Screened Sunday April 12 2009 on New Line DVD in Watertown, MA

TSPDT rank #925  IMDb Wiki

Pink Flamingos may remain the purest, rawest manifestation of John Waters’ inimitable worldview, but Female Trouble is his masterpiece, taking that film’s libidinal anarchy and slipping it like a series of time bombs inside something resembling a classical narrative.  Having a story provides a steady target against which Waters’ tastelessness  (never as extreme as it was in these two films) tirelessly hurls itself; it’s the same approach taken by Mel Brooks, whose more mainstream brand of subversion feels rather artless compared to what Waters and his game cast and crew accomplish here.

Superwigged juggernaut Divine rumbles like a rhinoceros through a bad-girl-gone-abominable melodrama that takes her from teen rape to robbery to married life (involving sex with carrots and pliers) to unspeakable disfiguration to mass murder.  Divine devours each debased woman scenario with full-throated gusto, defecating a performance that surpasses camp reduction, reaching deep into a kind of pathological, gleefully sado-masochistic apotheosis of female suffering and ambition.  It’s a dervish dance of garishness whose strident bellows betray unexpected small revelations: giving birth in a hotel hallway, she pulls the rape-seed infant from her womb, tears into the umbilical cord with her teeth and spits it against the green upholstery.  That piece of afterbirth stuck on the couch is one of the most mind-blowingly defiant gestures I’ve seen in a long time.

While Waters can’t resist the gimmicky shock value of having Divine clobber her parents with a Christmas tree or get raped by a male hick played by himself, or close ups of grime-covered penises, it’s the little unexpected gestures that elevate this film to sublime trash: robbery masks that fit over beehive hairdos; a 300 pound transvestite attempting somersaults on a trampoline in reckless abandon; a bowlful of spaghetti slithering down a wall. At one point Divine, ascending a staircase, casts his eyes downward and delivers a broken marriage, woe-is-me monologue with a black beehive and limpid eyes worthy of Liz Taylor, he looks downright beautiful, and more convincing as a downtrodden woman than his Hollywood counterpart’s Oscar performance in Butterfield 8. It’s a moment that becomes especially poignant given what’s to follow, his character’s dream of stardom succumbing to physical and psychic mutilation. The film’s second half pushes hard into the monster-freak aspect of Divine’s persona, reducing her character to a single-minded aspiring tabloid icon.  It’s a risky move that threatens to bury the film in nihilism, its heroine terminally blinded by ambition. But Divine’s hearty embrace of whatever the script demands of her preserves the film’s humanity, and even offers the last word to the film’s cynical view towards celebrity culture: in the end, she is a star.

WOULD YOU LIKE TO KNOW MORE?

The following citations were counted towards the placement of Female Trouble among They Shoot Pictures’ 1000 Greatest Films:

Jeff Krulik, Facets (2003)
Jennie Livingston, PopcornQ (1997)
Danny Peary, Guide for the Film Fanatic: Must-See Films (1987)
Pop Matters, The 50 DVD’s Every Film Fan Should Own: The Stellar 70′s (2007)
San Francisco Chronicle, Vintage Video – A Hot 100 From Out of the Past (1997)

Screenplays for Female Trouble, Hairspray and Multiple Maniacs viewable online at Google Books

Lyrics to the title song and other songs from John Waters movies at Two Jealous Perverts

This 1975 feature is the best of John Waters’s movies prior to Hairspray and his ultimate concerto for the 300-pound transvestite Divine, whose character will do literally anything–including commit mass murder–to become famous. As in all of Waters’s early outrages, the technique is cheerfully ramshackle, but Divine’s rage and energy make it vibrate like a sustained aria, with a few metaphors about the beauty of crime borrowed from Jean Genet. With Edith Massey and Mink Stole, as well as some doubling on the part of Divine that allows the star to have sexual congress with himself, giving birth to . . . guess who?

- Jonathan Rosenbaum, The Chicago Reader

I HAD just moved to Florida against my will. It was summer. I was 15. Lonely, alienated, and above all, well, above all, horny.

After much degradation and humiliation and rejection, I met a girl. Let’s call her Stacey, because, after all, that was her name. She was sweet and beautiful. I immediately had a mad crush.

In an unusual burst of ambition, I invited her to a movie. The movie I chose would change my life in many ways. It was ”Female Trouble” by John Waters, starring Divine as Dawn Davenport.

