Everyone told me that by the time I got into the early works of John Waters, I'd be blown away. Starting late in his career held its charm, especially with Cry-Baby and Serial Mom, but knowing that he was heavily inspired by the Kuchar brothers and cast eccentrics as wonderful as Divine did give their argument some weight. Female Trouble has not only become one of my favorite cult classics, but one that has helped me put the glorification of its many themes into perspective. On that level, the movie is way ahead of its time by approaching child abuse, violence, and habitual self-destruction as something inevitable and relevant to movie-goers. When you think about it, those issues are touched upon in the majority of American films, though, in retrospect, filmmakers don't often twist these observations into dark comedy.
Like all of his films, it's set in Baltimore, but stars his cream of the crop, Divine, and the wonderful Edith Massey. It's split into several chapters, the first being an introduction to Dawn Davenport's (Divine) youth in 1960. She and her best friends Chicklette and Concetta rant about how much their high school and parents suck and what they hope to get for Christmas. Dawn is expecting black cha-cha heels and vows to raise hell if her parents don't comply with her wishes. Christmas Day comes and she gets a pair of standard black shoes, causing her to throw her mother into the tree and disown her parents. She runs away and gets knocked up by a guy who picks her up hitchhiking (also played by Divine). With a new baby on her hands and him M.I.A., she begins her career as a stripper, prostitute, and petty thief.Continue Reading
If I had to sum up Cry-Baby in a sentence for someone, I would say that it is the wet dream of John Waters. Not since Kenneth Anger has there ever been someone who plays on the homoeroticism of hairless leather-daddies and rockabilly culture with such style. The movie also has what I would consider to be a dream cast for Waters, with Johnny Depp leading the pack. There's also his late muse, Ricki Lake, and small performances by Iggy Pop, Mink Stole, Joe Dallesandro, and a cameo by Willem Dafoe. To boot, the soundtrack is also outrageously good, featuring some of my favorite doo-wop, rockabilly, and psychobilly songs.
To compare this gem with other greaser vs. socs movies would be placing an emphasis on the more typical parts of the story; a nice town in 1950s suburbia is split in two, with its elite on one side and the trailer-trash on the other. But you have to remember that this is not The Outsiders or Grease, nor a jailhouse/Elvis flick. In fact, it's a parody of such movies. Waters takes the road-rebel genre and turns it into an opportunity to direct an over-the-top musical about teenagers and star-crossed love. The result is a story about a young man named Wade “Cry-Baby” Walker (Johnny Depp), a juvenile delinquent who prides himself on the ability to shed a single tear when confronted by his emotions. Behind him, sporting leather jackets with his name on the back, is his gang, referred to by the town as “drapes.” Perhaps the name comes from the emotional curtain of hair that keeps half of their faces in shadow. There's his plump and pregnant sister, Pepper (Ricki Lake); the fiery Wanda (Traci Lords); and the oddest couple to ever hit the screen, Milton (Darren E. Burrows) and his gal, Hatchet-Face (Kim McGuire). Their rivals on the playground are the suburban “squares,” and like other movies with the same theme, these characters are given little screen time and are presented as the enemy. The starlet among them is Allison (Amy Locane), a blonde who's seen as the most talented and beautiful among the rich. Allison and Cry-Baby lock eyes while getting a polio shot in the gymnasium. The sight of her makes him shed a tear, and the rest is history.Continue Reading
Alejandro Jodorowsky. The name is familiar among cult fanatics, and to some, is one that requires forgiving. Film critics over the years have regarded him as a has-been for the most part, looking only to his most popular works, El Topo and The Holy Mountain, as his redeeming accomplishments. His filmography, while considerably short, is oddly consistent in a strange way. Fando and Lis is fairly well liked, and for a surrealist working very little well-past middle age, having at least a few adored films is something to be proud of. Besides Tusk and Rainbow Thief (both regarded as disasters), Santa Sangre remained his most inaccessible film; I'm sure diehard fans remember their efforts to hunt down bootlegs and imports of these works. For the first time in a very long time, Santa Sangre has been given a formal U.S. release on DVD and Blu-ray, though it was a bit of a letdown to hear that the rumor of a Criterion release was untrue.
The movie has an enthralling background and was made almost two decades after Holy Mountain. It is thought to be his one and only horror film and was produced by Claudio Argento, the brother of Dario Argento. I should add, with no disrespect to Argento fans, that the imagery and use of color in this film far surpasses any Italian horror film to date. The going rumor is that Jodorowsky was inspired to direct the film after meeting a serial killer in real life. So, mixing that with the lack of limitations from an uptight producer, Jodorowsky created a movie that was truly more unique than his others, which also stars his sons and shares similarities with what are thought to be his best works.Continue Reading
Zack Carlson, co-author of the new book Destroy All Movies, opened a screening of this movie the other night with a little note on what the film meant to punk exposure in cinema. He made a good point when talking about the fact that "punks" were often presented in films only as a cue to something negative, or were placed in an environment in order to tell the audience that the story was now unfolding in a bad part of town. American movies before, and during, the '80s have always done this sort of thing, be it with bikers, blacks, or just about any group most audiences were unfamiliar with. Eventually, these groups were shown respect and understanding in cinema, and Suburbia marks a big part of that transformation for those in the punk scene, and really, for homeless teenagers and runaways.
