(Published on ARTSCLASH)
It really is a film that has it all….if by ‘all’ you mean shit-eating, foot fetish 69s, incest, chicken sex, egg foreplay (seriously, don’t watch this film if you like eggs in any way) and murderous (yet fabulous) drag queens. But it’s also one of the best films I’ve ever seen. Sure it’s in bad taste, but it’s saved from the Adam Sandler/Farrelly Brothers circle of bad taste hell by its wit and great intelligence lurking behind its set pieces, of drag queens keeping meat between their legs and that infamous final scene. This week’s Queer Culture Class is John Waters’ best film, 1972’s Pink Flamingos.
The film tells that age old story of Divine (played by the legendary Divine with filthy glee), who is on the run from the authorities for a number of crimes that have earned her the title of the ‘filthiest person alive’ , and her battles with the Marbles family, (who are running a kidnapping ring of young women, who they impregnate, selling the babies to lesbian couples – and yet I promise this is a very funny comedy…) who are trying to gain this title for themselves.
I know, I know, on paper it sounds like the worst film ever thought of, the sort of film a conservative pundit could use as an example of how gays are inherently depraved and immoral. And admittedly it’s not for everyone: even some of my gay friends have come out of this film saying “if that’s what being gay’s like, then count me out”. But I think all of this is missing the point of this film, and the great lessons it can teach us about the queer experience.
First and foremost, the film is hilarious. The high camp of the whole thing (Divine alone is camper than a Christmas Unicorn in a Glittery Cher T-Shirt, the true master of the artform) making even the darkest moments a whole lot more fun than they should be, and quotable as hell. On top of this, there is the razor-sharp satire – definitely the sharpest satire you’ll ever see in a film that features a talking asshole (no I’m not talking about Adam Sandler again, I mean a talking sphincter…). Waters’ attacks on the heterosexist family, the notion of celebrity and ‘normal’ people who are trying to get into subcultures such as the 70s gay subculture are somehow subtle and blatant, as we can see in this clip:
This is the most important queer lesson we can learn from this film in my view – that there is something about the quuer experience which is not only great, but actually enviable from the point of view of the dominant culture, with ‘filthiness’ in the film acting as a sort of substitute for radical gay aesthetics although of course relating gay life to filthiness is a problem that we must consider. Divine the ultra queer figure will always be filthier, edgier than the Marbles, who hard as they try to be filthy are still secretly repulsed by the homosexuality of their own butler, and queer by extension can make you edgier than the non-queer, even if you won’t go as far (as Divine famously does at the end of the film) to eat dogshit to prove it…
Check out the previous Queer Culture Classes at http://artsclash.com/category/features/queer-culture-class-features/ and please comment and tweet us @ARTSCLASHdotCOM to suggest future titles (or to just call us fabulous. We enjoy that a lot.)