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Cry-Baby: Director's Cut

In 1990, a pretty-boy young actor named Johnny Depp was the reluctant heart-throb star of the Fox Television network's only hit show, "21 Jump Street," playing a baby-faced undercover cop who looked young enough to pass for a high school kid. Depp had been with the show for three seasons and, at 27, was itching for something more substantial than a short-lived teen idol career. The script for Cry-Baby, John Waters' musical homage to 1950s "juvenile delinquent" B-movies, appealed to Depp on several levels — working with notorious trash-cinema maestro Waters would throw a nice splash of acid on his sexy-cute public image, while the character of singin' and swingin' juvie bad boy Wade "Cry-Baby" Walker lampooned that image mercilessly. Meanwhile, Depp's high profile added an additional gloss to Waters' film, which was to be his first true studio picture — having broken through with his sort-of-mainstream hit Hairspray two years earlier, Waters suddenly found himself being courted by Hollywood for his next big project ("Sherry Lansing kept sending me leather jackets!" Waters recalls with a laugh in one of this DVD's features). The pairing was a nice bit of symbiosis for actor and director — with Depp on board, Waters got the sort of buzz he need to make his rockabilly musical the way he wanted, while Depp credits Waters' casting of him in Cry-Baby with his getting the lead in Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands (1990), the film that truly launched his career as a movie star. In Waters' self-described "trash epic," Depp's "Cry-Baby" Walker is a leather-jacket hoodlum with a heart of gold, one of the high school "drapes" who are constantly at odds with the school's "squares." The year is 1954, the place (naturally) is Baltimore, and the story is straight out of the '50s angry-teen movies, with a big splash of Technicolor Elvis added to spice things up. The requisite good girl is Allison Vernon-Williams (Amy Locane), a rich square who, a lá Sandra Dee in The Restless Years, has a hot current of repressed sexuality running under her pressed crinoline skirts. She finds herself uncontrollably drawn to the lusty rocker Cry-Baby and his rollicking, fun-loving family of hillbilly social rejects (played with typical Waters-style exaggeration by Traci Lords, Ricki Lake, Iggy Pop, and Susan Tyrell) But her ill-advised affair with Cry-Baby enrages her square boyfriend and his wholesome pals, leading to a stand-off between the town's upright parents, their pastel-clad preppie kids, and the drapes with their fast cars, loose girls, and crazy rock-and-roll music.

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John Waters' love for 1950s juvenile delinquent films is deep — in Cry-Baby he nails all the clichés while adding his own touch of the grotesque, most notably through his typically bizarre casting decisions. Traci Lords has her first major non-porn role here (in the DVD's features she says she was so nervous she "tossed her Cheerios" her first day on the set), a craggy, hilarious Iggy Pop plays Cry-Baby's Uncle Belvedere, and Traci Lord's rich parents are played by Patty Hearst and David Nelson (from "Ozzie and Harriet"). As Cry-Baby's sister, Ricki Lake is both leather-clad and hugely pregnant, and the gang includes a phenomenally ugly girl named "Hatchet-Face" (Kim McGuire, cast by Waters after seeing a head shot). But as wacky and over-the-top as it is, Waters makes full use of his comparatively enormous budget — after delivering Hairspray for $2.5 million, he got $12 million for Cry-Baby — by shooting deliciously campy yet professionally acquitted rockabilly dance numbers to songs (several written by The Blasters' Dave Alvin) with titles like "High School Hell Cats" and "Please Mr. Jailer." Depp, who started out as a musician, does a fine job of lip-synching ( his vocals were recorded by James Intveld, Locane's by Rachel Sweet) and even carries off the dance sequences nicely, particularly since he's gone on record as admitting that he can't dance at all. Cry-Baby may be Waters' sweetest movie and, after Hairspray, his most accessible by mainstream standards. And, like Hairspray before it, there's talk of turning Cry-Baby into a Broadway musical, bringing hellcats, drapes, and juvenile delinquents to the legitimate stage.

Universal/Focus Features' DVD release of Cry-Baby: Director's Cut includes seven minutes of restored footage — as Waters explains on the commentary track and in the bonus featurette, he also got to remove the "bleeps" that had been required over two instances of profanity in order to satisfy MPAA requirements and get a PG-13 rating. The newly remastered, anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) is excellent, very clean with brilliant, richly saturated color, and the DD 5.1 audio does a nice job with both dialogue and musical numbers. Extras include a typically amusing and insightful commentary by Waters, who enjoys his own films so much that listening to his reminisces, observations, and wandering trains of thought is an entertainment above and beyond the main feature. There's also a fun new "making-of" featurette, "It Came From Baltimore," with background on Waters' fascination with the world of the "drapes," clips from classic JV films like The Restless Years and Live Fast, Die Young, and lot of new interviews with the cast — it's an extensive feature, and hearing the details of how they shot different scenes (particularly the French-kissing party sequence) from the actors involved is hilarious. There are also seven minutes of deleted scenes, which dovetail nicely with one segment on the "Baltimore" featurette where the filmmakers discuss what was trimmed from the film, and why — the "chicken dance" fight/dance number between the drapes and the squares is especially fun. Keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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