John Waters's second movie not only set the low bar for just how gross a midnight movie could be in 1972, “Pink Flamingos” remains to this day the most cogently transgressive and anarchic film ever made. Nowhere else in cinema will you find a singing-asshole performer — with an extended close-up on his anus’s “performance” — sex between two people with a live chicken in the middle, indecent transsexual exposure, a flasher with a salami tied to his penis, a mock-incest blow job between a “son” and his transvestite “mother,” actual eating of dog feces, and an enigmatic terrorist drag queen played by the incomparable Divine.
Posters for the movie ran with the tagline, “An Exercise In Poor Taste” for good reason. “Pink Flamingos” foreshadowed Punk Rock’s fiery attitude of bitter irony, articulate viciousness, and acted-out aggression. When reporters interview Divine during the story about whether or not blood turns her on, she replies, “It does more than turn me on; it makes me cum!” Divine (Glen Milstead) remained a muse to John Waters right up until the actor’s death in 1988.
Every co-conspirator member of John Waters’s milieu of Baltimore’s underground cast and crew is a legitimate rebel with their freak-flag waving high. The film’s loose narrative involves a competition between rival outlaw groups for the title of the filthiest person alive. What could be more challenging to the status quo, and more liberating for its participants and audience, than to elevate poverty, filth, and rebellion to its highest possible rank of ultimate authority over society at large?
Divine (a.k.a. Babs Johnson) lives in a disused trailer home hidden on the outskirts of town with her egg-obsessed mother Edie “the egg lady,” her juvenile delinquent son Crackers, and his fetish-driven girlfriend Cotton (Mary Vivian Pearce). Cotton likes to masturbate while watching Crackers engaged in blood-smeared sex with random partners.
After a local rag decrees Divine as the “filthiest person alive,” Connie and Raymond Marble, a jealous couple of black-market-baby pimps, set out to dethrone Divine. The foot-fetishist duo kidnaps young women and imprisons them in their basement where their asexual butler Channing impregnates them against his will. The Marbels sell the babies to lesbian couples for $5000 per infant. Waters’s non-stop stream of sarcastic social commentary runs thick, wide, and deep. There is nowhere for an audience to hide. Every anti-establishment theme is pushed right up in your face and hung there for you to ponder.
“Pink Flamingos” is a genuine article of underground cinema (it was made on a $10,000 budget). Waters’s brilliant use of rock ‘n’ roll music — the sphincter performance occurs over The Trashmen’s “Surfin’ Bird” — sets the film’s goofy psychobilly tempo and tone. Aside from being a mainstay of the Midnight Movie repertoire, “Pink Flamingos” is a daring black comedy made enticingly entertaining by the outrageous character of Divine that Glen Milstead made all his own with the help of make-up artist Van Smith.
Rated NC-17. 93 mins.
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