Thursday Editor’s Pick: “Female Trouble” (1974)

by on June 9, 2011Posted in: Editor's Pick

Thurs June  9 at 7:00, 9:30 at Chelsea Clearview [Program & Tix]


“Where do these people come from?” Rex Reed wailed upon the original release of Female Trouble. “Where do they go when the sun goes down? Isn’t there a law or something? This compost heap is even dedicated to a member of the Charles Manson gang!”
A few choice lines of dialogue to get us in the mood…


“I wouldn’t suck your lousy dick if I was suffocating and there was oxygen in your balls!”


“If you get tired of being a Hare Krishna, you come live with me and be a lesbian!”


“I’ve done everything a mother can do: I’ve locked her in her room, I’ve beat her with the car aerial. Nothing changes her. It’s hard being a loving mother!”



Daniel Mudie Cunningham introduces his fantastic overview of Waters for Senses of Cinema:

If asked, most people would probably be able to identify a moment in their own personal history when a film has changed their lives….The film that did this for me was John Waters’ Female Trouble (1974). Made a year before I was born, I didn’t actually see Female Trouble until 1988. I was 13-years-old. Browsing the shelves of the local video store, I was drawn to the video because its cover art announced “Warning: this movie is gross”. Accompanying this “warning” on the video box was a caricatured drawing of Female Trouble‘s two stars, Divine and Edith Massey. While watching the film later that day, I discovered that both Divine and Edith Massey were every bit the grotesque caricature suggested by the video’s cover design.


How I managed to sneak the R-rated film out of the video store, I’ll never comprehend….I remember watching the film with a mixture of horror and morbid fascination: never before had I encountered such a freakishly queer ensemble of characters and situations on screen. Upon viewing Female Trouble at such a young age, I could sense some weird awakening where all of a sudden it felt as if someone had flicked the queer switch in my head. Thus began my life-long journey of hunting out films that warned of potential grossness.


Jonathan Rosenbaum for the Chicago Reader:

This 1975 feature is the best of John Waters’s movies prior to Hairspray and his ultimate concerto for the 300-pound transvestite Divine, whose character will do literally anything–including commit mass murder–to become famous. As in all of Waters’s early outrages, the technique is cheerfully ramshackle, but Divine’s rage and energy make it vibrate like a sustained aria, with a few metaphors about the beauty of crime borrowed from Jean Genet. With Edith Massey and Mink Stole, as well as some doubling on the part of Divine that allows the star to have sexual congress with himself, giving birth to . . . guess who?



Fernando F. Croce for Cinepassion:

Topping Pink Flamingos is a tall order, but puke poet laureate John Waters and scarlet diva Divine are more than game for the challenge in their riotous follow-up…Though the perversions are more seamlessly integrated into the narrative than in the earlier movies, Waters still grubbily zooms in on a particularly screechy line (”I wouldn’t suck your lousy dick if I was suffocating and there was oxygen in your balls!”) or someone’s skid mark-happy underwear, not to mention the money shots — acid-corroded Divine feverishly modeling while bleeding from a “liquid eyeliner” shot, Bad Seed brat Mink Stole gorily reenacting car accidents in the living room, Edith Massey’s indescribably lumpy figure squeezed into a vinyl dominatrix getup. Yet Waters’ subversion runs deeper, with his fame-obsessed heroine’s transgression mirroring Warhol’s credo about celebrity and, in the end, melting into ecstasy — unlike the perfidious Dashers, whose dedication to filth is desexualized, antiseptic and ultimately false, Dawn dives into it face first, pushes it to its extremes and emerges exalted, a sort of perv Joan of Arc.


And Mike Pinksy makes an unexpected comparison over at DVD Verdict:

Both Female Trouble and Citizen Kane chronicle the rise and fall of a quintessentially American figure. Dawn Davenport is a typical lower middle-class Baltimore kid, frustrated by school, misunderstood by her parents, but with the desire to becomes something greater. Granted, her only outlet for greatness is through crime and exhibitionism, [and] she spends the 1960s stripping, hooking, and rolling drunks.
Both Waters’ film and Kane are joyously experimental, created by artists who seem complete unaware of what they cannot do on film, and so they try everything. For Orson Welles, this means appropriating all the tools of stagecraft and European film technique and challenging the rules of traditional filmmaking. Of course, Kane is such an over-the-top display of technique that is smacks of an artistic immaturity Welles would later overcome. Waters comes to Female Trouble already having pushed the limits of his trademark style at the expense of storytelling. Female Trouble then becomes his first completely successful film: it constantly surprises with lurid invention while actually having a story that comments on American society itself.
But Orson Welles never would have had the balls to put Divine in a see-through wedding dress with fake female genitalia. Or a corpulent Edith Massey in a leather S&M outfit, pleading with her hairdresser nephew to turn gay. Or Divine molesting fish.



A poignant love story from Larry Charles, director of Borat, for the NYT Op-Ed:

I met a girl. Let’s call her Stacey, because, after all, that was her name. She was sweet and beautiful. I immediately had a mad crush. In an unusual burst of ambition, I invited her to a movie. The movie I chose would change my life in many ways. It was Female Trouble by John Waters, starring Divine as Dawn Davenport.”

Needless to say, Stacey never spoke to me again, starting immediately from the moment the lights went up. We staggered out into the lobby, the harsh aroma of rancid popcorn burning my nostrils, but the movie fortunately burning a permanent hole in my brain.
Yes, it’s no surprise: I lost the girl, but I gained something far more important that fetid, oppressive summer day. I gained myself. Yes, I now knew what I had to do, although admittedly I didn’t have a clue how to do it. I hope someday I’ll figure that part out. Don’t get the wrong impression. I remained woefully lonely that summer. But thanks to John Waters, I knew I wasn’t alone.



7:00, 9:30 at Chelsea Clearview [Program & Tix]

Recent Features

Gene Kelly retro at Film Society (thru Jul 26)

July 13, 2012

I'm happy again and like myself: 100 years of Gene.


Erich Von Stroheim retro at Film Forum (thru Jul 30)

May 28, 2012

The decadent realism of Hollywood's favorite sadist.


Migrating Forms Fest at Anthology (thru May 20)

May 11, 2012

Traveling through time and space at NYC's upstart experimental film fest.

View All →