Shortly after Spheeris directed Decline of Western Civilization, she decided to make this movie, which follows the everyday happenings of a group of punk runaways. Perhaps the most impressive part about the movie is the tension built between the kids and the people who live in the suburbs; there is something tasteful about presenting a presumed safe place, like a suburb, as a rotting warzone. Aside from its bittersweet and often hilarious story, Suburbia also has performances placed into the plot from The Vandals, D.I., and T.S.O.L.Continue Reading
Cecil B. Demented
There was an attractiveness to having this be my first John Waters movie. As a growing cult fanatic, I found it odd that I'd never seen any of Waters' films, and, I'll admit, I assumed that he was too much of a staple in the cult-world; his fans seemed to be fond of him more than the movies. Moviegoers and Waters fans, from many different tastes, claimed that this was his worst movie. The steadfast remarks intrigued me, so I went and saw it at a revival theater thinking, "…well, it can only get better, apparently." The struggle to not judge the film too harshly was diminished as soon as the introduction credits came on. Mismatched red and black marquee letters (common for revival theaters) poked fun at mainstream cinema by having fake titles like Forest Gump 2 appear on the lineup and dissolve into a cast or crew members' name. From the beginning it was clear that Waters was a man who liked details, and I was allowed to then be rid of doubt. The movie opens with a buzz over actress Honey Whitlock's (Melanie Griffith) premiere of her latest mainstream flop. The premiere is in Baltimore, and she turns just about every silent moment to herself into an occasion of bantering and disrespect of the town and its civilians. Meanwhile, a young group of misfits has infiltrated the theater's staff at the venue which is to house the event. Whispering mini-manifestos into walki-talkies for encouragement and prepping their alarming amount of explosives and ammunition, they eagerly await Honey's arrival. Their mission, headed by Cecil B. Demented (Stephen Dorff), is to kidnap the star and force her to act in their one and only underground film. Their message: take back the cinema, or more appropriately, death to bad cinema (as in blockbusters). The kidnapping is completed, but there is a casualty, so soon the group is wanted for murder. Still, they a...Continue Reading
The Stunt Man
Not to be confused with the awful swell of stunt man flicks that arose in the late '70s and early '80s (Hooper, Stunts, Stunt Rock, etc), nope, Richard Rush's The Stunt Man is a genre all itself. It's a playful film about the magic of movie making, but its depiction of a film set is closer to the episode of The Flintstones when Fred becomes Stony Curtis's stand-in, then, say, Francois Truffaut's on-set Day For Night. Like a Christopher Nolan film, it's a puzzle in a box, but unlike Inception the characters never stop to explain it to you. What's real and what's make believe is up to the viewer's imagination, like film itself.
Vietnam vet Cameron (Steve Railsback) is on the run from the cops, stumbles onto a film set, and may or may not be responsible for the death of the movie's top stunt man. The film's egomaniacal director, Eli Cross (Peter O'Toole), takes the fugitive under his wing, agreeing to hide him out but Cross will have to replace him as the film's stunt man. While shooting a ridiculous looking WWI flick at San Diego’s Hotel del Coronado (the location of Some Like It Hot as well) Cameron's view of reality becomes more blurred (as does the audience's). Cross puts him in more and more dangerous situations (just like that Flintstones episode). Is Cross trying to kill him? Did Cross have Burt, the former stunt man, killed? Besides stepping into Burt's stunt shoes, Cameron also takes up with his girlfriend, Nina (Barbara Hershey), the film's leading lady. And again, a sexual relationship with a self-centered actress can also blur the lines of reality, maybe even more powerfully.Continue Reading
Flesh for Frankenstein
If ever trash could have class, this movie would meet the criteria for it. While it boasts a ridiculous concept, even for horror, it plays with aesthetics and story in a truly merited way. This may come as a shock to most, but this is my first "Frankenstein" movie, and I am certainly glad that it is. Somehow the desire to see Frankenstein movies has not yet exceeded curiosity, and that may be due to the similarities between them all. From the first few scenes, it's clear that this movie is unique among the batch, and was therefore a special treat.
