25 Most Disturbing Movies, Continued: #12: Pink Flamingos

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We'll be counting down the top 12 Most Disturbing Movies from here on out. Read Part 1 for the previous 13 from Simon Augustine.

12. Pink Flamingos (1972) Gross-out: 7 /Artistic Merit: 8
John Waters, emerging from the depths and despair of middle-class Baltimore, was Disturbing Night At the Movies' first great Confabulist of Campiness, taking full advantage of Susan Sontag's observation's about the underhand power of “camp,” and infusing it with all the bizarre bluster, pain, confusion, humanity, resentment, irreverence and all-out bad taste you'd get if you merged the gay community with an underground-oriented Disturbist sensibility, smacking what was left of square America in 1972 square in the face.

Pink Flamingos, his masterwork, and a bona-fide midnight-movie phenomenon, is about the conflict between an unusual family of violent, outlandish bottom-feeders, (i.e. the good guys), and a dastardly couple of yuppie progenitors/black-market adoption entrepreneurs as they battle to capture the title of “filthiest person alive.” The Hatfields consist of Waters regular and transvestite Divine as “Babs Johnson,” and her gang: mother, Edie the egg lady; son Crackers, and friend Cotton. The McCoys are uncommonly distasteful duo The Marbles, Connie and Raymond (Mink Stole and David Lochary), the Boris and Natasha of filthitude, who, learning that Babs has been given just bestowed with the coveted title of “filthiest,” enjoin in an escalating contest with her that includes murder, media, insanity, child-selling, and other modes of joyful transgression.

Rendered in lurid tones and washed out film stock, bad dubbing, amateurish acting, and lovingly vile temperament, Waters revels in the same art/trash aesthetic that ruled Andy Warhol's factory productions of ennui and sleaze during the same period. Technically, this was due also to his budget restrictions, but it is to Waters credit that he forever devalued the conventional criteria by which cinema usually was judged: competence, sense, lack of 300-pound transvestite, conspicuous absence of “egg-ladies,” and a scintilla of adherence to decency. In its place he fostered a new aesthetic of camp grotesque.

Waters came to give a “lecture” at my college in the mid-80s, and the charming, pleasantly slimy auteur, with his wiry mustache and pale and dark black tones, like a walking Charles Addams cartoon, delighted us with what was basically an hour of stand-up mixed with casual observations on cinema. I had heard a quote attributed to the director in which said he aspired to make a film that was composed entirely of artificial elements: sky, ground, sets, actors, everything - and it fascinated me. I asked him about it, and recall as he answered he flashed that signature smile that slowly creeps up his face, pulling his lips incrementally skyward with slyness and wicked mirth, like The Grinch in the animated Dr. Seuss. Waters films are about exposing life as hypocritical artifice, campy artifice as plucky weapon against the despair of trying to be normal, and the triumph of artifice over life.

Gone With The Wind had its mansions afire, and Citizen Kane had the mysterious one word cipher “Rosebud;” Waters had to come up with an ending for his stab at greatness: and inevitably it wound up being a scene of Divine picking up a piece of doggy-doo-doo and eating it, “live” and for real, on camera. A stunningly majestic act of performance art/double-dare to everything holy and right.

In today's American reality hell, most people would do anything for 15 minutes of fame - send their child skyward in a UFO balloon, have eight kids, have sixteen kids, be born as an heiress into a major hotel chain, eat leeches on a desert island, murder someone creatively...Almost forty years after Pink Flamingos, eating real dog shit kind of seems like a small price to pay for fame.

 


Continue on with #11 >>

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