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The John Waters Collection Vol. 3: Pink Flamingos / Female Trouble

The definition of an acquired taste, John Waters' films are the works of an iconoclast — with The John Waters Collection: Volume 3, Waters' seminal work Pink Flamingos (1972) and follow up Female Trouble (1974) are now available in the digital format. One of the first successful independents, Waters' output has become more polished and with more "name" stars of late, but he has remained a maverick, making his cinema as defined by the principles of Ford, Hawks, or Lynch. With these collections, New Line has unintentionally put forth the argument of John Waters, Auteur, and though he may not make the curriculum of a major film school , one can always count on Waters for funny and raunchy cinema. Divine (A.K.A. Harris Glenn Milstead) stars as Divine "The Filthiest Person Alive!" — or so she's named by the tabloids — in Pink Flamingos. Unfortunately, Connie and Raymond Marble (Mink Stole and John Lochary) feel that they are more deserving of such accolades, being a pair of smut-peddling, heroin-dealer-financing, black-market-baby profiteers. So to get attention, the Marbles send Divine, son Crackers (Danny Mills), traveling companion Cotton (Mary Vivian Pearce), and mother Miss Edie (Edith Massey) — who lives in a crib and is affectionately known as the Egg Lady for her obsession with eggs — a threatening package of poo. But Divine's family won't take the Marbles' assault sitting down, leading to a war of bad taste between the two clans and ending with Divine proving she is the filthiest woman alive in a one-shot take that may be as famous as the ending to the original Planet of the Apes (but less likely to be spoiled by the home-video boxcover art). Plot descriptions don't do justice to Waters' masterpiece of depravity, as there is at least one thing in Pink Flamingos that will shock and/or offend even the most jaded viewer. Skittish in nature, the film jumps from scene to scene of gross-outs; it's reputation as a shocker is well noted and well deserved (Roger Ebert refused to even grade the film, while the quotes on the DVD box proclaim the film to be "vile, stupid, and repulsive," "like a septic tank explosion," and "a paragon of bad taste"). Nonetheless, describing the film as a mere freak show doesn't do justice to the warmth Waters has for his collection of oddballs, and there is a strange humanity at its center; perhaps that should come as no surprise, as the film's ultimate theme is familial unity. Compared to the recent success of gross-out comedies, it interesting to note that few have as much heart, and none can top the outrageousness of Flamingos. Filmed with Waters' stock company/best friends, there is a home movie quality to the film, a comment that could be leveled at even the most polished of Waters' efforts, which this does not rank among (much of the acting is amateurish, and most of the cast have strong Baltimore accents). What Waters understands (and what one wishes other low-budgeted would-be directors would get through their heads) is that his actors aren't all great, and he has no money, so he has to make his movie as weird and as interesting as possible. With Pink Flamingos he succeeds at making a film no one would have thought to make before, and no one could conceivably follow.

*          *          *

Female Trouble is mellow in comparison — but only in comparison — as it also features numerous acts of strange depravities and the off-kilter humor that one expects from a John Waters film. Dawn Davenport (Divine) leaves home after beating up her parents when they don't give her cha-cha heels for Christmas. But while hitchhiking. she has sex with a slob named Earl (again Divine), and nine months later gives birth to Taffy (Mink Stole), whom Dawn beats with a car antenna whenever she does something annoying. After go-go dancing and hooking to survive, Dawn becomes a thief with a gang of juvenile delinquent friends (echoing earlier girl-gang films like Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!), and she meets the love of her life — a hairdresser named Gator — at the Lipstick Beauty Salon. The two get married to the furor of his Aunt Ida (Edith Massey), who wishes Gator would just go gay. But marriage is no paradise for Dawn, as her life starts falling apart: Gator likes to cheat on her, Taffy is a brat who likes to play games like "car accident," and Ida is constantly trying to provoke Dawn. Her saviors come when the owners of Lipstick Beauty Salon, Donald and Donna Dasher (John Lochary and Mary Vivian Pearce), meet Dawn and want her to become a model for their "Crime is Beauty" portfolio, and when Ida throws acid in Dawn's face, they only think her more beautiful. Deranged by the acid, and from mainlining eyeliner, Dawn becomes obsessed with the criminal life, thinking the closest thing to winning an Oscar is getting the electric chair. Influenced by Hershel Gordon Lewis, Russ Meyer, Jean Genet, and the Manson family and their trials, Waters weird obsessions take the spotlight in Female Trouble. It's sloppily paced and sporadic, but the Waters touches are masterstrokes (who else would think to have a parental figure begging her child to go gay?), and no film that has a larger-than-life transvestite doing trampoline exercises can be without merits.

*          *          *

The third and final installment in the chronologically reversed John Waters Collection, New Line presents both films anamorphically in their arguable aspect ratio (1.85:1) — arguable because they were shot in 16mm, but meant for theatrical release — and in both Dolby 2.0 Surround and the original mono. The picture quality is a bit rough (as should be expected from the 16mm stock shot on shoestring budgets using guerrilla filmmaking tactics), as is the audio. If you're not familiar with John Waters' various books or speaking engagements, he is a well-polished raconteur, and both films come with wonderful audio commentaries by the director that are almost as interesting as the pictures themselves. If Waters sounds a little tired on the Flamingos track, understand that he is a little talked out on this film (not only is it his most famous film, he also recorded a different commentary for the Criterion Laserdisc, in which he declared he would never talk about the film again). Flamingos also includes the deleted scenes hosted by Waters that accompanied the film's 25th Anniversary release, while Trouble is the longer European cut of the film. Both come with trailers, but if you're supplement-hungry and buy all three volumes, you can send in for a bonus disc with more supplements. Dual-DVD digipak with fold-over cover.

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