It’s debatable these days as to whether or not ‘Pink Flamingos’ is still the filthiest and most depraved movie of all time. Certainly in terms of movies that are known to a wide audience, it would probably still be in the top three. There’s a real gonzo scuzziness to the film that elevates the despicable nastiness on display to profound levels of ick. 50-years on since it was unleashed on an unsuspecting public, it has lost none of its power to shock and appall.
One can only imagine how funny writer-director John Waters finds it these days that his grotesque, subversive art film, which was banned in several countries, went on not only to become a cult classic, but was preserved in the US National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically relevant.” It has also been given a fabulous new home release courtesy of the Criterion Collection.
The film follows the exploits of notorious criminal Divine (legendary drag queen Divine), the so-called “filthiest person alive”. She is living in a trailer with her son Crackers (Danny Mills), her friend Cotton (Mary Vivian Pearce), and her mother Edie (Edith Massey) who they keep in a baby’s crib. They end up in direct competition with Connie and Raymond Marble (played hilariously by Waters regulars Mink Stole and David Lochary) who are jealous of Divine’s fame and want to usurp her title as the filthiest person alive. It’s basically the cool kids versus the uptight squares, but both parties are loathsome deviants.
And so begins an episodic plunge into violence, incest, rape, cannibalism, un-simulated sex, animal cruelty, murder, wanking, shit-eating, and pretty much anything else Waters and his collaborators could get past the censors. Whilst some of it is genuinely hideous to watch, it remains remarkable that the film is still so riotously funny. As with all Waters films, the dialogue is hilarious, but the way his cast deliver it is nothing short of sensational. Some of them are so useless they can barely get the lines out, but others such as Divine, David Lochary, and Mink Stole are an absolute hoot.
It goes without saying that Divine is tremendous, but unlike in ‘Female Trouble’ which she completely dominates with her melodramatic Liz Taylor inspired performance, she has real on-screen competition here from Lochary and Stole who are just so funny, and genuinely good. I will never not be amused by the haughty manner they adopt, and the prissy way they deliver Waters’ ripe dialogue. This was something of a running theme for whomever Divine’s nemesis was in these early John Waters films.
But of course, you’re not really watching ‘Pink Flamingos’ for the funny dialogue and bawdy performances. You’re here for the grotesque circus of poor taste and provocative trash. And you are well catered for. Vividly restored by Criterion in digital 4K, you won’t miss a single frame of this taboo smashing cult classic. And some of these images will live long in your memory.
Whether it be Edith Massey getting wheeled off in a wheelbarrow by the “egg man” whilst it appears the rest of the cast are clearly laughing. Or the hilarious “filth curse” that Divine and Crackers put on the Marbles’ house, which has the films best punchline. But there is nothing more iconic than Divine in full Jayne Mansfield mode, in her fishtail dress, unleashing hell at the film’s infamous media trial finale.
The disc for this release comes with two very entertaining commentaries from John Waters, the first is from the 1997 Criterion laserdisc, and the second is from the 2001 DVD. One of the main events on the disc is ‘Divine Trash’, the feature length award winning documentary from 1998 directed by Steve Yaeger. The film explores John Waters life and career, and due to its notoriety, there is a lot of time spent discussing ‘Pink Flamingos’.
Brand new for this release is a conversation between John Waters and Jim Jarmusch. This is a really fun and interesting discussion between these two indie cinema icons. ‘Location: Baltimore’ has John Waters taking us on a tour of the film locations, providing his usual terrific storytelling along the way. Next up is an interview with Waters from 1997 as part of the 25th anniversary celebration, where he also shares some deleted scenes.
The disc is completed with 25-minutes of outtakes and deleted scenes and the trailers.
Cast: Divine, David Lochary, Mink Stole, Mary Vivian Pearce, Edith Massey, Danny Mills Director: John Waters Writer: John Waters Released By: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment Certificate: 18 Duration: 92 mins Release Date: 25th July 2022