Cecil B. Demented

Dir: John Waters, 2000. Starring: Melanie Griffith, Stephen Dorff, Alicia Witt, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon. Cult.

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...

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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Jan 12, 2011 6:06pm

Cry-Baby

Dir: John Waters, 1990. Starring: Johnny Depp, Amy Locane, Susan Tyrrell, Ricki Lake, Traci Lords, Iggy Pop. Cult.

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.

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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Apr 3, 2011 5:12pm

Female Trouble

Dir: John Waters, 1974. Starring: Divine, David Lochary, Mary Vivian Pearce, Mink Stole, Edith Massey. Cult.

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.

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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
May 5, 2011 12:48pm

Heaven Tonight

Dir: Pino Amenta, 1990. Starring John Waters, Rebecca Gilling, Kim Gyngell, Guy Pearce. Drama.

No one has heard of Director Pino Amenta. The name John Waters has always brought to mind the Baltimore cult director instead of the English actor. Almost everyone has heard of Guy Pearce, who was introduced in Heaven Tonight—a dated melodrama circulating a strained relationship between a father and his son. The weight of their troubles doesn't have anything to do with your standard fare of family drama, like one of the members abusing substances to the point of domestic strife. The issues that Johnny Dysart (John Waters) and his teenage son, Paul (Guy Pearce), are having are based on talent. Johnny is a failing musician and a has-been after a short-lived but illustrious career 20 years prior. Like many bands from the '60s, his was one that was going to become the next Beach Boys or Beatles—hitting the top of the charts and soon to tour the world. All it took was for his best friend and bandmate to become a junkie and the band collapsed. Now young Paul is climbing to the top with his electro group and doing so without the help of his father. His determination and position as the leader of other young men who are keen on success is not only impressive, but the target of envy and resentment from his displaced father.

Still, things in the Dysart household have stayed relatively steady over the years. Everyone gets along for the most part and Johnny's wife, Annie (Rebecca Gilling), is waiting patiently, and with great understanding, for her husband to put away his guitar and settle down into middle age. Johnny, oblivious to the strain his nonexistent career is putting on his family, is waiting for his last chance to come through. He's finished another album and chases after an old colleague in the business to give him an answer in terms of releasing it. Annie has been the major breadwinner of the family, and with a new business opportunity on her hands she's ready to take a risk and wants her husband to be included. Meanwhile young Paul and his group starts to really become popular and he desperately wants his father's approval and attention. All of this is put to the side when Johnny's troubled old friend and former bandmate, Baz (Kim Gyngell), comes crawling back into their lives and leaves an impact that has the potential to destroy their progress as a family unit.

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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
May 19, 2014 2:54pm

Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Dir: James Cameron Mitchell. 2001. Starring: James Cameron Mitchell, Michael Pitt, Miriam Shor, Andrea Martin. English. Musicals.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a darkly comical rock musical about the trials and tribulations of an East German transsexual songwriter. Growing up behind the Iron Curtain, young Hansel was raised by a cowering G.I. father and a cold-hearted German mother. Once grown, he falls in love with an American soldier, who promises to marry him and take him to the states. The one catch is he has to be a woman to flee the country.

Hansel’s sex change operation is blotched and he becomes “Hedwig,” left with only “an angry inch.” Once free of communism, her husband leaves her and she scrapes by babysitting for a military family. The teenage son, Tommy (Michael Pitt), is enchanted with her and they fall in love. That is until he steals her songs and becomes a superstar known as “Tommy Gnosis.”

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Posted by:
Seamus Smith
Jul 30, 2008 7:11pm

It Came From Kuchar

Dir: Jennifer M. Kroot, 2009. Documentary.

I'm not sure how to begin this, so I'll try to make it linear, though the documentary is nothing but. George and Mike Kuchar are two twin brothers, born in Manhattan and raised in the Bronx. I can imagine their birth to be extraordinary; a lighting bolt striking their mother and producing these two electrifying individuals. That didn't really happen, but that's how it plays out in my imagination. At the age of eleven, the two were given consumer-grade 8mm cameras as gifts, but what would later become of those tools is nothing short of spectacular.

This documentary spans across generations of filmmakers and artists, mainly in the New York and San Francisco underground scenes. The interviews consist of those from the two brothers and the various "stars" of their B-movie delights, as well as people like John Waters and Christopher Coppola (brother of Nick Cage), who claim that the Kuchar brothers and their films were their first sources of inspiration. Other clips include archive footage of New York and San Francisco from the '50s to present day, as well as photos and/or interviews of various influential artists, such as Andy Warhol, Guy Maddin, and cartoonists Bill Griffith and Robert Crumb.

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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Jul 27, 2010 2:17pm

Sins of the Fleshapoids

Dir: Mike Kuchar, 1965. Starring: Bob Cowan, George Kuchar, Donna Kerness. Cult.

For those of you who do not know of Mike and George Kuchar, I highly recommend the documentary It Came From Kuchar which gives a thrilling account of their lives as underground filmmakers and artists. For those of you who know about them and are unable to find their work, I suggest looking at the releasing company Other Cinema, and the DVD compilations, Experiments in Terror. The documentary highlights their works, but three films stand out: The Devil's Cleavage, Born of the Wind, and Sins of the Fleshapoids. I was beyond thrilled to discover that some of their films were available for purchase, even if it's a just a few. The Other Cinema release of Fleshapoids also includes The Craven Sluck, and The Secret of Wendel Samson. Shot with consumer grade film with a cast of the director's friends, Fleshapoids is an experience in underground cinema that is not to be missed.

The Kuchars were at the tender age of 23 when they made this film, with Mike behind the camera and George in a starring role. The music assemblage and narration is done by Bob Cowan, and George Kuchar co-wrote the script. It takes place a million years in the future, where humans have enslaved androids with shells of human flesh, using them to do menial tasks and obey their every command. The earth suffered a nuclear war, turning rivers to poison and causing the near-death of all living things. The quest for scientific and mechanical knowledge brought about great turmoil, and now humans only indulge in the fulfillment of the senses. Picture hippies who wear mardi gras beads and fake furs. Their lairs are filled with leopard print, jewels, and bountiful displays of food. They call on the fleshapoids for massages and the ability to have everything done for them.

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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
May 12, 2011 12:21pm
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