Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Pink Flamingos (1972)

The film that made John Waters a genuine force in underground filmmaking, and rightfully so -- this is the rare film with the temerity to follow its own diseased muse all the way down, and for that it's rather thrilling. It's more than just a tour of Waters's sick mind though; there's some radical pop reclamation (check the Angeresque re-queering of the film's oldies soundtrack) and social commentary hiding alongside the perversion. On the latter: The war between the proudly trailer-trash Babs Johnson (unforgettably essayed by Divine) and the haughty nouveau riche Mr. & Mrs. Marble is, at its core, a class war. The society Waters sees around him is diseased and rotten from top to bottom, with the upper class just as vicious as the lower. One of the most bracing parts of Waters's outlaw sympathies is his willingness to turn his celebration of filth into a revolutionary tract -- when the upper and lower classes clash, the ones with less to lose are the ones who come out on top. And yet, there's a slight conservative streak concealed in the same material; note that Babs and company are seen as sympathetic at least partially because they're, at heart, a traditional and loving family unit, while the villainous Marbles, with their insemination/white-slavery scheme, are doing their best to undermine/explode the idea of the nuclear family. The push-pull tension between traditionalism and nihilism makes the film a bracing experience and its sincerity and conviction make it credible, but it wouldn't mean a thing if it weren't also really funny. Which it is -- the dialogue is priceless ("No one sends you a turd and expects to live!"), the escalating situation is mesmerizing in its single-minded sickness and Divine's performance is riveting comic gold. He was a caustic force of nasty nature, and he deserves the old-Hollywood star's entrance Waters gives him. Offensive and entertaining in equal measure; finally seeing this give me all the more reason to regret the defanging of Waters in recent years.

Grade: A-


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