Sunday Editor’s Pick: “Pink Flamingos” (1972) and “Hold Me While I’m Naked” (1966)

by on June 5, 2011Posted in: Editor's Pick


Plays Sun June 5 at 5:00 at MoMA [Program & Tix].
 
MoMA offers a deliciously disreputable double-dip to end the weekend: John Waters’ scatological masterpiece Pink Flamingos and George Kuchar’s gleefully subversive Hold Me While I’m Naked.
 
First up, Pink Flamingos:
 
Rumsey Taylor for Not Coming to a Theater Near You:

Pink Flamingos is the cinematic equivalent of the entire alphabet in one, prolonged belch. Neither act is entirely admirable (both, however, contain an odd, inherent humor), yet the determination and sheer will apparent in the production of each may be respected. Pink Flamingos, however relevant in this analogy, is not confined to the practices of immaturity; it is timelessly repulsive.
 
His breakout, Pink Flamingos is John Waters’ seventh film, first in color, and looks to be the obvious product of some spoiled drug habit or underprivileged childhood — neither would entirely account for the film’s unrestrained, nihilistic regard. Waters gleefully claims that the film is the grossest in history. It is a goal he achieves with ease in the eyes of many, for the reason alone that he aims well below the presupposed target of narrative film.


 

 
Gary Morris at Bright Lights Film Journal:

The film abounds with such rude pleasures. One of Raymond’s quirks is exposing himself in public, which he makes even weirder by tying a long sausage to his dick and waving it at horrified citizens. He meets his match on a bridge, where a young woman laughingly raises her skirt at him to reveal she’s a transsexual with penisintact. Waters pulls out all the stops at Babs’s birthday party, which turns into an orgy of comical cannibalism when the Marbles tip off the police, who are attacked and eaten by what look like a mix of Waters’s seedy pals, various street people, and Baltimore hippies circa 1971.
 
Waters’s use of language is as always brilliantly vivid. When Babs and Crackers invade the Marble home, they examine what they revile as the Marbles’ “fuck chamber,” and Babs imagines Connie giving Raymond head with her “brittle chapped lips” and “scraping her ugly decayed teeth over his dick.” When Babs receives the Marbles’ evil birthday present, she screeches, “We must out-filth the asshole or assholes who sent this!”

 
Nick Schager at Lessons of Darkness:

Waters’ grainy hand-held cinematography and penchant for setting scenes entirely to musical montages of ‘50s and ‘60s standards recall the director’s seminal films Hag in a Black Leather Jacket and Eat Your Makeup. This rough-around-the-edges aesthetic suits Pink Flamingos just fine, since it accentuates the grime infesting every nook and cranny of Waters’ frame. A sex scene between a man, a woman, and a dying chicken; a shot of semen being inserted into a woman via a syringe; incestuous fellatio; a barbeque talent show featuring a very flexible naked man – Waters’ sordid set pieces reflect his infatuation with the nature of celebrity, sexual identity, pornography, violence, lower-class American life, and scandalous tabloid tackiness. At the heart of this depraved collage is trash diva Divine, who (love her or hate her) dwarfs everyone else in the film. In Pink Flamingos’ signature flourish, Waters stages a chance encounter on a Baltimore sidewalk between a hungry Divine and a defecating dog. The scene, like much of what’s preceded it, is both pointless and shocking, but it’s also an unparalleled gross-out achievement – the cinema’s only literal shit-eating grin.

 

 
Roger Ebert, still stunned 25 years after the fact:

How do you review a movie like this? I am reminded of an interview I once did with a man who ran a carnival sideshow. His star was a geek, who bit off the heads of live chickens and drank their blood.
 
He’s the best geek in the business,” this man assured me.
 
“What is the difference between a good geek and a bad geek?” I asked.
 
“You wanna examine the chickens?” “Pink Flamingos” was filmed with genuine geeks, and that is the appeal of the film, to those who find it appealing: What seems to happen in the movie really does happen. That is its redeeming quality, you might say. If the events in this film were only simulated, it would merely be depraved and disgusting.

 
An interview with Waters by Michael Ehrhardt in The Gay and Lesbian Review, which includes this choice comment:

ME: The only cultural venue you haven’t conquered yet is the opera house. Can you envision any of your films on that stage?
 
JW: I think Pink Flamingos would make a great opera because there are so many over-the-top opportunities to create arias.

 
And now, Hold Me While I’m Naked:
 
Deborah Allison at Senses of Cinema:

Replete with “bad acting”, glaring costumes, tacky décor and a soundtrack mixed from the cheesiest of flea-market vinyl, Hold Me While I’m Naked is a celebration of the intentionally and unintentionally camp. With even the women dressed in a drag-queen aesthetic and the props and music firmly placed in the so-bad-they’re-good genre, the film revels in everything that bourgeois taste despises. “Always mix styles in reckless abandon as this way your film will never become dated but will retain a sort of ambiguous freshness”, Kuchar has written. Without sacrificing its status as a document of its circumstances and era of production, Hold Me While I’m Naked, unhampered by the vagaries of fashionable “good taste”, does indeed seem as fresh today as it did in 1966.

