Mar 24, 2009

Desperate Living

Although John Waters is now a friendly household name, he used to direct some of the most repulsive and disgusting films ever made. Mr. Waters has the flattering nicknames “Pope of Trash” and “Prince of Puke” for good reason. Out of all of John Waters early films, I believe the deranged masterpiece Desperate Living to be his greatest. I also believe the film to be John Water's greatest auteur piece as his late star drag queen Divine did not appear in this film. Although I enjoy Divine’s appearances in John Waters early films, it's interesting to see how a Waters film plays out without the infamous he/she taking up all the spotlight.

Out of all the film directors from Baltimore, John Waters best represents that dying gutter of a city. Sorry Barry Levinson, but Diner only portrays those suburban Yiddish turds that are afraid to even walk around the city. Baltimore City has some of the most uniquely ugly and scary yet sometimes friendly people in the country. Desperate Living features some of these Baltimore folk caricatures in a world similar to what one would expect if Italian maestro Federico Fellini was on crack while directing a film that was casted behind a shady Baltimore Wal-Mart. Desperate Living features highly aggressive redneck bull dykes, the most miserable looking homeless ever (played by real homeless people), unflatteringly sassy obese black women, and a suburban neurotic prude.

Desperate Living follows a virtually paranoid schizophrenic housewife named Peggy Gravel and her servant black maid Grizelda as they escape the suburb to hide in the awful dystopian nut town know as Mortville. Mortville is run by an evil and missing tooth dictator named Queen Carlotta. Queen Carlotta has a gay looking Gestapo that fulfills her desire for lust and killing. The queen also has a horribly painted painting of Adolf Hitler and Charles Manson on display in her cardboard like castle. When Peggy and Grizelda arrive in Mortville they regrettably have to submit to the irrational demands of tyrant Queen Carlotta. The Queen was played by the strangely charismatic Edith Massey who happened to own a thrift store in Baltimore City. In Desperate Living, she also happens to forget her lines which only add to the films already extremely unique character.

It is hard to decide what is the most disgusting scene featured in Desperate Living. Seeing an extremely obese black woman having cunnilingus performed on her by an ugly and skinny white woman is quite a hideous sight that will even stun the most desensitized of sinema fans. Seeing Queen Carlotta being penetrated by a lanky and obviously uncomfortable actor is also hard to watch. Surprisingly, I did not find myself disgusted by a scene involving a real dead dog being run over by Peggy and Grizelda. Although I am a huge dog lover, I found this scene to be completely hilarious. John Waters is no doubt brilliant in his ability to make the most horrible and tragic of scenarios funny.

For those that enjoy Desperate Living I also recommend watching the film again with John Waters audio commentary. Mr. Waters has great stories to tell about the production of Desperate Living and interesting details surrounding the film. For example, John Waters talks about how the actor that played Lesbian bull dyke wrestler Mole McHenry is in real-life, a beautiful woman and mother. I found these kind of details interesting especially after seeing Mole cut off her very own new penis she received during a sex change. I can only wonder if the actress allowed her children to see their mommy’s big acting performance. John Waters' genius is his ability to take the most seemingly normal people or places and turn them into his own unique trash invention. Desperate Living, a film with a wonderfully trashy and bizarre world, is one of John Waters best examples (if not his best) of his “trash genius.”

-Ty E


Phantom of Pulp said...

I agree that "Desperate Living" is Waters' finest hour -- although I really like "Female Trouble" a lot, too.

So true that Levinson's characters wouldn't have the balls to walk around parts of Baltimore where Waters shoots.

Mole McHenry is classic Americana.

I met Waters when he was promoting "Hairspray" in Australia. I took the opportunity to mention his earlier accomplishments and he suddenly got snottier than Peggy Gravel. I was a little taken aback.

He did this in front of his publicist, a very straight-laced type. He was embarrassed about his older films... in front of her at least.

I lost a lot of respect I had for him.

When Divine toured Australia on his "So You Think You're A Man" concert tour, I met up with him and we chatted in his dressing room for an hour. He was a superb human being.

If Waters was being deliberately bitchy, I would have given him his due, but he wasn't. He was kowtowing to the people he professes to despise.

Soiled Sinema said...

John Waters always seemed like a twat. I recall reading a "Top 10" list in which he championed Final Destination 3 as being one of the greatest recent horror films. I'll never look at him the same.


Anonymous said...

Yes, Desperate Living was the last of Waters true Dreamland films. Divine was supposed to play the part of Mole, but was doing a broadway show at the time. Also this was the first film he made that didnt star David Lochary as he had passed away, so Waters decided on an all female production with no male lead charecters. How different this would have been if Divine was in it as well as David Lochary can only be guessed if it would have been better or worse.

Soiled Sinema said...

Phantom of Pulp: I had a feeling that John Waters became a little arrogant when he "made a name for himself" so to speak...

Thanks for the info on your unpleasant meeting with John. It has confirmed my suspicions.

Dirty Shame felt like a bad parody of his earlier trash masterpieces.

-Ty E