Pink Flamingos

Divine in Pink Flamingos

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

19 October

 

 

Divine born, 1945

On this day in 1945, Harris Glenn Milstead, aka Divine, was born, in Baltimore, Maryland, USA. Six months older than fellow Baltimore native John Waters, he became involved with Waters’ acting troupe the Dreamlanders in the mid 1960s and starred in Waters’ first four films, Mondo Trasho (1969), Multiple Maniacs (1970), Pink Flamingos (1972) and Female Trouble (1974). In fact it was Waters who gave Harris (or Glenn as he was known to family and school friends) the name Divine, after a character in Jean Genet’s debut novel, Our Lady of the Flowers. Waters was intent on making “the trashiest motion pictures in cinema history” and having an oversized drag queen (“the most beautiful woman in the world, almost” as Waters described him) on hand proved really useful to him. Divine had honed his drag skills dressing up as Elizabeth Taylor to host parties he held at his parents’ expense, after giving up his day job as a hairdresser (specialism: beehives). And after opening his own vintage clothing store, Divine Trash, he also had access to unusual clothes. It was Waters’ second film, Multiple Maniacs that first drew attention to Divine, but his third, Pink Flamingos, that gave Divine cult fame. Though he worked with Waters again after the first four films, Divine also branched out on his own, joining the psychedelic theatre troupe the Cockettes, starring in the play Women Behind Bars, working up his own nightclub routine (which included shouting “fuck you” at the audience and getting into a fight with another drag queen), and becoming a disco diva. The musical career yielded big results when Divine teamed up with UK production unit Stock, Aitken and Waterman. His film career without Waters (including a non-drag appearance in 1985’s noirish Trouble in Mind) was just beginning to hit its stride when Divine suddenly died, aged 42, of an enlarged heart.

 

 

Pink Flamingos (1972, dir: John Waters)

Described by its director as “an exercise in poor taste” Pink Flamingos is the most notorious movie made by Waters, and features the most infamous instance of suffering for your art by any actor. It’s the legendary “eating dog shit” scene, filmed in one uncut take, which shows a dog taking a dump, then Divine bending down, scooping it up and eating it. It’s the crowning moment of a film that’s all about being disgusting, with Divine playing Babs Johnson, “the filthiest person alive” according to the fictional local paper, who is then baited and stalked by jealous filthy wannabes Connie and Raymond Marble (old Waters hands Mink Stole and David Lochary). The plot also takes in women being kidnapped, inseminated and their children sold to lesbians, heroin dealers who sell smack to very young children, incidents of flashing, the famous scene in which a couple have sex on top of a live chicken (which tops the dog shit sequence for sheer grimness), as well as more routine dismemberment and cop-killing. Pink Flamingos became a cult hit on the midnight movies circuit, initially playing with Jodorowsky’s El Topo, receiving the cult seal of approval by being banned in a few countries and has still not been seen uncut in many territories. A sequel was planned, but Divine, having done his bit for posterity and art, refused to take part.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • The “eating dog shit” scene – once seen, never forgotten
  • John Waters’s breakthrough movie
  • A key signifier of middle class taste realigning towards genre and trash
  • Props to Divine who gave the world the line “fuck you very much”

 

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

 

Pink Flamingos – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

Midnight Movies: From the Margin to the Mainstream

Dressed to kill: Divine in Pink Flamingos

 

 

Or how six films screened in graveyard slots between 1970 and 1977 changed the way movies are watched and made.

The six are: El Topo, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s mad freakish spaghetti western, the Man with No Name drops acid. Night of the Living Dead, George Romero’s splattersome zombie motherlode which even now Romero is rubbing his hands about. Pink Flamingos – John Waters broke through with this excursion into camp sleaze, and how happy Waters is with the idea that almost single-handedly he dragged Hollywood along with him into the world of bad taste. The Harder They Come, the reggae film by Perry Henzell that filled a need created by Bob Marley for Jamaican music on film – Henzell is touchingly humbled even now by the reception that midnight movie audiences gave to a film that had flopped. The Rocky Horror Picture Show – the movie that seems to have sparked the singalong, interactive screening phenomenon is Richard O’Brien’s baby and though he’s less chucklesome than the other interviewees (possibly because he’s spent decades talking about little else) O’Brien is a charmer full of anecdotes. And finally Eraserhead, which looks as mad now as it did when it came out. David Lynch chats happily about the film but he won’t talk about the notorious baby, never has. Expectant mothers used to be warned before going in to screenings of Lynch’s film, apparently.

And that’s it – six films, lots of talking heads, a handful of clips, loads of old stories, plenty of fun. Midnight Movies makes its case – how the B movie became the A movie, how genre movies came back from the dead – eloquently. What is never said is, Rocky Horror and Eraserhead excepted, is how remarkably shabby the movies look.

© Steve Morrissey 2007

 

Midnight Movies – at Amazon.com

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