Thursday, February 17, 2011

Female Trouble

Directed by John Waters
1974. Rated NC-17 (uncut version), 97 minutes.
Mary Vivian Pierce
David Lochary
Mink Stole
Edith Massey
Cookie Mueller

The very strange life and times of Dawn Davenport (Divine). If you're at all familiar with John Waters, you know that the word bizarre only scratches the surface. His, is a truly demented world with warped sensibilities. After not getting what she wants for Christmas, 16 year old Dawn throws a tantrum, beats up her parents and leaves home for good. She has sex with the guy that picks her up while she's hitchhiking, literally on the side of the road, which begets a daughter she's forced to raise alone. She then embarks on a life of crime, has a stint as a stripper, marries her hair dresser and things really get out of hand when she tries to break into show business. Think about all these things and remember that Dawn is played by Waters' muse, 300 lb. female impersonator Harris Glenn Milstead, better known as Divine. To her, or his, credit if you didn't already know this, the illusion is maintained quite well, here and in a number of other John Waters' flicks. None of the acting is award show ready, or even fit for most B-movies but Divine is a force of nature that elevates the material to strangely mesmerizing levels. Waters' gift for shoving the proverbial envelope off the edge of a cliff to its bloody death has a charm all its own that also keeps you watching. You simply want to see what could possibly be next. And unlike many other movies of the era, Waters' films still have the power to shock and amaze. The passage of time has hardly dulled their edges. Combine that with the fact he shot on miniscule budgets and at that time was not quite competent in the technical aspects of filmmaking and you get something totally raw. He would go on to make more polished films such as Cry Baby, the original Hairspray and Serial Mom. I like to think of it this way: that creator of slightly perverse but palatable and often sweet goth, Tim Burton is like Dr. Jekyll and Waters' is Mr. Hyde, the id run amok. He's an inmate not content with merely running the asylum, he's hell-bent on burning it to the ground. Therefore, you don't enjoy this movie because it is good in the sense you would normally mean. You enjoy it because it is original, raunchy, appalling, told from a unique perspective (how Dawn is allowed to become a customer at the exclusive beauty salon is evidence of this), has a twisted sense of humor and is horribly made. Coincidentally, you may hate it for precisely the same reasons. This is why, for me, it's in the so-bad-it's-awesome hall of fame.

MY SCORE: -10/10