May 18, 2013


As far as a healthy medium from his absurdly amateurish assembled arthouse trash flicks like Pink Flamingos (1972) and Desperate Living (1977) that originally made him infamous as Maryland’s “greatest” filmmaker and his later more mainstream and socially 'conservative' and strikingly less scatological like Hairspray (1988) and Cry-Baby (1990), bawdy Balti-moron auteur John Waters’ work Polyester (1981)—a campy satire of subversive Hollywood melodramas by Danish-German auteur Douglas Sirk as fetishistically filtered through exploitation cinema conventions and themes from the 1950s and 1960s—is certainly the filmmaker’s first serious attempt at going mainstream without being too flaccid and, indeed, ostensibly respectable critics like Janet Maslin, as well as the middle-class people the film ceaselessly lampoons, found the somewhat less scat-driven work to their liking. Waters’ first flick to receive an R-rating, as well as a work featuring a “big star,” Tab Hunter—the popular teenage twink icon turned B-movie star—Polyester also proved that the filmmaker finally learned some basic directing and editing techniques of the rather conventionally campy sort in the spirit of Russ Meyer meets Douglas Sirk. Using the almost worthless gimmick of “Odorama”—a scratch-and-sniff card where one smells certain things on screen that was popularized by the director's major influence and personal hero William Castle (although his version was called “Smell-O-Vision”)—Waters also proved his inner ‘artiste’ was a carny huckster of the nauseatingly nostalgic persuasion with his lifelong irrevocable influence from exploitation schlockmeisters like Meyer and Castle, but also more respected auteur filmmakers like Sirk. In fact, Polyester was so influenced by the keenly kaleidoscopic melodramas of Sirk that Mr. Toilet Waters made a noble effort to utilize the same filmmaking equipment, lighting, and conventions the master auteur of melodrama used for his romantically nihilistic Holllywood works, except utilizing homo blond beast Tab Hunter as opposed to closet queen and AIDS victim Rock ‘I love cock’ Hudson. Unfortunately, John Waters’ “Dreamlanders” Superstars only have minor roles in Polyester and the filmmaker's subsequent works would feature even less of the actors as they began to drop like flies from old age, drug overdoses, and heart attacks. A salacious and semi-surreal spoof of Sirkian morals in the particularly pompous and superlatively soulless American middle-class suburbia where men are fiendishly philandering half-men and their wives stay at home and try to ignore  the fact that their children are sexually degenerate criminals who absolutely loathe their parents, Polyester comically chronicles the degeneration of bourgeois white America via liberalism, feminism, and obsession with everything sexually insane. With its sadistically satirical scenes of Orthodox Jews being hit via ‘drive-by brooming’ and an obese Negress popping a car tire with her mere King Kong-esque teeth, Polyester is low-camp done right and raunchy—totally politically incorrect and unwaveringly so. 

 Large-and-not-so-in-charge middle-aged housewife Francine Fishpaw (Divine) has a rather pathetic life as a morbidly obese whale of a woman whose husband and two sexually perverted children hate her with a pathological passion. Francine’s husband Elmer (David Samson) is an oafish and odious man who wears cheap polyester suits, bangs proto-wigger sluts of the seemingly physically disfigured sort, and owns a pornographic X-rated theater, thus putting much unwanted attention on the more than little lady of the house by both the media and fierce feminist protestors, who protest at the front of their humble suburban abode. Francine’s cruddy children include the lecherous Lu-Lu (Mary Garlington) a dumb and bitchy slut who breaks out in sexually suggestive dances whenever she hears music—and deranged Dexter (Ken King), a drug-addicted dildo who gets high on poppers and stomps on random women’s feet to derive maximum sexual gratification, thus earning him the infamous title “Baltimore foot stomper.” With a seemingly anorexic, cocaine-addicted would-be-aristocrat named La Rue (Joni Ruth White) for a mother, Francine does not have a single blood relative who shows her love nor respect and thus receives all her emotional support from her special lady friend Cuddles Kovinsky (Edith Massey), a wonder woman who happens to be the ‘world’s oldest debutante’ and not exactly a particularly intelligent nor beauteous one at that, but she has a ‘great love’ in the form of her Teutonic chauffeur Heintz (Hans Kramm), who is an Erich von Stroheim type character with aristocratic airs that sports a marvelous monocle. When Francine catches her husband having an affair with his absolutely repulsive secretary Sandra Sullivan (Mink Stole)—a white whore who wishes she was a big black bitch—she demands a divorce, begins to binge drink, and futilely attempts suicide via refrigerator door hanging. Meanwhile, Fran’s dumb whore of a daughter Lu Lu gets pregnant by her criminally delinquent boyfriend Bo-Bo Belsinger (punk rock icon Stiv Bators of the Dead Boys infamy) and demands to have a an abortion as she is a victim of feminist brainwashing, hysterically arguing to her mommy dearest, “It's stealing part of me you mean. I can feel it like cancer getting bigger and bigger like the blob. One day it will rip me open and it will be there in my life, ready to rob me of every bit of fun I deserve to have.” Lu Lu is ultimately kidnapped by two nuns (Mary Vivian Pearce and Sharon Niesp), locked in the back of a car trunk, and is taken to a Catholic home for unwed and wanton young mothers, while dastardly Dexter is finally nabbed for stomping on women’s feet while high off poppers and is incarcerated, and by some sort of miracle both of the Fishpaw brats manage to be purged of sin and their psychopathic tendencies when they are released from their respective institutions of higher learning. Things begin to look especially good for Fran when a handsome hunk of a man named Todd Tomorrow (Tab Hunter) with a cool corvette and hit arthouse drive-in movie theatre proposes marriage to her. Unfortunately, Mr. Tomorrow is too good to be true and is really in romantic cahoots and criminal conspiracy with Francine’s malicious mommy La Rue. Tomorrow and La Rue hope to effortlessly embezzle Francine’s divorce settlement money by driving her insane, not to mention the fact that Elmer and Sandra want to kill her and steal her money as well. Luckily, Fran’s brainwashed children, as well as Cuddles and Heintz, come to the rescue and totally abort the conspirators' malicious plans.  Undoubtedly, relatively speaking at least, Polyester ends on a much more positive note than the typical Douglas Sirk flick.

