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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Polyester (Blu-ray)
Polyester (Blu-ray)
The Criterion Collection // R // September 17, 2019 // Region A
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ian Jane | posted September 12, 2019 | E-mail the Author
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Highly Recommended
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The Movie:

1981's Polyester marked a change in direction for Waters in that everything just started to look better with this film. This may have had something to do with the fact that it was his first studio picture, but the fact remains. The early movies were almost like a perverted Basil Wolverton meets Robert Crumb comic book come to life, but from here on out, his movies were, well… prettier. Not glossed up like most Hollywood product is, his characters still had plenty of interesting flaws and they were hardly beauty queens, but things were a little more polished than they had been in the past even if Divine, formerly the 'filthiest person alive,' was back in the lead role.

Divine plays Francine Fishpaw, a bored suburban housewife living away her life in the lovely city of Baltimore, Maryland. She's an upstanding citizen and a good Christian woman who happens to be married to Elmer Fishpaw (David Samson), a porn theater owner with no regard for social mores who is having an affair with his secretary, Sandra (Mink Stole). To make matters worse, her son, Dexter Fishpaw (Ken King) is a pervert in his own right who has a serious foot fetish and a glue sniffing problem. That's not all poor Francine has to deal with though, her daughter, Lu-lu (Mary Garlington), gets pregnant when she has sex with a local criminal, Bobo (Stiv Bators of The Dead Boys).

Yes, despite Francine's best efforts, her life is Hell and society is talking. Beaten down by the world, Francine turns to the bottle and her temper becomes increasingly short with those around, even her best friends Cuddles (Edith Massey). Things are going very bad for her indeedr until one day she meets a handsome man named Todd Tomorrow (Tab Hunter), the owner of the local drive-in who changes her life for good once they begin a scorching affair.

Filmed in 'Odorama' (yes, the Blu-ray, like the DVD release before it, includes a scratch n sniff card so you can play along at home), Waters openly admits that this one was very much influenced by the films of Douglas Sirk, director of such fifties fare as There's Always Tomorrow and Magnificent Obsession. The humor became a little more cerebral and while there's still plenty of offensive content (and, dare I say it, brilliant humor) contained in its brisk eighty-six minutes, there's nothing on the level of the singing asshole in Pink Flamingos or the penis removal scene in Desperate Living.

Divine and Tab Hunter have such usual on-screen chemistry together that their performances are a lot of fun to watch and the assorted cast of supporting characters, as usual, lend a wonderful air of insanity to the proceedings. Waters is still dealing with the lower-class element of society and the unique problems, trials and tribulations that they deal with but some of the 'middle finger in the air' is gone, replaced more with a sense of sarcasm that suits the movie perfectly. There's also true sense of charm and warmth to the film that wasn't as prevalent in his earlier films that make things a little easier to digest within the context of the story.

It's still very much a Waters film, through and through. If it is a bit softer than the earlier productions that doesn't take anything away from the movie's effectiveness and neither do the improved production values. It's great to see Waters' cast of regular players here, Mink Stole and Edith Massey steal a few scenes even from the mighty Divine, and the theme song courtesy of Deborah Harry and Bill Murray adds the all of the inspired lunacy.

The Video:

The Criterion Collection brings Polyester to Blu-ray on a 50GB disc in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed in the film's original 1.85.1 widescreen aspect ratio taken from a new 4k restoration on the film's 35mm negative approved by the director. This transfer offers a marked improvement over the DVD release. Colors look much better here (the DVD looks too blueish by comparison), stronger and at the same time more natural, there's just a vibrancy here that the DVD lacked. Skin tones look perfect and black levels are spot on. Detail is vastly improved over the standard definition offering and there's a lot more depth and texture to the image that we've seen before. There are no noticeable issues with any compression artifacts nor is there any noticeable edge enhancement or noise reduction to discuss. Aside from a few small white specks now and again, the image is pretty much spotless, retaining the expected amount of natural film grain without showing much print damage at all.

The Audio:

The LPCM Mono track, in the film's native English, also sounds quite good. Optional subtitles are provided in English only. Dialogue is clean, clear and nicely balanced and the score sounds pretty solid, the different pieces of music used throughout the film sounding a bit livelier than they have in the past. No problems with any hiss or distortion, levels are good, no sibilance to complain about. This sounds very nice.

The Extras:

Carried over from the 1993 Laserdisc release and previous DVD release is an audio commentary track with John Waters himself. For those who haven't heard it, like all of Waters' tracks it makes for a very entertaining listen. Lots of talk here about bringing Tab Hunter onboard but also talk about how he and Divine got along, what it was like getting the gang back together for the film, working with a major studio for the film's release, the Odorama card used to market the film and lots more. As is the norm fr Waters' commentary tracks, it's often time as funny as it is interesting and informative.

From there, we are treated to a host of featurettes starting with the thirty-eight-minuteJohn Waters And Michael Musto segment which is an amazing discussion between Waters and the noted film critic. This was newly shot for the Blu-ray release and it's an excellent and often times frankly hilarious look back at the time Waters spent working with Divine and Hunter on the production. Sniffing Out "Polyester" is a fourteen-minute piece that is made up of outtakes from the documentary I Am Divine. Interviewed here are cast members Tab Hunter, Mink Stole and Mary Garlington alongside as film critic Dennis Dermody, casting director Pat Moran and her daughter Greer Yeaton and art director Vincent Peranio. They all share some amusing memories about the film. The twenty-three-minute Dreamland Memories is a fantastic collection of vintage footage of Waters and some of his cast members that serves as an amazing time capsule of the director's early days. Not all of the material is pristine, in fact some of it is a bit rough, but it's a fantastic addition to the disc.

The From the Archives section includes five short vintage featurettes: the four-minute People Are Talking (a 1981 piece from Baltimore television station WJZ-TV about the film), the seven-minute John Waters In Charm City (a great piece where Waters and Divine drive around the area used for the production), the six-minute Edith: Queen Of Fells Point (more WJZ-TV footage, this time from 1978 and focusing on Massey's life and career), a seven-minute clip of Waters' appearance on Tomorrow With Tom Snyder with Divine in tow and the four-minute Odorama With John piece wherein the director explains the point of the Odorama cards used to promote the picture.

The disc also includes just over twenty-minutes' worth of Deleted Scenes And Alternate Takes. Rounding out the extras on the disc is the one-minute No Smoking In This Theater bit with Waters, the film's original theatrical trailer, menus and chapter selection. Included inside the keepcase alongside the disc is an insert booklet containing credits for the feature, credits for the Blu-ray release, an interesting essay on the film from Elena Gorfinkel and a fold out version of the fantastic cover art created for this Blu-ray release as well as an Odorama card.


Polyester shows considerable growth from Waters as a filmmaker while still clearly paying tribute to his low budget roots. The film is wickedly funny but also very well made, featuring amazing performances from pretty much everyone who steps foot in front of the camera. The Blu-ray release from The Criterion Collection looks and sounds great and its stacked with an impressive selection of extra features that all prove to be both entertaining and very interesting. 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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