- Larry Charles, director of Borat and Religulous. New York Times, May 4 2008. Read the rest of the story

If asked, most people would probably be able to identify a moment in their own personal history when a film has changed their lives. Film can affect change in so many ways, and perhaps some of the most dynamic and powerful ways this can occur is in the way the projected image can manage to bypass the screen and become imprinted on our psyches, attached to the skin. This is the viral nature of film, its ability to spread a kind of ‘dis-ease’ within our body and mind. The one film that changes our lives becomes a breathing part of the self that alters the way we relate to the apparatus of film and our forever unstable conception of self.

The film that did this for me was John Waters’ Female Trouble (1974). Made a year before I was born, I didn’t actually see Female Trouble until 1988. I was 13-years-old. Browsing the shelves of the local video store, I was drawn to the video because its cover art announced “Warning: This movie is gross”. Accompanying this “warning” on the video box was a caricatured drawing of Female Trouble‘s two stars, Divine and Edith Massey. While watching the film later that day, I discovered that both Divine and Edith Massey were every bit the grotesque caricature suggested by the video’s cover design.

How I managed to sneak the R-rated film out of the video store, I’ll never comprehend. More importantly, the impact the film had on me during this very pubescent time in my life is even harder to comprehend, because it changed the way I consumed film from that moment on. I remember watching the film with a mixture of horror and morbid fascination: never before had I encountered such a freakishly queer ensemble of characters and situations on screen. Upon viewing Female Trouble at such a young age, I could sense some weird awakening where all of a sudden it felt as if someone had flicked the queer switch in my head. Thus began my life-long journey of hunting out films that warned of potential grossness. This cinematic road trip led me to suss out other offerings from the ‘great director’ John Waters.

- Daniel Mudie Cunningham, Senses of Cinema

John Waters expands the definition of female trouble in this mutant tribute to good-girl-gone-bad drive-in melodramas. The girl is, of course, cross-dressing cult icon Divine, Waters’s plus-sized muse. Divine is at her most gleefully outrageous as teenage brat Dawn Davenport, who runs away from home and into a life of wanton hedonism all because she didn’t get cha-cha heels for Christmas. Almost immediately she’s molested by a sleazy motorcycle thug (also played by Divine–is this Waters’s idea of “love thyself”?), but she doesn’t let motherhood interfere with her plans of stardom and turns herself into an unlikely fashion statement in an apocalyptic fashion show. Waters’s fourth feature, a follow-up to the midnight movie hit Pink Flamingos, is just as cinematically primitive and even more gleefully vulgar, right down to the electric climax of Dawn’s road to everlasting fame.

-Sean Axmaker, Amazon

Topping Pink Flamingos is a tall order, but puke poet laureate John Waters and scarlet diva Divine are more than game for the challenge in their riotous follow-up…Though the perversions are more seamlessly integrated into the narrative than in the earlier movies, Waters still grubbily zooms in on a particularly screechy line (“I wouldn’t suck your lousy dick if I was suffocating and there was oxygen in your balls!”) or someone’s skid mark-happy underwear, not to mention the money shots — acid-corroded Divine feverishly modeling while bleeding from a “liquid eyeliner” shot, Bad Seed brat Mink Stole gorily reenacting car accidents in the living room, Edith Massey’s indescribably lumpy figure squeezed into a vinyl dominatrix getup. Yet Waters’ subversion runs deeper, with his fame-obsessed heroine’s transgression mirroring Warhol’s credo about celebrity and, in the end, melting into ecstasy — unlike the perfidious Dashers, whose dedication to filth is desexualized, antiseptic and ultimately false, Dawn dives into it face first, pushes it to its extremes and emerges exalted, a sort of perv Joan of Arc.

- Fernando Croce, Cinepassion

Female Trouble was the last of the movies Waters made with this circle of intimates before burnout, drug overdoses, and the sad fact of growing up began to take their tolls, and it makes for a fitting end to this era. And as a small indicator of the kind of antisocial lunacy we’re dealing with here, consider that Female Trouble is prominently dedicated to Manson family murderer Charles “Tex” Watson. Tell me truthfully— do you think the John Waters of today would dedicate a movie to Jeffrey Dahmer? No, I don’t think so either.

