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Pink Flamingos (1972)


With new patented JITTERCAM
With new patented JITTERCAM

Genre: Crime Comedy

Starring: Divine (Hairspray (1988) • Polyester),  Mink Stole (Cry-BabySerial Mom)

Directed By: John Waters (Female TroublePecker)

Overview: An obscene rivalry becomes full-fledged war when a couple competes with infamous superstar Divine for the title of “The Filthiest Person Alive”.

As the deadline for the 1001 review assignment of Rome, Open City approached, I looked forward to watching some Art History in cinema with a like-minded friend. Halfway through Roberto Rossellini’s essential Neorealist piece I was sighing at the decision I made in choosing Rome, Open City over the trashy Pink Flamingos that was my second choice. When it was over I felt educated, but I didn’t feel sated. I reluctantly asked my host if he was up for more. When I suggested John Waters’s entry into the 1001 tome, my film-freak friend popped it in, happily granting me a double-feature. Now I get to tell you if it fulfilled my need for entertainment or if it just made my evening worse…

Pink Flamingos’s plot is laughably simple. Trailer-trash drag queen diva Divine (as herself), apparently holds the ‘official’ Baltimore title of The Filthiest Person Alive. Raymond Marble (David Lochary) and his wife Connie (Mink Stole) are completely put off by this because they think the title should be theirs. They begin a battle of gross with Divine, who naturally does her best to get more than even. From things like the Marbles sending a special feces delivery to Divine invading the Marbles’ home, the war goes back and forth until the end credits. I’ll stop there because the actual things they do to one another is what ‘makes’ the movie, so I’d rather not spoil your ‘fun’. Yes those quotes are sarcastic.

Oh Divine - why must you LIVE?
Oh Divine - why must you LIVE?

Christ, where do I begin? Let’s start with the technical, the filmmaking ‘skill’, if you will. Pink Flamingos was shot on 16mm film, so you’re bound to find the graininess either annoying or rustic. Often static shots are done handheld, for that I-wish-I-could-see-this-establishing-shot-wiggling-constantly effect. But let’s forgive these things, especially when compared to the laziness inherent in the lack of over the shoulder shots. What this means for us, dear reader, is that we are mired in whole single-shot scenes where we see one actor speaking and the other actor hiding their face from the camera, because they’re looking backwards at the first actor. In the first half hour, I had already begged three times to those in the television, “Can you please turn your head to the camera?”

I don’t know if I gave up or if it was just being overwhelmed with more brutal elements of Pink Flamingos, but I stopped caring about that niggling little detail. It was much easier to dwell on Divine herself, that morbid, hideous clown of an abhorrent thing. There’s montages that are downright boring, there’s popular music that doesn't mesh at all with the scenes we’re watching, there’s incest with full-on and graphic drag queen-on-man oral, there’s sexual assault that really doesn’t fly anymore, especially when done in a weird, disturbing way that really doesn’t work at all in the context. But most unfortunate and absolutely-definitely-not-cool-at-all-even-a-little-as-a-joke is the on-screen killing of a chicken in a most definitely inhumane way – that being in the middle of the aforementioned sexual assault scene. Not cool John - reprehensible in fact. Shame on you. You should have had a testicle ripped out for that one. Asshole.

There's the dead bird in question. John you're a petty horrible little man.
There's the dead bird in question. John you're a petty horrible little man.

But worse - ok not worse but let’s say it anyway – worse still is Miss Edie (Edith Massey) and her idiotic subplot that was obviously written just to take up running time on the film. That corpulent, boring, one-trick kink of a character, played by a hideous, corpulent, talentless one-glazed-over-expression ‘actress’ has a storyline where she sits in a crib - and later in a wheelbarrow – goofing on eggs. Everything she talks about is eggs eggs eggs. “Where is the eggman?” “Where do eggs come from?” “Oh, God I’m starving, where’s my eggs?” Holy Jesus shut up you suck, and not in a fun way. It goes on and on and on… then on some more. Those scenes were eggscruciating. Yeah, they hurt like that last sentence did, but 18,034 times worse.

Sweet Hell on a stick this was HORRIBLE.
Sweet Hell on a stick this was HORRIBLE.

Yet, dear reader, I actually finished watching Pink Flamingos. Oh yes. And that’s because your humble critic actually enjoyed himself. I laughed. I laughed a lot. Partly it was because of the company I was with: the only friend who could appreciate Pink Flamingos as I could, the only friend who could appreciate the ballistic ridiculousness that just couldn't be held back. There’s a ton of nudity, the baby-breeding slavery scenes were side-splittingly golden and honestly, Mink Stole, who played Connie Marble, was the upstaging best - in that way that diarrhea is the most talented of feces. There’s just something about Pink Flamingos. It's horrible but it's funny. The fact is I laughed; I laughed genuinely, I laugh frequently. The fact that I was laughing at it rather than with it half the time didn’t make my enjoyment of Pink Flamingos any less grand. Rather, there was an ironic sarcasm that came off of this John Waters film, and yeah, reluctantly, I’m a fan of many parts.

And there’s prolapsing. Did I mention the prolapsing? No I didn’t.

Though I could have done without the eating dogshit scene. Seriously?

The main character should have been played by Mink Stole and Divine should have been kicked off set.
The main character should have been played by Mink Stole and Divine should have been kicked off set.

Performance: 4 Cinematography: 3 Script: 6 Plot: 7 Mood: 8

Overall Rating: 56% (More Dirty Than Divine - But In A Good Way)

Now there’s an element of comparison that comes with that score. This year I’ve seen more stinkers in a row than ever before, and after films like Flaming Creatures and Vinyl, it’s actually refreshing to see Divine and her disgusting display, mostly because there’s an actual storyline - thin as it may be. Pink Flamingos is definitely one of the films in the 1001 tome intended to give us a break from Serious Study. And you know what? I support it. Sometimes it’s good to have a genuine jaw-dropper in your brain. I have fond memories of my time with this film, and that, my friends, isn’t such a terrible thing.

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