 Frankly speaking, the “Odorama” gimmick for Polyester, which includes generic fart, roses, and pizza smells, is rather pointless and ineffective and with the film’s introduction from some goofy jack-off hack scientist named Dr. Arnold Quackenshaw with a would-be-quirky Yiddish accent that seems like it was taken from the comical mongrel hate child of Mel Brooks and Roger Corman, I initially expected John Waters’ film to be a truly bad exercise in superlatively shitty bad taste, but thankfully the curiously crude celluloid work does not degenerate into a contrived and rather goyish Vaudeville act. In terms of Sirkian inspired cinema, Polyester is at the other extreme of works inspired by the Danish-German auteur filmmaker; while German New Cinema alpha-auteur Rainer Werner Fassbinder mastered and built on the Hollywood filmmaker’s idiosyncratic melodramatic style with masterpieces of melodramatic misery like Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974), Martha (1974), and Mother Küsters' Trip to Heaven (1975), John Waters merely exploited the eccentric dramatics of such works by adding elements of “women's pictures” exploitation flicks of the 1950s-1960s and psychosexually exploitative works like The Arousers (1972) aka Sweet Kill that fallen teen icon Tab Hunter starred in at the lowest point in his career. Incidentally, Divine and Tab Hunter would later be reunited in campy and retarded celluloid romance via Lust in the Dust (1985)—a work that John Waters was asked to direct but turned down since he did not write the script, thus it was ultimately given to Paul Bartel (Eating Raoul, Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills), who also almost turned down a chance to direct the film as he felt it would be too much of a Waters-esque flick—but Polyester is indubitably a superior effort and much more in its bitter sweetly scathing scatological satire of the now virtually extinct bloated Baltimore bourgeois (which is now being replaced by Jews and an affirmative-action-based black bourgeois that has destroyed Baltimore towns like Towson), as well as it sassy spoofing of iconic Douglas Sirk melodramas from the 1950s and uniquely unhinged application of classic exploitation conventions. 

 Indeed, with cultural chaos like bourgeois black youths killing college professors for fun at the once-snobbish Towson Mall (which, incidentally, is right next door to the cemetery where Divine is buried) and Third World invaders from the global South owning what seems to be virtually all the local businesses (as opposed to sleazy crackers who cheat on their obese wives), the wonderfully wacky, wayward world portrayed in Polyester seems rather tame and even nostalgic compared to the nefarious real-life nightmare that now consumes ever corrupt crevice of the decidedly degenerate area. Like most of John Waters’ work, Polyester is undoubtedly a film that will be of more interest to people familiar with the area as the film is charmingly contaminated with inside-jokes and the utilization of many real (and now largely defunct) locations from Charm City, including the Charles Theater, which instead of being a porn theater like in the film, was really a pretentious movie palace that oftentimes played works by Federico Fellini and Ingmar Bergman.   Of course, being from Baltimore, a city with areas with such flattering knicknames as "Pig Town," it was only natural that John Waters was more inspired by exploitation and immoral melodrama than someone like Bergman and while Polyester is about as far away as a film could be from a somber Nordic melodrama, it does pay a grand (dis)service to the area and the people it portrays like the films of the Swedish auteur.  When it comes to depicting the culturally retarded 'collective unconscious' of Baltimore, John Waters is only second to iconoclastic Nietzschean H.L. Mencken and both men shared a rather sharp and severely sardonic wit, which certainly bleeds throughout Polyester.

-Ty E

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