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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Celluloid Atrocity Night at Film Society of Lincoln Center

Photo by Joshua Handler
By Joshua Handler

John Waters is an auteur in the purest sense of the word.  He has his own style and his own sense of humor - no one else makes movies like him.  He created what can be called, "trash cinema".  Waters came to prominence with his 1972 cult classic Pink Flamingos, a film that is as shocking today as it was 42 years ago.  He followed that film with a series of Baltimore-set camp films starring Divine and his other Dreamlanders (Mink Stole, David Lochary, Edith Massey, and others).  In 1988, he made Hairspray, his most accessible film and his only family-friendly one.  Hairspray was later turned into a Tony award-winning smash hit musical and a 2007 film based on the musical.  Through and through, Waters has kept to his trashy, campy roots and is now the subject of a full retrospective ending tonight at the Film Society of Lincoln Center.

This past Thursday, FSLC held "Celluloid Atrocity Night" where two of Waters' early films, Multiple Maniacs and Mondo Trasho were shown along with his short film, "The Diane Linkletter Story".  These films were shown on Waters' own 16mm prints (Mondo Trasho one was so damaged though that 30 seconds in, the reel was taken out and a DVD was used in its place).  Waters was also in for an extended Q&A.

John Waters at Celluloid Atrocity Night
Photo by Joshua Handler
There's truly not much to say about Mondo Trasho (and "Linkletter" as well - it isn't bad, just unmemorable) other than it's not Waters' best (to put it very kindly), but it's interesting to view it to see how much Waters has evolved since then.  (It made the night even more special to learn that this may be the first time that Mondo Trasho has been exhibited in New York City.)  Multiple Maniacs is another story.  While it was obviously shot on an extremely low budget, it's still very funny, raunchy, and a true Waters film.

Multiple Maniacs tells the story of a group of performers who use their show, Lady Divine's Cavalcade of Perversions (the tents were set up on Waters' parents' house), as a front for their real "profession", kidnapping.  It features all of the gleefully dirty sequences and characters that Waters is known for and has a finale that you'll never forget.  It comes out of left field and had the entire audience dying of laughter.

While Maniacs isn't as memorable as Waters' other more famous work, it's a delight.  Multiple Maniacs is like Waters' calling card.  He made Pink Flamingos immediately after, and it's almost as if this was a warning for the glory that was to come.

Viewing the film on a 16mm print added to the grunge of this film.  The print was in surprisingly good shape, and watching a low-budget film on 16mm, grain, scratches, dirt and all is an unmatched experience.  It was as if I was transported back to the grindhouses of the 1970s.

Waters was around for a Q&A after Maniacs.  Dennis Demody of Paper Magazine moderated.  In one scene of Maniacs, Divine and a woman are in a church and Divine is given a "rosary job".  To actually shoot inside of the church, Waters had his team distract the priest while they shot the scene.  The priest ended up coming to the premiere of the film.

Waters said that there was a place that they shot the film that was even too nasty for Divine, Pete's, the place in which actress Edith Massey worked.  "I'm not going into that wino pit," said Divine.

And, on a final note that will please Pink Flamingos fans, the "singing asshole" from Pink Flamingos is alive and well and shows up to Waters' Christmas party every year, according to Waters.  According to the director, the "asshole" said about the body part he's most famous for, "The muscles ain't what they used to be."  As you might've been able to figure out, this was a fun night.

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