Female Trouble makes for an excellent introduction to the young John Waters, in that it isn’t so stunningly and unrelentingly grotesque as, say, Pink Flamingos, but is still confrontationally disgusting in a way that nothing the director has made in the past 20 years even approaches. It also comes as close as the irony-obsessed Waters ever will to offering an explicit manifesto for his twisted artistic vision. The Dashers’ “Crime is Beauty” formula could easily be made to stand in for the “Squalor is Beauty” esthetic that informs all of Waters’s work to a greater or lesser degree. The exaltation of the ugly and the wretched can still be seen in his movies today, even if it isn’t treated with the same kind of obsessive stridency as it is in Female Trouble and its predecessors. This movie also features a much higher quota of the sort of random craziness for which Waters is justly renowned, but which only occasionally surfaces in his more recent films. Not only are such major plot developments as Dawn’s marriage to Gator exploited for their potential shock value (get a load of Dawn’s wedding dress), there are any number of digressions from the main story that are included solely because of the opportunities they introduce for further wallowing in squalor and bad taste. There’s no real reason why Taffy should become a Hare Krishna in the final act, nor is any narrative purpose served by the subplot in which Taffy tracks down her father and finds him to be just as much of a pig as Dawn always said he was. But the Krishna twist lets Waters echo and one-up a scene from early in the film in which Taffy’s jump-rope chants drive Dawn to tie the girl to her bed, and Earl Peterson’s reappearance provides an excuse for a Herschel Gordon Lewis-style gore scene. And for what it’s worth, Female Trouble is also almost certainly the all-time cinematic champion when it comes to putting the morbidly obese into preposterously revealing outfits— Aunt Ida’s leather catsuit in particular is going to give a lot of people nightmares.

- Scott Ashlin, 1000 Misspent Hours

Every “don’t” from years of school indoctrination is thwarted with hysterical abandon in Female Trouble, from the importance of safety in shop class (Dawn’s husband Gator (Michael Potter) uses his favorite tools during sex) to the perils of drug addiction (Dawn is lured into her life of crime when she starts mainlining liquid eyeliner).

The result is a hilarious send-up of codes of behavior in America, a critique of our cultural obsession with beauty and fame that rivals Citizen Kane for its timeliness and perceptiveness.

No, I’m not kidding.

Both Female Trouble and Citizen Kane chronicle the rise and fall of a quintessentially American figure. Dawn Davenport is a typical lower middle-class Baltimore kid, frustrated by school, misunderstood by her parents, but with the desire to becomes something greater. Granted, her only outlet for greatness is through crime and exhibitionism, as she spends the 1960s stripping, hooking, and rolling drunks, she and her comrades wearing nets over their hairdos instead of stockings over their faces. The great breakthrough comes when Dawn is taken in by the pretentious Dashers (David Lochary and Mary Vivian Pearce), who want to channel her aggression into “an experiment in beauty and crime.”

This fusion of beauty and crime smacks of Jean Genet, although I doubt Waters meant such an “artsy” interpretation (although he admits on the commentary track to reading Genet). But just like Genet, Waters relishes the rebelliousness of trash, the underground of cultural counterfeits—the Dashers as would-be Warhols, Dawn herself as a drag-queen Liz Taylor—that feel more real than the commercialized and glossy surface of “proper” society. Dawn’s entire world seems fake in so many ways, from her delusions of grandeur to the low-budget acid burn makeup Divine has to sport through the film’s second half. When Dawn chops off the villainous Aunt Ida’s hand with an axe, the cheap effect makes Herschell Gordon Lewis look like a PBS surgery documentary. But underneath the shoddy production values and stiff acting lies a deeper truth: this is America from the inside.

Both Waters’ film and Kane are joyously experimental, created by artists who seem complete unaware of what they cannot do on film, and so they try everything. For Orson Welles, this means appropriating all the tools of stagecraft and European film technique and challenging the rules of traditional filmmaking. Of course, Kane is such an over-the-top display of technique that is smacks of an artistic immaturity Welles would later overcome. Oddly, Waters comes to Female Trouble already having pushed the limits of his trademark style at the expense of storytelling. Female Trouble then becomes his first completely successful film: it constantly surprises with lurid invention while actually having a story that comments on American society itself.

And like Citizen Kane, Waters’ film was reviled by the mainstream in its own time, but can now be understood against the backdrop of the social forces that produced it: the pressures of middle class life, the cult of beauty, and the allure of the fashionable outlaw—all hallmarks of the media-saturated, war-traumatized, post-conformist 1960s.

