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Pink Flamingos (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on June 24, 2014

John Waters’s most notorious film concerns the exploits of Divine (um, Divine), “the filthiest person in the world”.  Divine is hiding under the name Babs Johnson in a trailer, where she lives with her egg-obsessed mother (Edith Massey), perverted son Crackers (Danny Mills), and “traveling companion” Cotton (Mary Vivian Pierce).  The attention Divine gets raises the hackles of Connie and Raymond Marble (Mink Stole, David Lochary), who enslave women in their basement, have them impregnated by their servant Channing (Channing Wilroy), and sell the babies to lesbian couples.  The Marbles wage a war of filth against Divine and her clan.

It pains me to say that, even more than Cry-Baby, this movie just doesn’t hold up.  I said before that I wanted to check out Waters’s earlier films (I may have seen Multiple Maniacs back in college, but the memory is too dim to be certain) but now I think I’ll stick to revisiting the work that follows this one.  Here his filmmaking skills are just too rough.  Most of the humor is lost in painfully stilted deliveries, as actors stumble over their lines or race to get them out of their mouths.  It feels like they were given little direction at all, and few of the performances have the intense quality of those seen in Desperate Living.  Divine, Lochary and Stole occasionally shine — Divine especially when she finally confronts the Marbles — but even they aren’t always on their game.  And some of the dialogue is just clunky as hell.  Once in a while there’s a real hoot of a line, but they’re buried in a lot of muck that doesn’t sound much like how real people (no matter how filthy) talk.

I almost feel bad criticizing a movie that was clearly cranked out in a short period of time with zero budget.  But the fact is, it’s kind of dull.  The shock value may once have given it some “you gotta see this!” value — especially in 1972 — but if you’ve seen Divine eat dog shit once, the thrill wears off.  And what’s left is a story that drags, with characters who aren’t portrayed well enough to meet their potential as compelling figures.  And it doesn’t even live up to its own internal logic.  If Divine is so filthy, why is she so repulsed by a human turd?  I understand her being offended by the audacious challenge to her title, but she acts genuinely disgusted.  The Marbles are the antagonists of the picture, but I agree with them: they are more filthy!  At least until that final, infamous scene, which is only tacked on as a coda.  Up until that point, Divine is — as the Marbles say — just a thief and a murderer.  Nasty, yes.  Filthy, not really.  Her son is filthier.  Or maybe I’m just misinterpreting Waters’s definition of filth.

With all these complaints, it’s hard for me to justify why I’m rating this as high as I am.  I guess I have a certain nostalgic attachment to it, and an affection for Waters.  Although the execution leaves much to be desired, I don’t think his intentions were merely to shock the viewer.  There is humor (though often not pulled off well) and an original premise and even an odd sort of warmth to it.  Every once in a while, the film hits its mark.  Just not nearly often enough.  Rating: Fair (65)


2 Responses to “Pink Flamingos (rewatch)”

  1. Brad Avery said

    Multiple Maniacs is still worth tracking down (you can find it on Youtube). It’s also fairly rough, but it’s still fun and nowhere near as extreme as Pink Flamingos. Don’t bother with Mondo Trasho though, which is just an absolute mess.

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