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Pink Flamingos (The Criterion Collection)
Probably John Waters' most notorious film, 1972's Pink Flamingos stars Divine as herself, hiding out under the pseudonym of Babs Johnson with her egg obsessed mother Edie (Edith Massey), her son Crackers (Danny Mills), and her friend Cotton (Mary Vivian Pearce). Divine has been dubbed the filthiest person alive, and it is a title she wears with pride as she and her 'family' live their life in a trailer in a remote part of Maryland.
When Connie (Mink Stole) and Raymond (David Lochary) Marble hear of Divine's title they set out to prove that they are, in fact, far filthier than she could ever hope to be. They send a woman named Cookie (Cookie Mueller) to infiltrate the Divine camp by sleeping with Crackers (and his chicken in a scene that has to be seen to be believed… unless you're a member of PETA) who returns to them with information on where Divine is hiding out. They send her a boxed turd for her birthday, and the war is on.
When Divine holds a birthday bash with her filthy friends, the Marbles call in the cops who disrupt a man singing ‘Surfing Bird' with his sphincter and end up a cannibal dinner. Divine decides to get revenge on the Marbles and she and Crackers not only lick everything in the Marbles' house but Divine gives her son some oral loving on their couch (in a scene that leaves absolutely nothing to the imagination). Will the Marbles top Divine in the dirtiest people alive department with their baby ring and their masturbatory man servant, or will Divine keep her crown with the help of her screwball family of filth mongers?
The harshest of Waters' work for New Line, Pink Flamingos doesn't so much push the envelope as it does shred the damn thing. Waters' camera captures everything his characters do and just when you expect it to cut, it lingers and lingers and lingers. While the film is at least partially an exercise in 'gross for the sake of gross' there's also a wicked sense of humor behind it all and even, in an extremely twisted sense, some sort of odd family dynamic.
Shot on weekends for next to nothing, Waters' film is a little rough on a technical level. There are a few bad cuts and edits and some of the props and costumes were obviously made on the cheap. However, that doesn't hurt the film in the least. More a psychotic character study than anything else, the film lets Divine strut her stuff and she does so with such bravado and unabashed enthusiasm, particularly during the last scene in the film (quite possibly the most notorious moment of Waters' notorious career), that you can't help but want her to come out on top of it all.
Those familiar with Waters' work will notice not only the cast of regulars he used throughout his early days but also an obligatory Manson reference or two thrown in as well. Waters also handled the narrative duties on the film. Pink Flamingos is a self-proclaimed 'exercise in bad taste' but what an exercise it is, and it still holds the power to shock and amuse a half century after it was made.
Pink Flamingoscomes to Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition 1.66.1 widescreen transfer taken from a new 4K digital restoration, supervised and approved by director John Waters. Using up 28GBs of space on the 50GB disc, the ninety-four minute feature, which was originally shot on 16mm film stock, looks beautifully grainy and has excellent color reproduction. Detail advances in every way that you'd want it to over the previous DVD release, there's considerably more depth and noticeable texture in the image as well. There are no problems with any visible noise reduction or edge enhancement problems, nor are there any visible compression artifacts. There isn't much visible print damage here, just a few white specks now and again, but the image retains its properly film-like appearance throughout, never looking artificially scrubbed of grub, grime or detail. No complaints here, the film's aesthetic is retained and at the same time, the new transfer takes full advantage of the 1080p presentation offering big improvements where you'd want it to. Criterion has done an excellent job here.
Pink Flamingos is presented in its original sound mix, which is a 24-bit LPCM English 1.0 mono track with removable English subtitles. As far as mono tracks go, this one is fine. The movie's low budget, low-fi roots are evident throughout and range is understandably limited. This sounds very ‘true to source' and it isn't a fancy mix at all but it does provide better depth and clarity than the DVD was able to provide. Some minor hiss can be heard in a few spots but other than that, this is pretty clean overall.
Criterion supplies two audio commentary tracks with Waters on this disc, carried over from their original Laserdisc release and the 2001 DVD release respectively. There are both fantastic, and allow Waters to go on at length about his early days in cinema, working with the cast and crew he'd assembled for the film, some of the movie's more notorious scenes and why they're there in the first place as well as how some of the pranks were pulled off. Waters has so much enthusiasm for his work and has so much to say about the film that it's hard not to get pulled into the track and even those who are not normally into commentaries should give this one a spin as it's quite interesting and full of his trademark wit (it's also quite interesting to hear him explain his Manson obsession).
Also included on the disc is Divine Trash, a feature-length ninety-seven minute documentary from 1998 directed by Steve Yeager that covers Waters and the making of Pink Flamingos.This starts off with some on set footage, then segues into some interesting interviews with Waters, Divine, Waters' parents and brother, Steve Buscemi, Mink Stole, Herschell Gordon Lewis, Mike and George Kuchar, Pat Moran, Bill Landis, George Figgs, Ken Jacobs, Mary Avara, Lou Cedrone Jr., Paul Morrissey, Jonas Mekas, The Reverend Fred Hanna, Don Walls, Jim Jarmusch and plenty more of Waters cohorts, contemporaries and people he knew from various parts of his life. This feature contains lots of great archival clips and images here, behind the scenes footage, clips from various Waters projects and films that influenced him, discussion of underground cinema and his place in it, talk about what makes his films unique and culturally important, the Baltimore film scene of the time, what it's like working on a Waters film, Divine's role in all of this and lots more.
Criterion also includes a New Conversation Between Waters And Filmmaker Jim Jarmusch that runs for half an hour. The discussion is fairly Pink Flamingos-centric, as they discuss the film's fifty year legacy, reactions to the film's first screening and the furor that arose around it, some of the social themes that the film addresses, critical response to the movie, the different people that Waters collaborated with on the production, Andy Warhol's support, the use of voiceover in the film, the use of color in the movie and the Kodak film stock that helped get the film its distinct look, parental support and more. It's a good interview, quite candid and interesting.
After that, check out the twenty-two minute Tour Of The Film's Baltimore Locations, which is led by Waters himself. Waters shows off the 16mm camera he used to shoot much of the film, and then we get to see how the modern day locations compare to how they appeared in the film. While we get this tour, Waters talks about how they've changed and shares memories of various challenges that arose, such as dealing with muddy roads, local farmers and more. At one point Waters meets the people who own the property where most of the movie was made, and they're quite pleased with the history of the place and its cultural importance.
The disc also includes just under fourteen minutes of deleted and extended scenes with insight from Waters into why the material went unused, and twenty-six minutes of outtakes from the picture. Finishing up the extras on the disc are a trailer for the feature, menus and chapter selection options.
The disc is accompanied by an insert booklet containing an essay by critic Howard Hampton and a piece by actor and author Cookie Mueller about the making of the feature excised from her 1990 book Walking Through Clear Water In A Pool Painted Black as well as credits for the film and for the Blu-ray release itself alongside some technical information about the presentation. There's also a really fun replica barf bag included inside the case alongside the booklet. A slipcase made to look like a plain brown wrapper is also provided.
Pink Flamingos still holds up, it's as unique and crass and hysterical and ground breaking as anything you'd care to name, and a legitimate masterpiece in bad taste. Criterion has done an excellent job bringing the film to Blu-ray for the first time with a great presentation and a host of extras old and new. 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.