But Orson Welles never would have had the balls to put Divine in a see-through wedding dress with fake female genitalia. Or a corpulent Edith Massey in a leather S&M outfit, pleading with her hairdresser nephew to turn gay. Or Divine molesting fish.

And Orson Welles, as brilliant as he was, never seemed to enjoy filmmaking as much as John Waters. The commentary track for Female Trouble is filled with funny stories and reminiscences. This film is understandably Waters’ favorite, and he relishes telling tales of his Baltimore childhood and remembering the contributions of friends who participated in the film. Influenced by Buñuel and the Warhol Factory, he admits that his artistic techniques in those days consisted of capturing “ultimate reality.” And like his idols, Waters portrays reality through a funhouse mirror: a reflection of the soul of America, if not its surface appearance. What makes a film like Female Trouble work so well, and certainly what makes me laugh, is the sense that everyone involved in the film is having so much fun making it. There is an infectious sense of joy to Waters’ subversive agenda—he works hard to create a trashy, shocking effect, but it is never mean-spirited. The lurid underbelly of society (listen for his stories on the commentary track of attending the Manson trial) seems to amuse Waters. He still laughs at his own movies. Watching a John Waters film is like attending a party with your wackiest friends, the ones who always defy convention and yet are always eager to buy you a beer and joke about it later.

- Mike Pinsky, DVD Verdict

Female Trouble was John Waters’ follow-up film to Pink Flamingos, and he employs largely the same cast in similar roles. What differentiates the two films are their focus: Pink Flamingos is clearly about the lows of society and the limitations of cinema and decency, whereas Female Trouble is a feminist film, crassly defending the struggle of women through over-the-top scenarios. It’s comical, but the notion is out there that views of women are somewhat tainted by societal norms rather than the content of women’s character.

Divine & Divine

Divine2.

Waters holds the female condition near to his heart in this film. At the start, audiences will identify with Dawn as she sasses back to her teacher, smokes in the bathroom, and throws a tantrum when she doesn’t get cha-cha heels for Christmas. As she struggles to make ends meet doing a variety of odd (and odder) jobs, the audience may feel sympathy for her. Only when the typical vulgarity of Divine’s persona starts to shine through do audiences realize that this has all been a ruse to conjure up some feelings for Dawn Davenport before exploiting her before wealthy opportunists and the media circus. Were it not for Divine’s extra-cinematic fame, the audience might have fully invested in the well-being of this girl, but because it is also a cynical romp, we are one step removed.

Divine shakes her stuff. If only I had a dollar bill!

As this removed audience, even though we feel for Dawn, we still want to know what kind of hijinks she gets into, and we hope to be wowed, grossed out, and offended. Dawn will always remain more an object than a true female heroine, a vehicle for humiliation more than a figure living the American dream. But while audiences of the 1970s could detach from this film as fiction, it was a time when women were still seen as objects for men’s amusement, and didn’t garner the same respect as men in social issues and the workplace. Feminism had taken huge strides since the early 1960s, but there was still domestic inequity and, to this day, women get paid less than men for comparable jobs.

Perhaps Waters’ message was intentional, perhaps not. I have heard him speak, however, and he is quite an intelligent person, so I would not deny him that insight. He is cited as having his finger on the pulse of contemporary society, and of understanding the basest aspects of human nature better than most. Female Trouble might seem like an ironic title at first, but it is very particularly selected. The troubles don’t necessarily belong to the main female in the film, rather, it is about the trouble people have with reconciling females as equal citizens, and the disconnect between realizing that the objectification of a film character may not be so different from someone’s home situation.

The Dashers stop by for dinner at the Davenports.

As this removed audience, even though we feel for Dawn, we still want to know what kind of hijinks she gets into, and we hope to be wowed, grossed out, and offended. Dawn will always remain more an object than a true female heroine, a vehicle for humiliation more than a figure living the American dream. But while audiences of the 1970s could detach from this film as fiction, it was a time when women were still seen as objects for men’s amusement, and didn’t garner the same respect as men in social issues and the workplace. Feminism had taken huge strides since the early 1960s, but there was still domestic inequity and, to this day, women get paid less than men for comparable jobs.

- Mea Patafria, Kalamazoo Gazette

John Waters’s Female Trouble is an outrageously trashy, wonderfully campy, and grotesquely funny film. There is no point in the movie that is not alive with inept overacting, exaggerated misdeeds, and general strangeness. It is a genuinely fun work to watch.

