Dir: John Waters, 1972
Note: This review is of the uncut version
John Waters’ most outrageous film and definitely his best.
An absolute blast is to be had seeing this. Repulsive. Stomach churning. Odious. Nauseating. Objectionable. Wonderful. Spectacular.
Waters is a master of creating fun out of something so wrong. The more extreme, the more fun he has.
Pink Flamingos centres on Divine (the obese transvestite alter ego of John Waters’ longtime friend, Glenn Harris Milstead), using the alias Babs Johnson. Divine lives in a trailer with her egg obsessed, mentally challenged mum, Edie (Edith Massey). Kept in a big crib, Edie has the mind of a child and lives for the egg man, a regular visitor selling eggs to Edie all int Waters’ beloved hometown of Maryland, Baltimore.
Along with Babs and Edie is Bab’s son, Crackers and his girlfriend Cotton.
On the opposite side of town is The Marbles, husband and wife Connie and Raymond. They make a living by kidnapping girls, getting them impregnated by their cross dressing butler and, then, selling the babies to lesbian couples. Raymond further secures a source of income by tying huge sausages to his penis and exposing himself to women. On fleeing, Raymond, then, grabs their handbags and scarpers. This doesn’t always go to plan, though, as his surprise encounter with a pre op transsexual, proves.
The Marbles are incredibly jealous of Babs and her family being declared “The Most Filthiest People Alive”, a title they covet for themselves.
The Marbles destroy Babs’ trailer and are ‘arrested’ by Babs and her ‘family’. They are put on ‘trial’ with the media as witnesses and subjected to a kangaroo court. Babs, as the judge, finds them guilty of “assholiness” and sentenced to death. A bullet to the head provides the punishment.
The blurb on the poster reads “an exercise in poor taste” and it ain’t lying! Read it as a warning.
After receiving a certain level of success (notoriety?) with his earlier outputs such as Mondo Trasho, The Diane Linkletter Story and Multiple Maniacs, Waters knew that he had to up the game.
All of his previous movies were filmed VERY cheaply with an 8mm camera, later, a 16mm. With the infamy he was gaining, the budget for Pink Flamingos was a modest $10,000; double that of Multiple Maniacs.
A bigger budget allowed him to film in colour for the first time. As per usual, he enlisted his friends to act, collectively known as “The Dreamlanders”.
Mink Stole and David Lochary were Connie and Raymond Marble, respectively. Edith Massey was Edie and Mary Vivian Pearce was Cotton. He was also able to round up several new “stars”, notably Danny Mills as Cracker.
Exploiting his infamy, the director was able to gather a congregation of freaks for Bab’s birthday party. Whether you could use the word highlight is open to debate but the pinnacle of the bash is a man with a singing anus. Yep! A SINGING anus.
There is only one reason for this to have been made and that is to shock. John Waters succeeds enormously. The script has Divine proudly declaring that she was responsible for the horrific Tate/ LaBianca murders. In reality it was Charles Manson ordering his ‘family’ to carry out the tragic carnage.
If it’s not the butler masturbating into his hand, extracting the semen into a syringe and inserting it into an unconscious victims vagina, then it’s another victim puking. No? Still not shocked? Okay, how about the scene where Cracker and a girl have sex and bring a live chicken in, which they end up crushing to death while Cotton looks on and masturbates?
Or, the piece de resistance, Divine eating (yes, eating!) a freshly laid steaming dog turd. And, again, it’s all in detail. There is nothing faked.
As is to be expected, the acting is atrocious but, this adds so much flavour to the film. Being so low budget there is plenty of dirt and scratches on the film but, again, it’s part of its charm.
The guerilla way of filmmaking gives it a special warmness as none of the crew EVER asked for permission and nearly got arrested once or twice. Divine stealing a slab of meat by hiding it between his legs was genuine. It was stolen and they did film it.
You have to admire their boldness.
The garish costumes are all part of it’s appeal. The Marbles have their pubic hair dyed blue and orange. This is shown while the couple are “shrimping”. For those not in the know, “shrimping” is a sexual term for toe sucking.
Divine is, well…simply put, Divine. An enormous entertainer in more ways than one. He relishes the part and avidly jumps into the role with gusto.
It was inevitable that the film was going to run into censorship problems around the world. Banned in Australia, cut in parts of America.
Initially, Palace Pictures issued an uncut VHS in the UK, before the days of BBFC requirements.
Eventually submitted to the board by Castle Communications in December 1989, the video was awarded an ’18’ certificate after 3 mins and 4 secs had been cut.
Alas, most of the classic scenes had been omitted. The singing anus was taken out completely, the blow job scene, the chicken sex, Channing masturbating and his ejaculate being drawn up into the syringe and injected into a vagina and, most criminally of all, Divine eating dog shit was made into a slideshow of still images.
But this wasn’t the end of Pink Flamingos. In 1997, a 25th anniversary cinema showing was sent to the board courtesy of Entertainment Film Disributors. They agreed to waive the singing anus but all other cuts must stay. It was passed ’18’. The cuts now stood at 2 mins and 48 secs.
A further two years had passed and, once again, the filthy flamingos peered through the doors at the BBFC’s offices in Soho Square by the same distributor.
A new director had been appointed by this time, Andreas Whittam-Smith, and was a little more laid back than his predecessor. It was agreed that, again, the singing anus could allowed and now, also, Divine eating the dog faeces. The cuts now amounted to 2 mins 8 secs. Unsurprisingly, another ’18’ certificate was approved.
However, all is not lost. In 2008 the board was presented with another uncut print of the film in anticipation of a DVD release. The regulations had been significantly loosened as to allow censors to issue an uncut ’18’ certificate. For reasons unknown, the submission was withdrawn by the distributor and was never given it’s approval.
As of 2016, a DVD or Blu Ray release has yet to materialise in Britain. An excellent US DVD was released by New Line Cinema many years ago which feature deleted scenes and an ever welcome commentary by Waters himself.
If your stomach can handle it, bathe in the luxuriousness of filth, bad taste and perversion.
Pink Flamingos is John Waters at his absolute best. The pinnacle of his underground films. The zenith of his career. He tried to repeat the outrageousness but couldn’t quite nail it. Of course, now he’s become mainstream, the chances of seeing this type of work once more is non existent.
With the sad passing of Divine and the death of Lochary, bundled with the less than pefect health of a few of The Dreamlanders an hope of a resurgence is now long gone.
Waters did intend to make a sequel. A script was written with the working title Flamingos Forever. By this point Divine had made it big with hit singles on both sides of the atlantic and packed out stage shows. A starring role in Paul Bartel’s Lust In The Dust further solidified his status as a legitimate performer. He could no longer be seen doing the vulgar stuff that Waters wanted. Ultimately, the film was shelved. Flamingos Forever is available in Waters’ book of film scripts called Trash Trio.
John Waters is a natural showman and orater. An undiluted talent with an even more unfiltered sense of good taste.
Read his books, watch his films and be entertained the Pope of Poop/King of Trash (delete as appropriate).