Pink Flamingos

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Pink Flamingos
An obese woman stands center stage, holding a gun as the title is above her, with the tagline "An exercise in poor taste"
Theatrical release poster
Directed by John Waters
Produced by John Waters
Written by John Waters
Narrated by John Waters
Starring Divine
David Lochary
Mink Stole
Mary Vivian Pearce
Danny Mills
Edith Massey
Cinematography John Waters
Editing by John Waters
Studio Dreamland
Saliva Films
Distributed by Saliva Films
New Line Cinema
Release dates
  • March 17, 1972 (1972-03-17)
  • April 11, 1997 (1997-04-11) (25th anniversary)
Running time 93 minutes
107 minutes[1] (Re-release)
Country United States
Language English
Budget $10,000
Box office $7,430,483

Pink Flamingos is a 1972 American transgressive black comedy exploitation film written, produced, composed, shot, edited, and directed by John Waters.[2] When the film was initially released, it caused a huge degree of controversy due to the wide range of perverse acts performed in explicit detail. It has since become one of the most notorious films ever made and made an underground star of the flamboyant drag queen actor Divine. The film co-stars David Lochary, Mary Vivian Pearce, Mink Stole, Danny Mills, Cookie Mueller, and Edith Massey.

Produced on a budget of only $10,000, it was mostly shot on weekends in Phoenix, a suburb of Baltimore, Maryland. After screenings at universities across the U.S. including Harvard College in 1973, the film was distributed theatrically by Saliva Films,[3] and later by New Line Cinema and became a nationally known film.[4]

Since its release it has had a rather devoted cult following and is one of Waters' most iconic films. In 1997, for the 25th anniversary of the 1972 premiere, the film was re-released. The new version featured an improved stereo soundtrack (which, unlike the original, was made available to the general public, on compact disc), and after the end of the original film, the new version contained a brief video commentary by Waters, plus a few scenes cut from the original release. The re-release was rated NC-17 by the Motion Picture Association of America; this edition was later released on DVD.

The film came in at #29 on the list of 50 Films to See Before You Die on a show in the United Kingdom.

Plot[edit]

Underground criminal Divine lives under the pseudonym "Babs Johnson" with her mentally ill, egg-loving mother Edie, delinquent son Crackers, and traveling companion Cotton. They all live together in a pink trailer on the outskirts of Phoenix, Maryland, in front of which can be found a pair of eponymous plastic pink flamingos. After learning that Divine has been named "the filthiest person alive" by a tabloid paper, jealous rivals Connie and Raymond Marble set out to destroy her career but come undone in the process.

The Marbles run an "adoption clinic", which is actually a black market baby ring. They kidnap young women, have them impregnated by their manservant, Channing, and sell the babies to lesbian couples. The proceeds are used to finance a network of dealers selling heroin in inner-city elementary schools. Raymond also gets money by exposing himself (with large kielbasa sausages tied to his penis) to unsuspecting women in a park and stealing their purses when they flee. The Marbles send a spy named Cookie in the guise of what Crackers thinks is a date. In one of the film's most infamous scenes, the two of them have sex while crushing a live chicken between them as Cotton looks on through a window. Cookie then informs the Marbles about Babs' real identity, her whereabouts, and her family, as well as information about her upcoming birthday party.

The Marbles send a box of human feces to Divine as a birthday present with a card addressing her as "Fatso" and proclaiming themselves "The Filthiest People Alive". Worried her title has been seized, Divine proclaims whoever sent the package must die and her two associates agree. Meanwhile, at the Marbles', Channing dresses up as Connie and Raymond, wearing Connie's clothes and imitating their earlier overheard conversations. When the Marbles return home, they catch Channing in the act and respond with outrage, firing him and locking him in a closet until they can return from their tasks and kick him out for good.

The birthday party begins as the Marbles arrive to spy on it. Divine receives an assortment of gifts, including lice shampoo, a pig's head, and an axe. Later on, they all witness a topless dancing woman with a snake and a contortionist who flexes his anal sphincter in rhythm to the song "Surfin' Bird". One of the guests, the Egg Man, who delivers eggs to Edie daily, confesses his love for her and proposes marriage. She accepts his proposal and he carries Edie off in a wheelbarrow for a honeymoon around the egg industry. The Marbles, disgusted by the reveling, call the police, but this proves unsuccessful as Divine and the other party-goers kill the cops. Divine hacks up their bodies with the axe and the party-goers eat them.

After the party ends, Divine and Crackers head to the Marbles' house, whose address they received from the local gossip Patty Hitler, where they lick and rub everything in their house to spread their "filthiness", which excites them to the point of engaging in oral sex. Divine and Crackers find Channing locked away, but they have no sympathy for him. Once they're in the basement, Divine and Crackers use a large knife to cut the bonds and free the two captive women, then hand over the knife. The women emasculate Channing offscreen.

Meanwhile, Connie and Raymond burn Divine's beloved trailer to the ground. Upon their return home they are troubled by the behavior of their furniture. Having been "cursed" by being licked by Divine and Crackers, the furniture "rejects" the Marbles when they return home: when they try to sit, the cushions fly up, throwing them to the floor. They then find that Channing has bled to death from his castration and the two girls have escaped.