For one thing, the story the director tells is both overwrought and complicated. It begins with a depiction of Dawn’s days as an obnoxious and rebellious teenaged delinquent, goes on to show her life as a runaway, her wildly unsuccessful marriage, and her rise to fame, and it ends by revealing her incarceration, trial, and execution. The whole thing is a lurid melodrama that races along so fast the moviegoer is always caught up in the whirlwind that is is composed of the protagonist’s nasty existence, vile behaviors, weird acquaintances, and tumultuous rise to fame as a mass murderer.

Like many of Waters’ movies, Female Trouble explores popular perceptions of celebrity. Happily, the director is adept at revealing the connection of fame with criminality. He is especially so here. At various points, Waters reminds the viewer of Dawn’s desire to be famous and then shows how she gains notoriety as a result of the murders she commits. During her trail, Dawn even notes that she is the most famous person the jurors will know and that she is in all the papers. By making just this point, Waters reminds the viewer that many actual mass murderers could make exactly the same claim. Such elements are not, however, presented in a heavy-handed or didactic way, but, instead, give the film a real humorousness. Waters revels in human failings and provides the moviegoer with the chance to laugh and cringe at our less admirable traits.

Lastly, I should mention that while Divine may not be an accomplished performer in any conventional sense, she does acquit herself well in the film. Not only is she a joy to watch as the selfish, vile, foul, and murderous Dawn, but she is also equally repulsively entertaining as Earl Peterson, the filthy, lecherous father of Dawn’s daughter Taffy. In fact, a large part of Female Trouble‘s appeal comes from the lead’s weirdly charismatic presence. Divine is a pleasure to watch.

- Keith Allen, Movie Rapture

The radical politics in Female Trouble (as well as Pink Flamingos and Waters’ other early films) speaks very much to the times in which they were made. Between Vietnam, the Manson killings (which Waters was obsessed with), and the constant political assassinations and riots, the turbulent times spawned an anger that set the stage for films like Night of the Living Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. What set Waters’ films apart from those is that there is a joy in the violence and mayhem that makes them nearly impossible to categorize. A cannibal with a chainsaw is obviously a bad guy, but how do you deal with Divine in a leopard print one piece chopping off Edith Massey’s hand while the older woman sits locked in a bird cage wearing a ruffley white gown? There is no way to contextualize these images and so they end up creating their own genre.

- Gil Jawetz, DVD Talk

This humor also comes from a pure, raw filmmaking energy that we simply don’t see these days. Normal people should probably stay away, but twisted people and young filmmakers will find laughter, inspiration and joy here.

- Jeffrey A. Anderson, Combustible Celluloid

So what is Female Trouble? For those not yet Waters aficionados it can most fittingly be described as the result of shock over story, offensive images over coherent actions, obsession over technique, littered with profanity laden diatribes shouted as loudly as possible, and male nudity and raunch that resembles almost nothing else you will ever see, save another John Waters movie. Yes, there is a story here, something about a girl (played by Divine) who doesn’t get what she wants for Christmas, gets in with the “wrong crowd” (and “wrong” is about the biggest understatement in eternity), and flaunts herself to anyone and everyone under the mantra, “crime is beauty!” But really, this is all stark window dressing compared to the wacky characters, their outlandish images, and Waters’ absurdist worldview that leaves no holy cow untipped. And as a Waters aficionado, myself, I wouldn’t want it any other way.

The first half of the film is exceptional. The sight gags are hilarious (Divine in two roles, one male and one female, is brilliant), the sets inspired and fascinating (the apartment where most of the action takes place was Waters’ own real pad in the ‘70s), the dialogue highly quotable (“I’m getting a hard-on! Beauty always gives me a hard-on!”), and the ideas about the sensationalism of criminals way ahead of its time. The supporting cast of Waters regulars are all here and in ripe form, from Edith Massey as the promoter of the homosexual lifestyle to the hairdressing impresarios David Lochary and Mary Vivian Pearce, from Divine’s retarded “child” played by Mink Stole to is he or isn’t he stoned (I think we all know the answer to that one) Danny Mills as Divine’s short lived, gap-toothed lover, and a gaggle of other misfits and cretins that are as vibrant and outlandish as the hairdos and wallpaper that battle it out with each other for center stage.

