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Many of you will be familiar with the work of John Waters. The Baltimore based auteur responsible for such cult films of recent years as Cry Baby, Hairspray, and Serial Mom, began his career creating films which intended to replicate the political aspirations of the Manson Family. Waters, and his consistently loyal group of filmmaking pals, affectionately dubbed Dreamlanders (Mink Stole, Divine, Edie Massey, Mary Vivien Pierce, David Lochary, Cookie Mueller, Pat Moran et. Al) began churning out low-budget films in order to “scare the world”. After a few initial experiments with 16mm silent film (Eat Your Make-Up, Roman Candles, Mondo Trasho), and a film with synchronized sound (Multiple Maniacs), Waters began shooting the film which would not only cement his reputation as an iconoclast auteur, but also as one of the most notorious, decadent, and unflinchingly repellent filmmakers on the landscape of the American cinema. That film was Pink Flamingos, an “exercise in bad taste”. Reviled, attacked, endlessly banned, and endlessly butchered, the film has finally been re-released in a totally uncut print, with twenty minutes of supplementary scenes culled from Waters’ private archives.

Pink Flamingos
We may as well get this out of the way at the beginning. If you have any interest in underground cinema, or indeed, in 70’s cinema, you will have heard of Pink Flamingos. Yes. Divine does eat dog shit. Live. On camera. With that said, this is not a film for everyone. The plot, essentially, details the life of one Babs Johnson (Divine), and traces her quest to become internationally recognized as “the filthiest person alive”. Also in the running are two degenerates with ludicrously dyed hair – Connie and Raymond Marble - who covet the title with the same zeal as Babs. And, that’s the plot. From that jumping off point, we are treated to Waters’ renderings of every perverted act imaginable. Divine eats the aforementioned canine waste material – her son has sex with a chicken, then cooks and eats it. Connie and Raymond kidnap women from the streets of Baltimore, then pay their butler, Channing, to impregnate them so that they can sell the child nine months later. They use that money to fund their inner-city Elementary School heroin ring. Raymond also seems fond of strapping slabs of meat to his genitals, before running through the streets of Baltimore flashing women. Babs enjoys parties involving what can only be described as “anal lip-synching”, the wanton dismemberment of party guests, and receiving gifts of large axes and severed pigs heads. Her mother, Edie, likes to sit in a cot in their house, eating raw eggs, talking about eggs, and planning her affair with “the egg man”. Babs’s concept of revenge involves licking and dribbling on the furniture  of her enemies so that it will “reject them”.

Whew. Hopefully, that will give you a rough idea of what Pink Flamingos is. It is beyond exploitation, in that it has a very clear political agenda – it is an attack on middle-America. Waters is playing the role of clear antagonist, in his attempt to open some kind of hostile dialogue with the world that he came from, using the sounds and images of his film. In this capacity – it works. Pink Flamingos is a deeply shocking film. Lensed in shakycam 16mm, it has the look of a long-lost snuff movie. It is not, of course – not is it pornography. It is a student film, made by some seriously wacky people during the dawn of the 1970’s. Visually, it bears many of the failings of student film – an overreliance on the zoom lens, muddy sound, extremely choppy editing, and a penchant for extending medium-shots far longer than is necessary. It is also a 35mm blow up from the original 16mm negative – giving the film a washed out, grainy look. I’ll go out on a limb, however, and suggest that the raw quality of the film makes it seem that much more alive, and bristling with kinetic energy.

Pink Flamingos
So, why should you watch it? Well, you probably shouldn’t. If you’re in any way of a weak constitution, Pink Flamingos will send you running for a bucket. If you think you can stand it, you will find that despite the nauseating acts onscreen, Pink Flamingos is an absolutely hilarious, brilliant, incisive pastiche and parody of all things American. Divine puts in a performance that will never be equaled for it’s manic onscreen energy, and aura of total confidence. I will go on record and say that Divine’s character in Pink Flamingos is a far more positive role model than… say… Gwyneth Paltrow in Shallow Hal. You know what I’m getting at. David Lochary and Mink Stole also put in crazed, hysterical performances that are intoxicating and unforgettable. Edith Massey is Edith Massey as we all know her – enormous, innocent, and unforgettable. And what of Waters? His demented narration recalls Russ Meyer’s hyperbolic rantings on the narration of Mondo Topless. His direction, while flawed, is serviceable – and he certainly made the most out of the location work, not to mention the baseline budget.

Pink Flamingos. It is definitely one of my favourite films of all time. Certainly in the top five. It is a deranged, out-of-control, genuinely dangerous work of cinema, by a bona-fide auteur.

Video
Pink Flamingos is presented 1.85.1 anamorphic. The film is showing it’s age with numerous scratches, blemishes, and scanlines present throughout the running time. The transfer on the disc is as good as you will ever see it, admittedly – considering the limitations of the source material. Don’t expect film quality on the level of “Final Fantasy”, though – this is a blow up from 16mm, so there is a high level of grain, coupled with the aforementioned adverse effects of time.

Audio
Pink Flamingos is presented in Dolby Digital Surround 5.1, and Dolby Digital 2.0 in Mono. The soundtrack, like the film, is showing the effects of time – with a lot of dialogue muffled. The audio track is, however, in sync at all times, and is as audible as can be expected.

Extras
John Waters does the best commentary tracks in the business. Yes, better than Bruce Campbell. He is engaging, lively, witty, self-deprecating, revealing, and has an encyclopedic knowledge of cinema. The Pink Flamingos commentary track is particularly revelatory, as he delves into the history of the film’s censorship, the court battles he has had to go through (and has never won) to try and get the film shown, and innumerable anecdotes about the cast, crew, and the making of the film. Absolutely invaluable.

The disc also includes a wealth of deleted scenes, each of which are introduced by Waters in his own inimitable style. He is hilarious, with a wry, tongue-in-cheek comment prefacing each showing of the material – which is illuminating, and hilarious. Ranging from extended versions of existing scenes, to strange outtakes such as Divine, and Mary Vivian Piece singing “We are the filthiest people alive!” in pig Latin. The outtakes also have director’s commentary, and it is amusing to listen to Waters make fun of his delivery during the filmed sequences.

Pink Flamingos
Overall
A classic. A groundbreaking masterpiece of underground cinema, and a repellent, disturbing voyage into the dark heart of the American counterculture. Waters is a genius – a sadly underrated genius, but his work is as original as anything I have ever seen. If you think you can stomach it, you are in for a fascinating ride with Pink Flamingos – as well as an education in low-budget filmmaking, and subversive art.


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