 

 
Leah Churner on George and brother Michael’s low-fi aesthetic at Reverse Shot:

The camcorder became an appendage, an immediate extension of the self. Bizarrely, while the switch to video allowed each twin to fully actualize himself artistically, the abandonment of film form has made their work increasingly inaccessible to audiences. The difference between their film and video work is that their films make a mockery of aesthetics, while their videos abandon aesthetics altogether. No longer governed by the complexity and expense of film production, they have been steadily churning out inexplicable video diaries for twenty years. Image quality aside, the videos are militantly chintzy and amorphous. Mike’s are protracted streams of consciousness, and it’s hard for the viewer to make out heads or tails, while George’s are a bit more structured and audience-friendly. George’s first piece, Weather Diary 1 (1985), is a feature-length record of a one-month stint in a motel in Oklahoma’s Tornado Alley, which explores mysterious parallels between meteorological and gastrointestinal events. Several hilarious leitmotifs are present in all the tapes I’ve seen: a stress on the “special effects” potentialities of low-quality video (sluggishly spinning picture-in-picture boxes, tacky superimpositions); arbitrary close-ups (a tablecloth blowing in the wind) paired with blasts of maudlin strings; and disinterested interviews, in which George asks a question, then pans away to something in the middle distance as the subject voices a response. The look and feel of his analog and digital video work is the same, characterized by shabby mattes and noisy fades.

 
Jack Stevenson offers an overview of the brothers’ career in Bright Lights Film Journal:

Fresh from his performance in Sins and with Corruption behind him, George launched his first 16mm color production, Hold Me While I’m Naked (1966), a 10-minute piece that would become his signature film. An abstract meditation on the emotional and technical traumas of making a low-budget movie, Hold Me was a deft parody of Hollywood stylization. With its aura of personal frustration and loneliness it was also a direct read of George’s then-current mental state. In fact, while this and other of George’s mid-to-late-’60s films invariably provoke laughter from audiences, George never considered them comedies.
 
In 1988, he reflected on the paradox: “My movies were playing in New York City once, and this woman I know said ‘Let’s go to your show — they’re having a night of your movies at the Film Forum.’ And I said, ‘No, I don’t want to because I don’t want to relive all the pain.’ I realized my career has all been based on pain. Those movies, even the funniest ones, had this horrible pain behind them. And I know exactly why they were made. I didn’t want to go because I didn’t want to relive that — I didn’t want to relive the main motivations of those pictures. (But then I went and there were people laughing, and I was even laughing, having a good time. And I forgot about the pain.)”

 

 
Rick Trembles’ interview with Mike Kuchar includes Kuchar’s thoughts on how he and his brother’s work influenced Waters:

Rick: John Waters said that after seeing your films he went home and created Divine and started making movies.
 
Mike: You know the real story with that is he would go see our pictures but he was making movies too, but our pictures gave him that additional charge; or they were inspiring and when you see something that inspires you or gets you excited you just go at your own work with even more intensity. So that’s basically it, because you know, he was making his pictures; he’s a few years younger. It just revitalized him. I mean, he enjoyed the pictures and it gave him that little extra boost or fortitude to continue his intense enthusiasm for pictures. I remember he told me that, the first time I met him, we’d get together in California and he told me. So that’s basically the story of that. The similarity is that he’s interested in people and characters, and my brother and I, we’re interested in people and characters too. We went to the premiere of Divine Trash, the documentary about John Waters making pictures in Baltimore, and Divine’s mother was there, this is after Divine had passed away. She’s a very domestic kind of lady living in Florida and I always sensed an insecurity about her son, like she gave birth to a monster or something (laughs). But then there was this museum, The Museum of Visionary Art. The curator, she took all of us to the museum and in the lobby there was this huge statue of Divine in that red gown with the flaring bottom. It is a very nice museum and we were having dinner there and Divine’s mother was there, and when she saw her son like an idol, an icon accepted and appreciated by the public, she sort of accepted that, like no matter what, he’s something special. Tears came to her eyes. Here’s this son that she probably had great doubts about all her life (laughs) and then here he is, this big idol built up as a kind of icon for a whole new generation to emulate or appreciate for what he contributed, as an image or as an attitude. She saw it, and it was a very profound acceptance. I had a friend who used him in a picture. I never met the man, Divine, but he played a man, a detective in this film and it didn’t work. It was a picture about call girls, a serial killer picture. I always thought Divine should’ve played a call girl (laughs). He played a man and you know it wasn’t convincing.

 

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