“Filth is my politics! Filth is my life!”
There are a handful of movies on my list that I really don’t want to see. Had I known what Pink Flamingos would be like before I watched it, then it would have been lumped right into that category as well. There were times I wanted to give up on Pink Flamingos, even right towards the end when I was nearly free. Thankfully, something always keeps me going in these situations; I can’t allow myself to stop a movie that I’ve already started, and if I’m really serious about completing this list, I wouldn’t want to put myself through retreading half of this movie again sometime in the future. I’m all about what I think this movie represents, but no, I did not enjoy Pink Flamingos.
Subtitled “An Exercise In Poor Taste,” the film follows the antics of Divine, an underground criminal living in a trailer with her eccentric family. When a couple known as the Marbles become envious of Divine’s reputation as “the filthiest person alive,” they attempt to sabotage her life and reclaim the title for themselves through a number of despicable acts. The film is low budget, disgusting, and narrated unapologetically by the film’s director, counterculture icon John Waters.
I think it’s tempting to write this movie off as important but horrible as Roger Ebert and many film buffs have done. You can’t discount the following this thing has generated, however, finding cult success in midnight theaters across the country. As an unflinching stab at transgressive filmmaking, Waters builds the greatest film of its kind. It’s also an admirable landmark in the low budget DIY sector, and I’d wager that Pink Flamingos’ production style has influenced movies and inspired filmmakers that I enjoy very much. But on a moment-to-moment basis, Pink Flamingos offered nothing I wanted to see. I’m not sure that you’re supposed to try and invest in these characters, and I don’t know that John Waters would even disagree to say that the plot serves first and foremost as a framework for the filth at the center of the film, but it’s almost impossible to really get into this movie.
There are some really troubling images from the film that have lingered in my mind in the last week or so since I watched it. (I really needed some time to process this one.) Maybe Pink Flamingos is the carnival show that Roger Ebert makes it out to be, a sort of “can you stomach this” cinematic dare. I think Waters might also be questioning our sense of normality, pushing the envelope until it bursts and then pushing it some more to make us question our rigidness. But I think he, too, would call it a disgusting movie, so maybe I just don’t know how to pin down the goal of this thing. I’d say in situations like this that I’ll have to revisit the film later, but I don’t know that it would help me understand anything more, and it’s also just something I’ll never do.
I do appreciate, though, how Pink Flamingos complicates how we think about film criticism. How do you slap a number onto this movie? There are great movies that unsettled and discomforted me as a viewing experience, but this movie “goes there” like no other film has “gone there” before. While I know that filthier films exist (and are probably somewhere down the road on my watch list), as of right now, this is the grossest movie I’ve ever seen without question. It makes no apologizes, and it marks a high (low?) point of the counterculture movement that cemented its legacy, but I would never say that I like Pink Flamingos. It impacted me, but I would never want it on my Blu-Ray shelf.
Unless you, too, are trying to give yourself a complete film education through a list of 1001 movies, I would pass on seeing Pink Flamingos. It will test both your patience and your stomach, and I would gladly avoid it for the rest of my life, because I’m not sure that I could ever learn its lessons if I haven’t already.
Films Left to Watch: 883