The second half of the movie, however, slips drastically in quality. Where the first half was fresh and fast paced, the second is tedious and degenerates from degradation to repetition. The screaming characters eventually grate rather than amuse and an awkward court scene drags much more than any other part of the film. The finale couldn’t come soon enough but once it does, it provides a few more yucks before Waters wraps things up with a closing shot you’re not soon to forget.

It is in this final image that we see Waters transforming before our eyes from mere shockmeister to purveyor of filth philosophy. Unlike Flamingos, where Waters tacks on one additional gross out just to be sure his audience walks out repulsed, in Female Trouble shock gives way to message as Waters’ final statement about criminal celebrity trumps any bodily fluid joke that might stand in its way. Therein lies the first inkling that Waters would indeed one day abandon his all out assault on supposed good taste and “go PG”, a move that was both inevitable and well done eventually culminating in Hairspray, the most mainstream effort of his career. Sure, he would eventually return to the obscenely perverse with, A Dirty Shame, but never again would he be as unconventionally shocking as Female Trouble.

I believe John Waters is a special kind of genius. He is a man of innovation and far sighted ideas that push through a world that has little desire for such a thing. He creates works that have meaning and challenge our ideas of morality and normalcy. The cult of John Waters continues to thrive because he has stayed loyal to his vision for well over thirty years while somehow managing to get his ideas out of his head and to the masses when such a thing seems impossible for anyone who isn’t willing to sell his soul to do so. Most important to Waters’ legacy is the gentle hand he uses with his entourage of nonconformists, never once putting them down but rather, showing a sweet sentimentality for their earnest plight to be recognized and accepted as something other than merely misunderstood and expendable. Sure, the kooks and crackpots he employs in his films are acting, so to speak, but they are also people cut of a similar cloth to the characters they portray. Not nearly as vicious, profane, or demented as their characters, there remains much truth between actor and character that only a man such as John Waters could make work as perfectly as he does.

To sum up, Female Trouble may not be a “good movie” by normal standards, but it is undeniably bizarre and engrossing and an essential part of the John Waters’ canon and modus operandi. If you only see one early period John Waters movie in your lifetime, see Pink Flamingos. It best represents Waters’ twisted mind yet somehow also shows his sentimentality for geeks and miscreants the world over. But if Pink Flamingos touches your disturbed side, then definitely see Female Trouble. It is the height of Waters’ perversity and yet another jaw dropping exhibition that will pave your way to John Waters aficionado status.

- Scott Muoio, Underpendent Media

Report of what sounds like a typical John Waters theatrical screening with director appearance, this time a screening of the restored Female Trouble at the American Cinematheque in Los Angeles, reported by Daniel Hirshleifer for Digitally Obsessed

Review of the 2005 John Waters Collection DVD Boxset by Bill Gibron at DVD Verdict

ABOUT JOHN WATERS

IMDb Wiki

John Waters began making films in 1964, the same year that Susan Sontag penned her landmark essay “Notes on ‘Camp’”. This is a notable cultural moment because, while Sontag’s ideas have been refuted or extended by many cultural critics, there was a general consensus that a camp sensibility was alive and well in the arts. Of course, this camp sensibility could be interpreted in any number of ways, but Sontag claimed that “the essence of Camp is its love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration…” (3). I have isolated this one sentence because it is a definition that can be applied to John Waters’ films.

Perhaps a better fitting definition of Waters’ brand of camp is one that is defined by the filmmaker himself in a 1997 episode of The Simpsons. Titled “Homer’s Phobia”, Waters makes a guest appearance as a collectable junk store owner called John. Upon visiting his store, Homer asks John why a “grown man” would collect such junk, and John replies:

JOHN:         It’s camp!

Homer looks back at John with a blank expression, not comprehending what he means.

JOHN:        The tragically ludicrous, the ludicrously tragic.
HOMER:     Oh yeah, like when a clown dies.
JOHN:        Well sort of, but I mean more like inflatable furniture or Last Supper TV trays or even this bowling shirt…
HOMER:     And that kind of stuff is worth money? … You should come over to our place, it’s full of valuable worthless junk.

Waters in The Simpsons
Waters in The Simpsons

This dialogue from The Simpsons plays into the way Waters’ camp aesthetic playfully celebrates “valuable worthless junk”. In many respects, this view of camp echoes cultural critic Andrew Ross’ argument that camp is primarily concerned with reconstituting history’s trash as treasure. Ross perceives camp as a delight in that which is considered culturally outmoded. He writes: “The knowledge about history is the precise moment when camp takes over, because camp involves a rediscovery of history’s waste”.

