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Pink Flamingos   A

Fine Line Features

Year Released: 1972
MPAA Rating: NC-17
Director: John Waters
Writer: John Waters
Cast: Divine, David Lochary, Mary Vivian Pierce, Mink Stole, Danny Mills, Edith Massey, Channing Wilroy, Cookie Mueller, Paul Swift.

Review by Jeremiah Kipp

It's almost 30 years later and John Waters still makes me cringe when the magnificent, larger-than-life transvestite, Divine, eats the fresh piddle of doggie doo off of the sidewalk, then smiles into the camera flashing that sharky grin of his. Talk about going above and beyond the call of duty for an actor! Talk about cinema verité at its very finest!

This was Waters' seventh film shot in his native Baltimore, with those miles of woods just outside of bland suburbia. All about the shock value, Pink Flamingos was his first big hit earning successful midnight screenings and notoriety for its unashamed willingness to plunge the depths of bad taste.

Incest ("Suck my dick, momma!"), dominatrix sex scenes, an illegal adoption ring complete with caged women in the basement during their pregnancies, cannibalism and a bizarre egg fetish are only the tip of the iceberg. What makes it all so cheerfully engaging are the larger than life performances from actors who are hardly professional but compulsively watchable, especially Waters' superstar, the irrepressible Divine.

"Kill everyone now! Condone first degree murder! Advocate cannibalism! Eat shit! Filth is my politics! Filth is my life!"
--Divine, Pink Flamingos

Divine proclaims himself to be "the filthiest person alive," evident in his daily routine driving around the backroads of Baltimore flipping off potential riders, going into the deli and sneaking raw meat out of the store between his privates, and several of the atrocities listed earlier in this review. This is the stuff of dirty comic books, seedy sideshow halls and peepshows.

Like a carnival geek show, Divine (the actor) will go to any length in order to earn this title -- and he remains charismatic because of that devil-may-care grin, those sparkling eyes, that graceful bulk packed into tight Salvation Army dresses, those vivid triangles of arched eyebrows and vivid purple makeup. He looks the part. As to whether it is courageous or simply stupid to jump through the hoops John Waters provides (like eating dog poop), one simply marvels that such outrageous camp hijinks were captured on film, documentary style.

Divine's brain damaged mom (gap toothed, gravelly voiced, hugely overweight Edith Massey) sits in a crib seemingly only in a bra and panties, munching on hard-boiled eggs all the livelong day. Her son (Danny Mills) has sex with chickens before killing and eating 'em, much to the disgust of animal rights activists nationwide upon the film's release.

There's a new sheriff in town! Actually, it's a pair of competitors for the title of "Filthiest People Alive." Squaresville suburbanites Connie Marble (Mink Stole, under a frightful bright red wig with glasses that resemble some sort of Praying Mantis) and her hubbie, Raymond (blue haired David Lochary, who even has a spiraling moustache to twirl) mail Divine a brown turd and a challenge proclaiming themselves the new "Filthiest People Alive." This couple runs the baby ring in their basement dungeon. Nyah hah hah.

Divine won't let this slide. He vows brutal, bloody revenge! Of course, this is after he throws an elaborate party which involves a man stripping himself naked and opening and closing his butthole to the amusement of the crowd. Priorities, y'see.

"To me, bad taste is what entertainment is all about. If someone vomits watching one of my films, it's like getting a standing ovation. But one must remember that there is such a thing as good bad taste and bad bad taste."
--John Waters

What is the place of bad taste? Indeed, what is the place of Pink Flamingos?

Recently, I wrote an angry and dismissive review of Darren Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream for filmcritic.com. My biggest gripe was that Aronofsky was allowing cinematic tricks to get in the way of portraying human degradation on-screen. That, to me, was offensive. I'm much more comfortable with John Waters planting his camera on human oddities and letting them indulge in raunch, putrefaction and revolting sights, perhaps because it all feels so doggone authentic and genuine. There's nothing phony about Waters or his preoccupations.

There's a real charm in these low budget antics. Although he's portraying individuals of the lowest common denominator, and shooting them on the cheap, one gets a prevailing sense of his affection and bemusement for the Divine's and the Edith Massey's of the world. If he never became a celebrity, John Waters would perhaps be content going into his backyard and shooting his little skits and shows with them whether we liked it or not.

Is Pink Flamingos a good movie? It's suffice to say that no one else has made a movie quite like it, and those who try to copy the John Waters style generally look like poseurs. For anyone seeking treasures in the dustbin, this movie offers more than one gem. It's disgusting, to be sure, but because Waters is so benevolent and charming to his subjects, it's never degrading or humiliating to watch.

Having said that, I always wince when Divine pops the poopy into his mouth.

I'll leave the final word to the wonderful Edith Massey:

"Look, Babs. So many little eggies, and I'm still starving, and I'm going to eat them all before I go to sleepie."

Review published 10.20.2000.

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