After finding the remains of the burned-out trailer, Divine and Crackers return to the Marbles' home. They take them hostage at gunpoint and return to the site of the trailer. Divine calls the local tabloid media to witness the Marbles' trial and execution, as she proclaims her belief in "filth politics":

Blood does more than turn me on, it makes me cum. And more than the sight of it, I love the taste of it. The taste of hot, freshly killed blood...Kill everyone now! Condone first degree murder! Advocate cannibalism! Eat shit! Filth are my politics! Filth is my life! Take whatever you like.

Divine holds a "kangaroo court", asks Cotton and Crackers for their biased testimony, and sentences the bound and gagged Marbles to death for "first-degree stupidity" and "assholism". Divine sarcastically offers them the opportunity to speak on their own behalf, but they're of course gagged and they move straight to the execution. They tie the Marbles to a tree, coating them in tar and feathers. Divine then shoots them in the head and the media leave shortly afterward, satisfied with their scoop of a "live homicide". Divine, Crackers, and Cotton talk about where to base their seat of operations next and they enthusiastically decide to relocate to Boise, Idaho.

The legendary ending opens as Crackers, Cotton, and Divine walk down the street, where they spot a dog and its owner. They look at the dog excitedly and hungrily for some reason. Then the dog defecates on the sidewalk, and Divine sits down next to it. She takes the feces in her hand and puts them in her mouth, proving as the narrator states, she is "not only the filthiest person in the world, but is also the world's filthiest actress". She gags twice and grins at the camera.

Cast[edit]


Production[edit]

Divine's friend Bob Adams described the trailer set as a "hippie commune" in Phoenix, Maryland, and noted that they were operating out of a farmhouse that didn't have any hot water. Adams noted however that ultimately Divine and Van Smith decided to start sleeping at Susan Lowe's home in the city, and that they would get up before dawn to put on Divine's makeup before being driven to the set by Jack Walsh. As Adams related, "Sometimes Divy would have to wait out in full drag for Jack to pull the car around from back, and cars full of these blue-collar types on their way to work would practically mount the pavement from gawking at him."[5]

Divine's mother, Frances, later related that she was surprised that her son was able to endure the "pitiful conditions" of the set, noting his "expensive taste in clothes and furniture and food".[6]

Waters has stated that Armando Bo's 1969 Argentine film Fuego influenced not only Pink Flamingos, but his other films. He has said: "if you watch some of my films, you can see what a huge influence Fuego was. I forgot how much I stole. ... Look at Isabel's makeup and hairdo in Fuego. Dawn Davenport, Divine's character in Female Trouble, could be her exact twin, only heavier. Isabel, you inspired us all to a life of cheap exhibitionism, exaggerated sexual desires and a love for all that is trash-ridden in cinema."[7]

Music[edit]

The film used a number of mainly single B-sides and a few hits of the late '50s/early '60s, sourced from John Waters' record collection when he made the film. They were released as a soundtrack CD in 1997 on the 25th anniversary release of the film on DVD.[8]

  1. "The Swag" – Link Wray and His Ray Men
  2. "Intoxica" – The Centurions
  3. "Jim Dandy" – LaVern Baker
  4. "I'm Not a Juvenile Delinquent" – Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers
  5. "The Girl Can't Help It" – Little Richard
  6. "Ooh! Look-a-There, Ain't She Pretty?" – Bill Haley & His Comets
  7. "Chicken Grabber" – The Nighthawks
  8. "Happy, Happy Birthday Baby" – The Tune Weavers
  9. "Pink Champagne" – The Tyrones
  10. "Surfin' Bird" – The Trashmen
  11. "Riot in Cell Block #9" – The Robins
  12. "(How Much is) That Doggie in the Window" – Patti Page

The song "Happy, Happy Birthday, Baby" is used as a replacement for "Sixteen Candles", which appeared in the original 1972 cut of the film. (For the 1997 reissue, "Sixteen Candles" could not be used in the film or the soundtrack due to copyright problems.) The original release had also used a brief excerpt of Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, which was removed for the re-release.[citation needed]

Release[edit]

The film had its premiere in late 1972 at the third Annual Baltimore Film Festival, held on the campus of the University of Baltimore, where it sold out tickets for three successive screenings; the film had aroused particular interest among fans of underground cinema following the success of Multiple Maniacs, which had begun to be screened in cities such as New York, Philadelphia, and San Francisco.[9]

The Joyce Theater in 2009; this building formerly housed the Elgin Theater, where Pink Flamingos was screened as a midnight movie in the early 1970s.

