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Site created 12/15/97.

reviews added: 6/20/02

The John Waters Collection, Volume Three
(Pink Flamingos/Female Trouble)

review by Adam Jahnke of The Digital Bits

The Films of John Waters on DVD

The John Waters Collection, Volume Three (Pink Flamingos/Female Trouble)

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Pink Flamingos
25th Anniversary Edition - 1972 (2001) - Dreamland Films - (New Line)

Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): C+/B/B-

Specs and Features

86 mins, NC-17, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, dual-layered (no layer switch), custom gatefold packaging, audio commentary by director John Waters, theatrical trailer, bonus footage with introductions by John Waters, animated film-themed menu screens with sound, scene access (41 chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0 and original 2.0 Mono), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned

Female Trouble
1974 (2001) - Dreamland Films (New Line)

Film Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): C/B/C

Specs and Features

91 mins, NC-17, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, dual-layered (no layer switch), custom gatefold packaging, audio commentary by director John Waters, theatrical trailer, animated film-themed menu screens with sound, scene access (24 chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0 and 2.0 Mono), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned

"I guess there's just two kinds of people, Miss Sandstone: my kind of people and assholes."

When New Line Cinema decided to theatrically re-release Pink Flamingos for its 25th anniversary, they had to submit the film to the MPAA for a rating. In an unusually apt and succinct summary, the board had this to say: "Rated NC-17 for a wide range of perversions in explicit detail."

Really, that's about all you need to know about John Waters' most notorious movie. Released in 1972, Pink Flamingos can be said to mark the dividing line between underground movies, like the work of Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey, and midnight movies, like The Rocky Horror Picture Show or Eraserhead. The plot, such as it is, follows Divine, the filthiest woman alive, as she hides out in a trailer with her mother Edie, her son Crackers and traveling companion Cotton (played by Edith Massey, Danny Mills and Mary Vivian Pearce, respectively). Divine's whereabouts are uncovered by the insanely jealous Connie and Raymond Marble (Mink Stole and David Lochary). The Marbles, who kidnap women, get them pregnant with their butler Channing and sell the babies to lesbian couples, covet the title of filthiest people alive and launch an all-out war to out-filth Divine and her family.

That's about it, really. This skeleton of a plot is used as a framework from which to hang some of the most bizarre, outrageous material ever filmed. What makes Pink Flamingos actually funny and not just a freak show, is how far beyond the pale Waters and his cast are willing to go. Sure, you can understand why impregnating kidnap victims for profit is perverted and offensive. But the sight of Edith Massey wearing a corset and gorging herself on eggs in a crib is simply so surreal that you don't even have any frame of reference to measure it against. Pink Flamingos is one of the few truly subversive films ever made. It still works today because while you're watching it, you feel like you're participating in something slightly dangerous, obscene and even criminal. Pink Flamingos is simply so wrong on so many levels that it becomes a classic. Even today, there has never been another movie quite like it.

Waters' follow-up, Female Trouble, is considered by many, including Waters himself, to be the best of his early movies. The film follows the troubled life of Dawn Davenport (Divine), from high school to a life of crime and beauty. Running away from home after she doesn't get cha-cha shoes for Christmas, Dawn is raped and impregnated by a drunk sleazebag (also played by Divine). Dawn marries a hairdresser, which infuriates his Aunt Ida (Edith Massey) who keeps trying to convince him he's gay. Soon after, Dawn comes under the spell of the owners of the salon where her husband works (Mary Vivian Pearce and David Lochary). They lure her into show business, committing crime for art.

Like Pink Flamingos, there's plenty to be offended by in Female Trouble. But too often, it seemed to me like Waters and company were trying too hard to replicate Flamingos' success. A scene with Divine vamping down the street in Female Trouble is reminiscent of a similar scene in Pink Flamingos. Even though Divine is dressed and acts more flamboyantly, the scene doesn't have the same impact. But while Female Trouble might be a slightly less successful John Waters movie, it's a great Divine movie. Divine is convincing at every stage of Dawn Davenport's life, whether it's in high school, her cabaret act, or in prison. It's a tour de force performance.

Knowing that both Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble have been restored for this release, you might be surprised at how bad these DVDs look. The picture looks soft, often scratched and dirty, and occasionally washed-out. But I would wager that this is about as good as these movies are ever gonna look. They are not beauteous works of cinematographic art. They were shot by Waters himself on 16mm, under less than optimal conditions. New Line has done a nice job transferring these movies to video, with anamorphic picture on both and little to no artifacting or enhancement. However, the 1.85:1 matting on the image does cut off information from top and bottom. This may be an accurate representation of theatrical matting, but with Desperate Living presented in its original ratio of 1.33:1, it's weird that New Line would choose to matte these two. Both discs feature stereo as well as the original Mono soundtracks. Here again, the studio's done the best they can with what they've got. Neither movie sounds very good. But all things considered, it's probably a miracle we can hear the dialogue at all.

John Waters delivers two strong solo commentaries, each full of funny stories and interesting information. Pink Flamingos also has a number of deleted scenes tacked on to the end of the feature, along with newly shot introductions by Waters for the theatrical re-release. You can access these scenes through a separate menu on the DVD or just hang on at the end of the movie and they'll play straight through. Amusingly, Waters' commentary continues over the bonus footage, making this possibly the first DVD to feature a director's commentary on his commentary. As usual with New Line's John Waters Collection, both discs include the original trailer as well.

Studios often get a lot of flack for only making certain titles available as part of a box set. Indeed, I think New Line themselves dropped the ball by not releasing Hairspray separately. But The John Waters Collection, Volume Three is one of the rare package deals that makes perfect sense. Female Trouble has long been out of circulation and should be seen by anyone who is a fan of Pink Flamingos. And if you're already a fan of Female Trouble, no doubt you will also want to have Pink Flamingos. For Waters fans, this is a win-win package. For those who haven't yet dipped their toe in this scummy, unfiltered end of the pool, you might want to rent before you buy. And if you see something that looks like a Baby Ruth floating by, just leave it alone. This ain't Caddyshack, pal.

Adam Jahnke

The Films of John Waters on DVD

The John Waters Collection, Volume Three (Pink Flamingos/Female Trouble)

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