Movie Review: Pink Flamingos ( 1972 )
Ipreface this with the warning that I'm struggling with the language to describe John Waters' 1972 film, Pink Flamingos. For instance, the leading role is played by the actor Harris Glen Milstead, a man who is more commonly known by the name Divine. In fact, he gets film credit as Divine, for his performance as the character Divine. Yes, they have the same name, but they are not the same person. One is the actor, one is the character. The character Divine is a woman and self-proclaimed "gangster," guilty of murder and theft, among other crimes, as well as the reigning holder of the title "filthiest person alive." But to further complicate things, Divine is in hiding and is living under the pseudonym of Babs Johnson! I think this confusion exemplifies the sort of bewilderment a person may meet watching the film. Here we have a man playing himself in a movie, although the person he's playing is a woman, who is using an alias. The line between the real and the composed has been erased and the expectations of the viewer already slapped in the face.
Yet despite this confusion, the movie never attempts at deceit. In fact, it bills itself as "An Exercise In Poor Taste," a claim it whole-heartedly follows through on. If you think of high taste in terms of poetic or aesthetic material, this would certainly fit outside that realm. It's a low budget endeavor in non-traditional material. But more straightforward, it's the celebration of filth. The central conflict is a rivalry between Babs Johnson and Raymond and Connie Marble over who is the filthiest person alive. So naturally, they do filthy things. Babs steals a steak by hiding it up her dress, Connie and Raymond are shown sucking each other's toes, Babs throws a drug-filled drag party, Connie and Raymond kidnap and impregnate women to sell their babies on the black market. And that's just what I feel comfortable mentioning in this esteemed paper.
So it can be fair to say that this film is hard to judge by conventional standards. Or rather, it's fairly easy to condemn according to those standards. But as an attack on those standards, it's a challenge to critique. Yeah, I'm copping out on the job, but to denounce this movie as a 'bad' movie is to neglect the spirit of rebellion that pushed these weirdos to make the film (as well as many of John Waters' other trashy flicks); as a mocking middle-finger in the face of Hollywood and normative pop-culture. As a challenge on what we can accept-stomach, even-this movie is incredibly successful. As a piece of art, I cannot say. I will celebrate the commitment the cast made at conveying the absurdities of the script and plot, even if it made me gag and reel, over and over again.
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