The Baron Frankenstein (Udo Kier) and his wife/sister (Monique van Vooren) live in Serbia with their two creepy children. The movie starts off quite slow and shows the two children's obsession with their father's medical tools and laboratory as they perform mock operations in secrecy. From there, we see the Baron and his assistant, Otto (Arno Juerging), in the lab among several incomplete corpses. It just so happens that the Baron is a perfectionist who's gone off the deep end and wants to create a super-race that will be under his command. His wife knows nothing about his medical experiments, but is frustrated about the excessive amount of time he spends in the lab. Finding a man and a woman to breed the new race was impossible, so the Baron decided to piece together the best parts of several human beings. The zombie female was easy enough to find, as was the body of the male one. Once those two transformations were complete, the maniacal team begins the search for a man's head—equipped with a one-track mind that could turn no woman down.Continue Reading
Blood for Dracula
When I caught wind that Andy Warhol produced trashy cult films in the '70s, I rushed to find everything available. Trash, Heat, and Flesh were introduced to me first, and all of these are directed by Paul Morrissey. What's also funny about this movie and all of the Morrissey/Warhol collaborations is that they star one of Warhol's troubled muses from his photography career, Joe Dallesandro. There is also a rumored cameo from Roman Polanski, but I've been too in awe of the cheesy story to keep an eye out for him. Blood for Dracula is perhaps one of the cooler variations of Bram Stoker's Dracula tale. This is due, in part, to Udo Kier's sickly performance as the famed blood-sucker. In short, it is a version that presents the villain in a pathetic light, which ultimately turns the entire move into a satirical mess. Count Dracula and his dying sister are in a bit of a bind. Both are extremely ill and fear that the next slumber they have in their tombs will be their last. Unlike most other Dracula tales, these two require a special kind of blood to feast on: the blood of a virgin. Just when their future looks bleak due to all the promiscuous girls in town, the Count's servant convinces him to have a vacation in a city with more religious convictions. They decide on Italy, and upon arrival, hear of a family with four marriageable daughters who are interested in suitors.
Before they arrive, the parents (Vittorio De Sica, Maxime McKendry) of the four girls decide to coach their daughters and emphasize the importance of the Count's inquiry and his request for a virgin bride. Little do they know that two of their daughters have frequent rendezvous with their manservant, Mario (Joe Dallesandro). Once the Count arrives, he goes through some trouble explaining the coffin he has brought with him and is escorted around the grounds in a wheelchair because he's so weak. He also goes through many comical efforts to remind his hosts that he has a special diet. One of the funniest and most pitiful scenes is when he is desperately in need of nourishment and his servant returns with bread soaked in a girl's blood. It has this odd and somewhat intentional resemblance to a drug addict blissfully indulging in his latest "hit." When the need for blood becomes unbearable, he moves in for the kill and begins visiting the two daughters who are the most attractive. It just so happens that these two are the ones who are involved with Mario and their blood makes him sicker than he was before. Everything boils down to the other two daughters. He creates a bond with the eldest, and she is the one who is honest about her past suitors, thus ultimately of no use to him. The only one left is the youngest, who the parents claim is too young to marry, and is also a prude. But before he can get to her, Mario beings to snoop around and notices that his two lovers' behavior has grown more than mysterious since Dracula's arrival.Continue Reading
"It's kind of like an ode to vandalism. There can be a creative beauty in their mayhem and destruction. You could say these characters are poets or mystics of mayhem and murder, bubbling up to the surface."
--Harmony Korine, on Trash HumpersContinue Reading
Not to downplay this movie, because it’s wonderful, but the prime reason to see it is Werner Herzog, who, if you didn’t already know, is absolutely hilarious. Reason number two is that this is the only American film that is classified as a Dogma film under the Dogme 95 criteria. Whether you think the movement is a pretentious load of bull or not is irrelevant. The requirements, while altered I’m sure, are a welcome change in terms of the crystal-clear hoopla thrills that we’re used to. This film employs an array of interesting techniques and improvisational performances that should not be missed.
The story follows a schizophrenic young-adult named Julien (Ewen Bremner), and his dysfunctional family. His brother Chris (Evan Neumann) is a high-school wrestler who aims to please their domineering father; his sister Pearl (ChloÃ« Sevigny) is mousy individual who is pregnant with Julien’s child; and their father is an impatient bully who you find yourself siding with anyways. Oh, and there’s grandma (Joyce Korine), but she’s kind of like a prop. The entire movie is shot with grainy film stock (possibly 16mm), and is presented in a way that resembles a crazy reality TV show. Julien can be seen hanging out with his handicapped friends, mumbling to himself or others on the street, cross-dressing around the house, etc. The most memorable and heart-breaking of his activities are his phone calls to his deceased mother. He sits in one room, while his sister is in another, and they have conversations over the telephone where she pretends to be their mother. Obviously this is not good for his condition, but it also is one of the few moments that allows you to understand that he has good intentions and is simply lonely.Continue Reading