lobster, for instance. Perhaps no filmmaker has so reshaped the way we respond to sexuality by filming it -- Waters essentially takes the mick out of sex, whether straight, gay, consensual, forced, S&M, kink, or fetish.
It's great to see Waters' and Divine's upright-seeming parents (neither of which have seen "Pink Flamingoes") and how positive they are, how supportive -- Waters' mother took him to play in junk yards as a kid. We're all rich because of that encouragement. And it's good to contrast how the parents react as opposed to one woman of similar age who worked for a censor board, and who, thirty years later, still can't get over a blasphemous crucifixion scene intercut with a "bead job" from one of Waters' early movies. (And while it certainly uses her for an example of extreme reactions to his films, the film never makes her into a "villain.") It's a nice choice to focus mostly on the early films, I think, as many of them aren't widely available and this can give us some sense of them.
The work that Waters and Divine did together (his "inflated, insane Jane Mansfield"), I think, can stand alongside any of the great cinema partnerships, whether it's Cassavetes-Rowlands or Fellini-Mastroianni. Waters' own influences range from the camp Kuchar films to William Castle schlock antics to Bergman, Fellini, and Kenneth Anger (who, along with Russ Meyer, chose not participate in the film). And while it might be tempting to lump Waters in with the gay set, he isn't really a part of it -- it's more sexual "terrorism" than anything else; he's like a Surrealist in that sense. I think that's probably why his own influence is so far-ranging -- no one is safe in his films. 8/10
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