November 19, 2015
Mary Vivian Pearce
1 Hr., 32 Mins.
As far as transgressive comedies go, Pink Flamingos is the one most widely revered as the finest, if you can even call a film featuring unsimulated acts of kinky chicken murder, prolapsed anus flexing, and dog poop consumption fine. It isn’t so much that the film is good. It, plain and simply, sets out to disgust us, and it succeeds.
John Waters began his career as a directorial outsider obsessed with repulsing his audiences, making films meant to induce vomit, and, if lucky, a laugh here and there. Eventually, he calmed down and made such modern cult classics as Cry-Baby and Hairspray. But Pink Flamingos, one of his first films, is still his most widely discussed project, in part to its many shocking scenes and in part to the performance of Divine, America’s favorite drag queen and, in the context of the movie, the filthiest woman alive.
It is not the best film Waters ever made – I find myself more accepting of his later, more restrained stylings – but a film as exquisitely vile as this one has to be praised. Nobody can complete spy missions better than James Bond, and nobody does bad taste quite like Waters.
Pink Flamingos’s storyline is more concerned with individual gross-outs than it is with a cohesive plot. But it mostly involves Divine and her cohorts in griminess, which include her mother, the egg obsessed Miss Edie (Edith Massey), her degenerate son, Crackers (Dany Mills), and her fur coat adoring traveling companion, Cotton (Mary Vivian Pearce).
Divine has just been named the filthiest woman alive by a tabloid magazine, and that headline, perhaps a compliment in the film’s backwards world, incurs the wrath of Connie and Raymond Marble (Mink Stole and David Lochary), a married couple who believes they deserve such a title. Why? They make their living by kidnapping young women, impregnating them, and selling their children to adoption hungry lesbians, essentially turning their prizes into slaves.
And so a game of one-upmanship ensues between Divine and the Marbles, including fun games of feces gifting, house licking, cannibalistic birthday celebrations, and trailer burning.
Certainly Pink Flamingos wouldn’t be such a shoddy novelty if not for Waters’s dark but playful sense of humor and the hilarious performances from most of the cast, who make for one of the most eccentric ensembles ever put to film. It’s distasteful, sure, but the sheer magnitude of its distastefulness manages to be rather funny. The dialogue, protruding with a sort of Hollywood-mocking camp, is riotous, and Waters’ welcoming of his no-budget makes the cheapery carry an unthinkable charm. Divine is a wonderfully subversive Z-star, and supporting player Edith Massey, my favorite of Waters’s steady stable of actors, is uproarious as Divine’s mentally ill mother.
Perhaps if I were a critic as respectable as Ebert, then maybe I would make a smarter decision and refuse to give Pink Flamingos a letter grade. It’s so reprehensible and so magnificently original that examining it, analyzing it, isn’t necessarily the right way to go. To exclusively experience it, not write about it quickly afterward, might make more sense. But I cannot help but enjoy what Waters has to offer. He does bad taste well, with enough knowing humor to make the film seem like more than a series of unpalatable gags. B+
ink Flamingos is] one of the most vile, stupid, and repulsive films ever made,” Daily Variety sighs in order to make its way onto the DVD cover of the 25th anniversary edition of John Waters’ infamous Pink Flamingos. “Like a septic tank explosion,” Detroit Free Press retorts, “it has to be seen to be believed.”