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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Female Trouble (Blu-ray)
Female Trouble (Blu-ray)
Criterion // NC-17 // June 26, 2018 // Region A
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ian Jane | posted June 15, 2018 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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P R I N T
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The Movie:

Made two years after Pink Flamingos, Waters once again cast transvestite superstar Divine in the lead role in his next film, 1974's Female Trouble, once again filmed on the mean streets of Waters' hometown, Baltimore, Maryland. This time around, Divine was cast in the role of teenaged girl Dawn Davenport. When we first meet Ms. Davenport she's a bratty schoolgirl who drops out of class after snapping when she finds out that her parents didn't buy her the cha-cha heels she wanted for Christmas. This leads to an amazing exchange with her mother resulting in a whole lot of quotable dialogue highlighted by:

Get off me... lay off me! I hate you, f*ck you! F*ck you both, you awful people! You're not my parents! I hate you, I hate this house, and I hate Christmas!

All this over shoes! At any rate, we know early one that Dawn is a little unstable. She leaves home and hits the road looking to do her own thing free of parental control. She ends up being sexually assaulted by an older man, and nine months later she gives birth to her daughter, Taffy (Mink Stole), who soon brings with her a whole new set of problems. Dawn winds up marrying a hairstylist whose mother, Ida (Edith Massey), thinks is gay. His name is Gator (Michael Potter) and he works at the Lipstick Salon. This exclusive beauty parlor is run by Donald (David Lochary who died of a drug overdose shortly after the film was completed) and Donna (Mary Vivian Pearce) Dasher, a couple that soon becomes enamored with Dawn's criminal lifestyle. In fact, they become even more excited by her when they witness the more 'white trash' and 'criminal' aspects of her life unfolding in front of their very eyes. They soon start taking pictures of her and convince her that they'll make her a star, encouraging her wild behavior to shine in front of their camera lens. Soon though, it all goes too far and the cops get wise to Dawn's antics. It's then that she descends further and further into insanity.

If only she'd gotten those cha-cha heels for Christmas.

Loaded with more Charles Manson references, an obvious anti-social slant, and another fantastic performance from Divine, Female Trouble works exceptionally well in the context of Waters' filthy world. While Pink Flamingos was pretty hard to top for shock value (though Female Trouble has its moments and comes pretty damn close…Divine and the fish…ewwwww), this later film has a better vibe in that it's paced better, the humor is funnier and much sharper, and the movie just flows better. Waters' natural and gleefully offensive wit is fully developed and the satire is poignant, timely, and just cruel enough to work. His cinematography has improved in the two years since the earlier film and the editing is better as well. This is still a little rough around the edges to be sure, but a picture like Female Trouble doesn't need the gloss or the sheen of a Hollywood production to work, rather it succeeds on its own ballsy creativity and penchant for outrageousness.

Performances are just as good if not slightly more polished than they were in Pink Flamingos. Divine is absolutely perfect here, she's a serious powerhouse in the last half of the film, strutting her stuff for the camera and the crowd gathered to see her night club act before it all hits the fan for her. She's eminently watchable and really throws herself in to the role with everything that she's got. Amazingly enough, Mink Stole is every bit as good as her daughter. Lochary and Pearce are perfectly devious in their roles, complementing Divine's lead perfectly and Edith Massey is…. well… Edith Massey is Edith Massey and that's all you can really expect from her.

Waters would soften his touch and refine his filmmaking skills in the years to come, but early pictures like this one, Pink Flamingos, Multiple Maniacs haven't lost any of their edge or their freakshow appeal. Crime is beauty!

The DVD

Video:

Pink Flamingos makes its Blu-ray debut from The Criterion Collection on a 50GB disc in a 1.67.1 widescreen transfer that's taken from a new restored 4k scan of the original 16mm negative supervised by the director. This is a substantial improvement over the previous DVD release not just in terms of detail and clarity but also in terms of color reproduction and black levels. The 16mm photography retains its gritty, grainy look but in terms of print damage there's very little here, just occasional small, white specks. Skin tones look fine and the image is impressively film-like throughout. There are no noticeable issues with compression artifacts nor are there any signs of digital manipulation like noise reduction or edge enhancement. Again, this looks like the low budget, pseudo-underground movie that it is, but Criterion has done an excellent job bringing it to Blu-ray ever so faithfully.

