Pink Flamingos (1972)
Dir: John Waters
Divine, the self proclaimed Filthiest Person Alive, has set up home in a rundown caravan under the assumed name of Babs Johnson. With her playpen dwelling, egg obsessed Mother Edie (Edith Massey), her son Crackers (Danny Mills) and Cotton (Mary Vivian Pearce) their bleach blonde companion and sometime lover of Crackers.
Together they pursue with zeal their life of filth and perversion. Crackers performs bizarre sex acts with other women to turn the voyeuristic Cotton on. While Divine grooms her legend by holding sex and drug crazed parties in the muddy field where their trailer is parked, and strutting around the town in her outrageous make-up and tight fitting dresses. Pissing on respectable lawns and shoplifting raw steak between her legs are just some of her pursuits.
But Divine has enemies. Enemies who are crazed with desire to prove that they are in fact the Filthiest People Alive. They are the garish red haired Connie Marble (Mink Stole) and her blue haired Husband, Raymond (David Lochary).
Connie and Raymond operate a baby selling operation where they kidnap girls,
have their servant, Channing (Channing Wilroy) impregnate them and then keep
them chained up in their cellar until they give birth, selling the subsequent
babies to Lesbian couples. Raymond spends his spare time flashing his blue dyed
pubes at unsuspecting women; a sausage tied to his penis for added effect.
But all this filth is not enough!
The very idea that Divine is grabbing headlines for her legendary filth shenanigans eats away at the crazed couple, and when they learn of Divines presence in their town they set up a dastardly plan to rid the world of their rival for filth fame
Filmed between 1971-1972, mostly at the weekend with big breaks for Waters to drum up more funds, Pink Flamingos remains the Directors most infamous work (and that is indeed saying something) and even today holds that reputation up with a gleeful, rotted tooth, shit eating grin.
A true sleeper hit (taking over 2 years to get a U.S wide distribution and then only at midnight screenings in cult/art house cinemas and flea-pits) the film was restored and given another jolt of life by New Line Cinema in 1997 for its 25th anniversary. Now going on for 33 years old, the film is still a welcome breath of fetid air.
The sequences of most infamy perhaps, in todays world of overblown political
correctness, have more of an impact than they ever did. And what wondrous scenes
of outrage they are:
The explicit sequence of Channing, after masturbating into his hand, sucking up his semen into a syringe then sticking it up the poor unfortunate victims vagina
The blow-job that Divine performs on her Son (an unexpected scene of full blown hardcore)
The fucking sequence with Crackers and the scheming Cookie (Cookie Mueller) with two scratching chickens between them. A scene that ends with Crackers cutting the chickens throat as they writhe in climax (the chicken was from a chicken farm, so at least it got a shot at fame and some kind of immortality before becoming supper)
The party guest with the party trick of displaying his pouting, gaping arsehole for the assembled guests in grime.
But for all the outrageous antics of the characters, and the sheer balls out attitude of even filming such scenes, there is not a single hateful bone in the entire film. Waters as both Writer and Director shows just how astute an artist he is. It takes great skill to make such disgusting films with such disgusting characters performing such despicable acts and yet still make a film that is quite simply a joy. And above all fun!
Waters makes movies (in his early pre-mainstream days that is) that should never exist. Filthy depraved beasts that spit and shit on all of societies morals and virtues And yet are still so damn loveable!
But this is not just down to Waters skill; its also down to his
cast. A wonderful cast of friends and off the wall acquaintances that deliver
such bizarre and ragged performances that they go beyond any kind of negative
In no sense at all, in any traditional notion of what acting should be, are these performances good. But they are most certainly perfect! Perfect in every warped way. Its high camp done without any hint of self-conscious posing.
Throw every single negative remark you can about the performances and it does not matter. Most of them will be right, but in Pink Flamingos, as in all his early work, this criticism means nothing! These actors and their performances swallow up such criticisms and make them pointless.
And anyway we need to consider that Waters shot many one take, one set up, very long, dialogue packed sequences where every actor had to know and deliver their lines to perfection or else the whole scene would need to be re-shot. Unthinkable in most Cinema. Unheard of in modern day Hollywood. And testament to the commitment of all involved to the film and to Waters. And all for little or no financial reward. True class in trash.
In a movie so packed with stand out characters and performances its hard to pick out any particulars, but I simply must.
The ever wonderful (and very sadly late) David Lochary is a pompous joy as the twisted, vain Raymond. His flashing antics are done with camp relish (and the shock he gets during one of his escapades is another full on Waters highlight) and his rants on how his and Connies fame (again, a top notch fiendish performance by Waters regular partner in grime Mink Stole) and their standing in society is being eroded by the action of their nemesis Divine (again, a superb touch by Waters to have such anti-social people care about their social standing!) are an aural joy.
Again, as in every damn film (hell, every damn scene) the truly unique Edith Massey is simply a total delight to watch. Here her turn as the bizarre Edie, who spends almost the entire film in a playpen dressed in grubby white underwear, is unforgettable. Her joyously amateurish acting just holds you spell bound. As she screeches out her pleasure for her precious eggs, being delivered by her true love The Egg Man (Paul Swift) you know you are experiencing something that goes beyond any normal film conventions into another realm. A realm where all that is bizarre, warped and quite simply mind-boggling is welcomed with open arms.
Then there is of course the late great and much missed, Divine himself. Clad
in some outrageous dresses by Van Smith, like a living sculpture of all that
goes against normal society, he strides through the movie with such
assured conviction, as he embraces all the filth in the film just as much as
his character does (he even supplied the turd in a box that gets sent to his
character!), that you know you are in the presence of a unique talent. As he
delivers the long florid speeches and praises to filth he makes Divine/Babs
a truly believable, yet totally otherworldly in her extremes, creation. In a
film so full of highlights it is a unique and wonderful presence indeed that
stands out. And Divine does. As in all of his performances for Waters he never
fails to give anything but 100%. It may have been in the delightfully warm Hairspray
that he would go on to deliver a performance that truly showed just what a vital
and genuine talent he was, but in Pink Flamingos the true legend
(for good and bad for his actual career) that was Divine is unleashed on the
And you can tell Waters knew this during the classic sequence where he has Divine/Babs strut along (to The Girl Cant help It, just one of the very welcome songs carefully used on the soundtrack) dressed in a cheap tight dress, with big orange hair and garish make-up. Swinging those epic scale hips in wanton confidence at her own filthy fame. The unsuspecting crowds she swans past are real just as the looks they give her are real. And as Divine (the man and the character) soaks up the outrage and shock, you would have to be dead not to feel the pleasure of such a warm and wonderfully trashy sight.
And the infamous finale, when Divine proves big time just why she deserves the title Filthiest Person Alive, remains a gross out gem of underground uncompromising movie making. And in a strange way will forever remain a deranged monument to a performer the like of which the world will never see again.
With spot on direction, perfectly ragged cinematography (again by Waters),
delightfully outrageous and supremely witty and sharp (as well as amazingly
acid) script, outstanding performances and a true sense of what real, made for
the sheer love of it, cinema should be,
Pink Flamingos is not only a must see film, but a must own film.
A film that should be watched whenever pretentious, bland, safe and soulless mainstream Cinema, with all the selfish, whining, empty Stars that dwell in it, comes a-calling.