Review of John Water’s Iconic ‘Pink Flamingo’, The Citizen Kane of Trash Films


JOHN WATERS (Photo credit: EIFF)

Summary: John Waters’ unique, individualistic style can attach an adjective like ‘great’ to a noun like ‘trash’ to form ‘great trash’. Now that’s an achievement

Pink Flamingos – The Movie is a rare bird which not only makes trash enjoyable but also a good film. Just a single clip of trashy reality TV shows Jerry Springer or The Maury Show on YouTube and what we witness is nonstop display of vulgarity, sleaze and uncontrollable behavior. On the other hand, we have a plethora of terrible films like The Room, the entire Friday the Thirteenth series, Caligula etc that are unintentionally hilarious but all in all unwatchable. Pink Flamingos is a sure shot delight for the voyeurs of violence, sex, deviance, coarseness and trash, albeit one that is made with uncanny expertise. John Walters is the small-scale Quentin Tarantino who can conjure unique, quirky characters and make them cult figures; we are not perturbed by the characters’ wrongdoings and we usually end up rooting for them to commit another misdeed.

The story here is narrated in an androgynous manner, probably by a flaming gay man or a transsexual, who takes us into the pink, tawdry and shabby trailer of Divine (who is living as Babs Johnson to evade police attention) and her family- her pretty, lusty blonde traveling companion Cotton who possesses the looks of a yesteryear’s’ star, her bucktoothed, long-maned chicken loving son Crackers and her egg obsessed cutie-pie mother Edie. Divine has long remained the undisputed ‘filthiest person on the planet’, unbeaten, unchallenged by anyone and is a small-time cult figure who makes it into shoddy newspapers. She is settled now, and does no harm to others other that warming beef between her legs to save on money. Her son seems more wayward at first, but only in sex (chickens are his favorite partners, it seems). Cotton exhibits only voyeuristic tendencies and likes to hang posters of beefy men next to her bed – but that seems acceptable. And sweet Edie only thinks and talks about eggs, their shape, size and color, Humpty Dumpty nursery rhyme, what happens if all the chickens disappear?, when will the egg-man arrive etc. No one seems to transgress modesty to an unlawful extent except perhaps Crackers. But all this changes when the team is challenged by Raymond and Bonnie Marble, a husband-wife team who vie to steal Divine’s esteemed (at least according to them) title. Raymond exposes himself to unsuspecting souls but that is just the tip of the iceberg- the couple discreetly orders their homosexual manservant Channing to impregnate kidnapped women, so that the new-born can be sold to happy lesbian couples. The pitiful kidnapped woman in tattered clothes and straggly hair castigates Channing whenever he enters the basement; she hasn’t even seen the actual perpetrators of her misery. When this terrible couple takes on Divine and her flamingos, it is WAR!

Pink Flamingos

Pink Flamingos (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I believe that the degree of crime committed by Connie and Raymond automatically makes them antagonists; while most of Divine’s victims are simply killed without much introduction, we are constantly updated about Connie’s victims’ sufferings. Even the effect from the disturbing chicken scene with Crackers and the spy Cookie is palliated by the previous scene where we are told of Cookie’s deception. . Divine and her gang shoot, chop and eat their victims in one scene but it is too hilariously over-the-top to be offensive. The sexuality on the other hand is something that is bound to gross out or p-ss off certain audiences, with the idea of incest itself can be unnerving for many, but again who really finds Divine to be role model or even a woman, with her androgynous appearance and her ludicrous make up (actual name: Harris Glenn; yes, a man!).

The entire setup seems like shots from a sleazy reality show, the budget of the film being so tight the entire product was the master copy. We see choppy editing, shadows creeping up often in the background, cameras shaking furiously while closing in on a person and passersby gawking at Divine’s appearance as if completely unaware of the film. However, it is this low-quality which make the action look more authentic, as if Divine is an actual C-grade celeb who has made her name through malefaction. The songs, a mix of rock and roll and country make the scenes more lively and enjoyable, and also mitigate the actual violent acts that occur when the music is played.

Watch Pink Flamingos if you want to see a kick-ass trashy exploitation film. It is hilarious at moments (the ‘trial’ scene) and deliciously (in a slightly gross way), wickedly and divinely entertaining.


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