Waste is one of the recurring themes of Waters’ films, and is depicted on screen as something that is often corporeal. Waters delights in demonstrating how shit, vomit, puss, mucus, saliva and other such bodily fluids can be a rich source of material from which to develop a cinematic language for the white trash body. Part of the appeal of Waters’ films is that they belong to the category of low camp. As Waters states, “I’ve always tried to please and satisfy an audience who think they’ve seen everything. I try to force them to laugh at their own ability to be shocked by something. This reaction has always been the reason I make movies”. In a contemporary context, however, the appeal of Waters’ films has extended far beyond the select few. In a review of one of his more recent films Pecker, Mark Kermode writes:

The greatest irony of John Waters’ career is that he has ended up loving and being loved by Baltimore, the town he initially tried to infuriate. From being the most disgusting filmmaker in the world, Waters has become something of a local hero, venerated for bringing an element of glitter into an area not known for its star-spangled potential.This “local hero” status was certified on February 7, 1985, when it was proclaimed “John Waters Day” in his home town of Baltimore by the presiding mayor. Despite such accolades, Waters has also become more generally an icon in American cinema. As Sarah Hampson notes, “He is the iconoclast who has become an icon; the anti-establishment voice who has become an institution”. Certainly, Waters has become something of an anti-establishment institution in US culture, evidenced by the way his work has been celebrated within a mainstream context. For example, Waters’ film Hairspray (1988) was transformed into a hit Broadway musical in 2002.

- Daniel Mudie Cunningham, Senses of Cinema Great Directors Biography

Waters has pursued a vision as singular as any American filmmaker. He has revitalized some of our big-time Hollywood stars (Kathleen Turner, Melanie Griffith), reintroduced us to the kitsch glory of others (Tab Hunter, Joe Delassandro, Joey Heatherton) and shown us a thing or two about some of the others we snidely thought we knew all about (Pia Zadora, Sonny Bono, former teen porn queen Traci Lords), at the same time faithfully maintaining, into a third decade, his “repertory” of actors, a regular Royal Shakespeare Company of Raunch called the Dreamlanders. Though untimely death has caught up with many of the greats in his magnificent motley stable of thespians, we would be much poorer without Divine emblazoned in our collective pop-culture memory, alongside Edith (“Edie the Egg Lady”) Massey, David Lochary, Cookie Mueller and those still going strong — Mink Stole and Mary Vivian Pearce.

- Daniel Reitz, Salon.com critical biography

Interview by Michael Dare for Movieline Magazine, February 19, 1988

Interview from 1978

Review of Waters’ early films screening at the New Museum of Contemporary Art by Nick Stillman for the Brooklyn Rail

ABOUT DIVINE

IMDb Wiki

Matthew Kennedy reviews My Son Divine written by Frances Milstead

Tribute site at Dreamland News

Drag-queen and cult-movie star Divine, born Harris Glenn Milstead, was a high-school acquaintance of John Waters in the early ’60s. Waters indulged his chubby friend’s penchant for crossdressing, and Divine’s acting career was launched with Water’s first films in the mid ’60s, Roman Candles and Eat Your Makeup both filmed while Divine still worked as a hairdresser. As Waters’ work became more funny and outrageous with Mondo Trasho(1969) and Multiple Maniacs(1970), Divine’s performances became richer and wilder; the two achieved immortality with the outrageously raunchy cult classic Pink Flamingos(1972) in which Divine competes to become the “World’s Filthiest Person.” They continued working together during the late ’70s and into the ’80s making two of their best films, Female Trouble(1974) and Polyester(1981). Divine also began appearing for other filmmakers, playing a woman in Paul Bartel‘s Lust in the Dust(1985) and shedding his feminine garb to play a man in Alan Rudolph‘s Trouble in Mind(1986). In his/her last appearance for Waters‘s, Hairspray(1988), Divine played a dual role, one male, one female, and was quite effective in both parts.Those who could get past the unremitting weirdness of Divine’s performance discovered that the actor/actress had genuine talent, including a natural sense of comic timing and an uncanny gift for slapstick. In 1989 Divine died suddenly of an enlarged heart at the age of 42 while preparing for a guest appearance on Fox TV’s Married…With Children.

- All Movie Guide