Imagine you’re in high school watching a flat performance of The Wizard of Oz in the cafeteria. Not much fun, right? The line readings are flat, as though they memorized it without emotion or feeling and just blurt the lines out in sporadic bursts without energy or much inflection. The best kids just ham it up with manic facial contortions and elaborate gestures. It’s pretty lousy, the whole damned thing, but innocent and sweet, too. When you’re older, you’ll grow nostalgic for this sort of crap.
Now, imagine that same scenario with adults running around in a fantastic city called Mortville, a no man’s land inhabited with criminals on the run from the law. Imagine that the entire place is run by a gap toothed megalomaniacal lazybones named Queen Carlotta, whose voice sounds like whisky and cigarettes and kitsch.. The citizens of Mortville bow down to her and pander to her whims, such as making everyone walk backwards for a day.
It’s a world where babies somehow find their way into being stashed in the fridge, a cross-gendered male member is sliced off and thrown to the dogs and a highway patrolman forces his suspects to strip off their underwear and let him try them on – everybody needs a fetish. Welcome to the high school play made into a movie as envisioned by John Waters.
Playing Mon Nov 28 at 7:00 at reRun*Vintage VHS double-feature! [Program & Tix]
(Maniacs kicks off the evening, followed by Weirdo at 10:00. Full bar and snack counter in theater.)
Before Zach Clark became suburban D.C.’s premier Neo-No-Wave director (see Modern Love is Automatic and Vacation!), this Underground auteur had a real job clerking in an area video store. Clark brings his years of accumulated wisdom to “VHS Turkeys,” a week-long program of videocassette-only curios and cult items, hosted by DUMBO’s retrofitted-gastropub theater, reRun.
Clark will appear in person Friday November 25th and Saturday the 26th, but we couldn’t resist picking the youthful debut of fellow mid-Atlantic filmmaker and Trash connoisseur John Waters. Alt Screen will soon publish complete program notes on the series by Zach Clark himself (!!!), so we’ll let him tell you about Andy Milligan’s 1981 whatever-the-fuck-it-is, The Weirdo. (None of us has seen it.) For now, suffice it to say that Waters’ Multiple Maniacs lives up to its title.
A flimsy motion picture [made] from a flimsy stage play…
[Writer-director] Frank Tashlin has angled the whole thing to make sport of the advertising and television industries….He has spread an incredible story of coincidences and idiocies within an area of commercial endeavor that just can’t be so hopelessly insane; then he has spotted and smeared this story with a succession of reckless gags.
Miss [Jayne] Mansfield, with her frankly grotesque figure and her leadpipe travesty of Marilyn Monroe, is one of the lesser exaggerations. She is lurid but comparatively tame alongside the rubber-faced mugging of Tony Randall as the advertising man….
The jokes, we might add, are not always in the best of taste.
Incredible story!The jokes are [sometimes] in the best of taste!
“But wait,” you rudely interject. “Can’t I just Netflix the DVD and watch it at home?”
(Ha! ahem, cough.)
Well sure. You could. But what does Chris Wisniewski of Revere Shot have to say?
…miss the point entirely. His words not ours, folks.
“Alright,” you reluctantly concede, “It’s better on the big screen. But me, I’m an alcoholic. I can barely make it to closing time without sneaking a few nips, and this screening won’t get out until 9pm!”
Humain, trop humain. Not a problem, friend. The 92y Cafe serves beers from Brooklyn to Belgium.
“Still,” you stubbornly resist (why?). “I’m a cheap bastard. I aint convinced it’s worth the money.”
Well what if we were to sweeten the deal? With every ticket purchased you’ll be automatically entered in our pre-screening raffle! Just fill out the colorful little ticket (below-left) and you stand a very good chance of walking home with one of three fabulous prizes:
(1) a Jayne Mansfield DVD boxset that contains both of Mansfield and Tashlin’s seminal collaborations (nudge nudge) plus a film by Raoul Walsh!
(2) a classic Looney Tunes boxset featuring shorts directed by Tashlin and a supplemental documentary on his early career in animation!
(3) a $25 gift certificate to 92Y Tribeca! Bring a friend, or come alone and fill the emptiness inside with a king’s feast from the concession stand!
“Alright, alright,” you finally give in. “I’m definitely interested. Now pellet me with a rapid-fire onslaught of endorsements that will irreversibly seal the deal.”
I’ve seen it about 300 times, myself, and I always love it, and I always find something new to look at.
Here’s a video essay by Richard Brody, Film Editor of the New Yorker:
Jonathan Rosenbaum, Film Comment 1971:
In 1957, [Jean-Luc] Godard wrote a review praising [Jerry] Lewis’s mentor, Frank Tashlin, and optimistically predicted that “In fifteen years, people will realize that The Girl Can’t Help It served then- that is, today- as a fountain of youth from which the cinema now- that is, in the future- has drawn fresh inspiration.”
I don’t mean to suggest that Tashlin’s innovations in open form were superior to Godard’s, even if they came first. [Only that] the use of, say, color filters and advertising slogans in the cocktail-party sequence in Pierrot le Fou…derive from stylistic departures that are even wilder-and incidentally, more successful as satire-in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?
IThe cavalier attitude often conveyed in a Tashlin film was that the director might interject whatever he wanted, at any given moment, for whatever reason: a rock number, a fantasy interlude, an editorial aside, a change in the size of the screen, an abrupt shift in the soundtrack. Such a capacity to bounce about a narrative at will was undoubtedly the principal lesson that Godard learned from Tashlin.
Above: Pierrot Le Fou (Godard, 1965); Below: Will Success Spoil Rock Hudson?
It’s the film’s delirious sense of anxiety, born out of the confluence of faltering masculinity and powerful female sexuality, that propels its farce forward, and perhaps that’s why Rock Hunter is so interesting to watch today. While some of the satire feels dated (it’s too pointedly timely to be otherwise), there’s also a potent and prescient subtext about the futility of work and the elusiveness of happiness in a world of social prosperity, national wealth, and, yes, postindustrial capitalism. Fifty years after its release, Rock Hunter seems to anticipate a familiar angst, one that’s become increasingly familiar in millennial and postmillennial American pop culture. It’s as though Rock Hunter were the sophisticated, world-weary older cousin of Fight Club or American Beauty. Like those films, it’s ultimately concerned with nothing less than the specter of masculine impotence—the fear that the American male has succumbed to the overwhelming force of consumer culture—but while those more contemporary films respond to that threat with a shrill, adolescent howl, Tashlin’s nifty little farce, in all its grace and wisdom, just gives a wink and a shrug.
And here’s John Waters discussing his love for Tashlin and Mansfield via The Girl Can’t Help It:
“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!”
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.