Dir: John Waters, 1981


Finally hitting the mainstream, John Waters’ Polyester is far removed from his earlier “trash” flicks, like Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble.

The Waters touch is still very much evident, with its off colour humour and “alternative” story, but the extreme offense of his prior output is nonexistent.

Francine Fishpaw (Divine) is a frustrated housewife and put upon mother to a glue sniffing foot fetishist, and a slut daughter. Her husband is a lazy slob, who owns a porno cinema and is having an affair with his secretary.

Try as he might, Waters is unable to revile the way he once did. The pencil-thin moustached director, is still adept at courting infamy and upsetting conservative America but nothing seems shocking anymore.

Polyester has the vulgarity of, say Desperate Living, but the severity of the crudeness is scaled back considerably

The man from Baltimore, attempts to shock with the dialogue, but isn’t quite able to pull it off. A comment by Francine’s pregnant teenage daughter about looking forward to her abortion, shows his desire to make Polyester in the same vein as Pink Flamingos.

It’s the juxtaposition of trash cinema and mainstream cinema, that causes an uneasy alliance. Trash isn’t mainstream, and Waters becomes unsure of whether he wants to honour his filmmaking roots or become part of the system.

Yet the Waters charm is still there, and Polyester has a definite likeable tone that won’t earn any new converts, but may win you over with its ridiculous style.

Should you have been lucky enough to see this on its first run, you would have been fortunate to experience the film in “Odorama”. Throughout the film, a number appears at the corner of the screen whenever a character is smelling a strong scent. The aroma varies from flowers to excrement. These numbers correspond to a card that patrons were given on entering the cinema. By scratching and sniffing the relevant number, viewers could smell what the character was smelling at the time. A sort of, 3D for your nose.

Of course, that was a gimmick that worked primarily in a theatre. For the home video release, the frames that showed the numbers was removed, eliminating any instances of the nasal phenomena. The US DVD, has all the footage restored and comes with its own replica of the “Odorama” card.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with Polyester, it just doesn’t have that appeal or laugh out loud moments, that you could find so easily in his underground movies.

A worthy effort, hampered only by Waters’ indecision as to which route he wants to go down.


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