Sound:

The LPCM Mono track on the disc is also of very good quality while staying true to the movie's modest origins. Presented with optional subtitles in English only, the levels are properly balanced and all of the acerbic dialogue is easily understood. There aren't any problems here with any hiss or distortion, but some flatness inherent in the original recording is noticeable. Regardless of that, again, we get a nice upgrade over the previous DVD release. The mix is a bit erratic, all over the place at times, but that's part of the film's charm.

Extras:

Carried over from the past DVD release is yet another excellent commentary from John Waters, and it's absolutely worth listening to if you haven't heard it before (and worth revisiting even if you have). He packs the talk with plenty of anecdotes about the cast and crew, and he's got no shortage of things to say about Divine or about their working relationship and how she became his muse in a sense. He loads the track with humor but never goes so far into joke territory as to lose focus. There's a lot of information here, and it's all quite interesting.

From there, dive into a treasure trove of interviews and archival material starting with a twenty-three-minute piece called John Waters And Dennis Lim wherein Lim talks to Waters primarily about the making of and reception to Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble. There are a lot of great stories here, with Waters talking about working with Divine and the other cast members, the humor in the films and how it contrasts with the more over-the-top melodrama, and plenty more. This is quite well done and genuinely interesting. After that, check out the Dreamlanders section for three different mini-featurettes. The first of these is Little Taffy, an eighteen-minute piece where Waters reconnects with and interviews actress Hilary Taylor (who played Taffy as a kid in the movie). She talks about her experiences on set at a young age and her thoughts on the picture. The second is the nine-minute Moran, Pierce And Smith, which is a collection of vintage interviews shot in 1974 with production manager Pat Moran, actor Mary Vivian Pearce and costume designer/makeup artist Van Smith who talk to the interviewer about what it's like working with waters and how his movies connect with a specific type of audience. The third segment is Van Smith where he gets five minutes in the spotlight for a vintage audio interview from 1974 discussing his collaborations with Waters and, yes, Divine. Criterion additionally includes twelve-minutes of On-Set Footage that shows Waters and his team at work on the picture as it was being made, presented with commentary by Waters himself. The eighteen-minute Crime And Beauty piece is and eighteen-minute collection of clips and outtakes from the I Am Divine documentary that came out a few years ago. Most, though not all, of the footage here is centered around Divine and Waters' work on Female Trouble but we get insight from others, including Mink Stole, Mary Vivian Pierce and a few others. The thirty-three-minute Lady Divine is an archival interview featuring John Waters, Divine, Mink Stole and David Lochary shot for Manhattan Public Access in 1975 at Andy Warhol's Factory. They talk quite a bit about the success of the feature attraction and the earlier Pink Flamingos as well as Divine's image, their take on what makes for entertaining moviemaking and plenty more.

Also included on the disc is roughly fifteen-minutes of trims and outtakes from the film, none of which was included on the past DVD release. None of it is particularly mind blowing but it's great to see it included on the disc. Menus and chapter stops round things out, but inside the keepcase is an insert booklet containing credits for the feature and for the Blu-ray release alongside some technical notes on the presentation and an essay written by Ed Halter.

Final Thoughts:

Female Trouble as gleefully offensive now as it must have been back when it first hit screens, a genuine trash classic performed with an insane amount of enthusiasm and made by a director with no cares whatsoever for the preservation of societal norms. The Criterion Collection has really and truly rolled out the red carpet for this one, presenting the film beautifully (but not too beautifully) remastered and with a host of extras old and new to document the film's history and the rambunctious personalities of those who made it happen. Highly recommended.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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