(1972) dir. John Waters
After watching Divine Trash (1998), I felt compelled to go to the true John Waters source material, his epic film of “bad taste”, Pink Flamingos.
It’s actually totally hilarious and outrageous, probably as much so as it was the day it was first shown. Actually, I take that back. How would the world of 1972 be ready for such a film? It’s the crassest of crass, and much like Divine herself, the filthiest movie alive.
But it goes much more beyond shock value. So often the film is most frequently noted for the scene at the end of the film when Divine eats fresh dog feces off the sidewalk and flashes a literal shit-eating grin. I mean, I think that still today, that would shock an even internet-savvy audience who wasn’t prepared for it. It is a signiture moment, the ultimate statement of “how low can one go”, how disgusting, how anything, can it be.
But that is in essence exactly what the film plays with. Divine is in competition for the local title of “the filthiest woman alive”, trying to out-filthy her gruesome competitors, Connie and Raymond Marble, who speak in the posh tones of an upper middle class family, living in a swank house in a well-to-do neighborhood, but who keep pregnant girls caged in their basement to sell the babies to lesbians (oddly, one aspect of shock value that has lost its teeth). While Divine is living in a decrepit trailer, with her mother in a play pen, whining for eggs. While the competition and sabotage lead to further and further humorous, outlandish actions, the play is satire, on contemporary culture, the haves vs. the have nots, but instead of trying for Better Homes and Gardens, they are completely anti-everything that culture typically desires.
Also quite interesting is Waters’ use of music. Nowadays when someone uses music that is from a prior period, there is an intent of setting period or playing something of a “retro” style. Even Waters’ more recent films use great obscure music which make for good soundtrack listening. But his use of the glam-sounding late 1950’s and early 1960’s pop rock’n’roll adds flair to the glam hilarity that is Divine. I am sure that there have been many theses written on Divine around gender, queer culture, and who knows what, but Waters uses her as some sublime skewing of sexuality, femininity, and female beauty. In her physicality, her walk, her tight flashy outfits, the make-up and the hair, she is a complete icon of cinema, one that in essence reckons and comments in her own physicality on the examples of female beauty and heterosexuality that classical cinema had developed.
The film is pretty much punk rock. Punk as fuck, really. It’s a total and complete spectacle. A work of perverse genius.