Europa Cinema > 22:00


John Waters
Introduced by

Lee Kline (Criterion)


Tuesday 28/06/2022


Original version with subtitles


Film Notes

Dare I say it? John Waters may be the closest thing North Americans have to a contemporary successor to Mark Twain, especially if we regard the latter figure more as a multifaceted public entertainer than as an artist (which is indeed how Twain’s contemporary audience generally perceived him) – in other words, most often as a genial host, and not exactly as a poet. This helps to account for why Pink Flamingos, the deliberately sleazy 1972 feature that made Waters famous, owed the greater part of its fame to the fact that it ended with a chubby drag queen named Divine (named after the hero[ine] of Jean Genet’s Our Lady of the Flowers) gobbling up dog shit. And because Waters’ gifts as a writer and standup humorist have always tended to surpass and overwhelm his talent as a film director, we remember his early films more for their eccentric cast members and their cockeyed premises than for the style of their mise-en-scene. One could say that Waters does have a certain sense of style, particularly when it comes to the exhibitionism and the lapsed Catholicism tied to his sense of rebellion. But he’s none the less mainly appreciated as a purveyor of outrageous content. This is surely why and how his early films flourished as midnight movies in the early 1970s. As Jim Hoberman remarked in the 1983 book that we coauthored on that subject, “Waters’ films have no quests: they exist in an eternal now, with no progression. They’re vaudeville… Pink Flamingos is about a kind of contest, but there’s no progression.” I would add to this that even though Pink Flamingos ends climactically with Divine eating dog shit, this is very much a vaudeville ‘closer’ rather than any sort of narrative resolution. The “contest” alluded to by Hoberman is basically what Dave Kehr once described as “a competition between Divine and the Marbles [Mink Stole and David Lochary] – a couple of up-andcoming sleazoids who peddle blackmarket babies to lesbian couples – for the title of ‘the World’s Filthiest Person’”. Other characters include Divine’s hefty egg-obsessed mother (Edith Massey) and her crazed hippie son (Danny Mills), among other Waters regulars of this period (eg, Mary Vivian Pearce, Cookie Mueller, Susan Walsh). The movie’s key image, to my own taste, is not Divine eating shit but her parading pridefully and resolutely down the street to the strains of Little Richard hollering “The Girl Can’t Help It” – an obvious tribute to Jayne Mansfield’s strut in Frank Tashlin’s film of the same name.

Jonathan Rosenbaum

Cast and Credits

Sog., Scen., F., M.: John Waters. Scgf.: Vincent Peranio. Int.: Divine (Divine/Babs Johnson), David Lochary (Raymond Marble), Mary Vivian Pearce (Cotton), Mink Stole (Connie Marble), Danny Mills (Crackers), Edith Massey (Edie), Channing Wilroy, (Channing), Cookie Mueller (Cookie), Susan Walsh (Suzie), Paul Swift (l’uomo delle uova). Prod.: John Waters per Dreamland Productions. DCP. D.: 93’. Col.