Being picked up by the then-small independent company New Line Cinema, Pink Flamingos was later distributed to Ben Barenholtz, the owner of the Elgin Theater in New York City. At the Elgin Theater, Barenholtz had been promoting the midnight movie scene, primarily by screening Alejandro Jodorowsky's acid western film El Topo (1970), which had become a "very significant success" in "micro-independent terms". Barenholtz felt that being of an avant-garde nature, Pink Flamingos would fit in well with this crowd, subsequently screening it at midnight on Friday and Saturday nights.[10]

It soon gained a cult following of filmgoers who would repeatedly come to the Elgin Theatre to watch it, a group Barenholtz would characterize as initially composing primarily of "downtown gay people, more of the hipper set", but, after a while Barenholtz noted that this group eventually broadened, with the film becoming popular with "working-class kids from New Jersey who would become a little rowdy" too. Many of these cult cinema fans learned all of the lines in the film, and would recite them at the screenings, a phenomenon which would later become associated with another popular midnight movie of the era, The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975).[11]

Ban[edit]

The film was initially banned in Australia, as well as in some provinces in Canada and in Norway. It was eventually released on VHS in Australia in the late 1980s with a X rating, but distribution of the video has since been discontinued. The 1997 version was cut by the distributor to achieve an R18+ after it was also refused classification. No submissions of the film have been made since, but it has been said that one of the reasons for which it was banned (as a film showing unsimulated sex cannot be rated X in Australia if it also features violence, so the highest a film such as Pink Flamingos could be rated is R18+) would now not apply, given that the depiction of unsimulated sex was passed within the R18+ rating for Romance in 1999, two years following Pink Flamingos' re-release.[12]

Home media[edit]

Pink Flamingos was released on VHS and Betamax in 1981; its re-release in 1997 by New Line Home Video became the second best-selling VHS at the time. The film was released in the John Waters Collection DVD box set along with the original NC-17 version of A Dirty Shame, Desperate Living, Female Trouble, Hairspray, Pecker, and Polyester. It was also released in a 2004 special edition with audio commentaries and deleted scenes as introduced by Waters in the 25th anniversary re-release (see below).

Alternate versions[edit]

  • The 25th anniversary re-release version contains a re-recorded music soundtrack, re-mixed for stereo, plus 15 minutes of deleted scenes following the film, introduced by Waters.[13]
  • Because of this film's explicit nature, it has been edited for content on many occasions throughout the world. In 1973, the U.S. screened version edited out most of the fellatio scene, which was later restored on the 25th anniversary DVD. Canadian censors recently restored five of the seven scenes that were originally edited in that country. A town on Long Island, New York banned the film altogether. The Japanese laserdisc version contains a blur superimposed over all displays of pubic hair. Prints also exist that were censored by the Maryland Censor Board.
  • The first UK video release of Pink Flamingos in November 1981 (prior to BBFC video regulation requirements) was completely uncut. It was issued by Palace as part of a package of Waters films they had acquired from New Line Cinema. The package included Mondo Trasho (double-billed with Sex Madness), Multiple Maniacs (double-billed with Cocaine Fiends), Desperate Living, and Female Trouble. The 1990 video re-release of Pink Flamingos (which required BBFC approval) was cut by three minutes and four seconds (3:04), the 1997 issue lost two minutes and forty-two seconds (2:42), and the pre-edited 1999 print by two minutes and eight seconds (2:08).
  • The 2009 Sydney Underground Film Festival screened the film in Odorama for the first time, using scratch 'n' sniff cards similar to the ones used in Waters' later work Polyester.

Reception[edit]

The film received generally positive reviews, currently holding an 82% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 38 reviews.[14]

Influence[edit]

Divine[edit]

The final scene in the film would prove particularly infamous, involving the character of Babs eating fresh dog feces; as Divine would later tell a reporter, "I followed that dog around for three hours just zooming in on its asshole" waiting for it to empty its bowels so that they could film the scene. The scene would become one of the most notable moments of Divine's acting career, and he would later complain of people thinking that "I run around doing it all the time. I've received boxes of dog shit – plastic dog shit. I have gone to parties where people just sit around and talk about dog shit because they think it's what I want to talk about". In reality, he remarked, he was not a coprophile but only ate excrement that one time because "it was in the script".[15]

Divine asked his mother, Frances Milstead, not to watch the film, a wish that she obliged. Several years before his death, Frances asked him if he had really eaten dog excrement in the film, to which he "just looked at me with that twinkle in his blue eyes, laughed, and said 'Mom, you wouldn't believe what they can do nowadays with trick photography'."[6]

Cultural influence[edit]

The film has a reputation as a midnight movie classic cult with audience participation similar to The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

  • The Funday PawPet Show holds what is called the "Pink Flamingo Challenge", in which the ending to the film is played to the audience while they eat a (preferably chocolate) confection. Videos of the show are forbidden from showing the clip, only the reaction of the audience.
  • Theater patrons often received free "Pink Phlegmingo" vomit bags.

Proposed sequel[edit]

Waters had plans for a sequel, titled Flamingos Forever. Troma Entertainment offered to finance the picture, but it was never made, as Divine refused to be involved, and in 1984, Edith Massey died.[16]

After reading the script, Divine had refused to be involved as he believed that it would not be a suitable career move, for he had begun to focus on more serious, male roles in films like Trouble in Mind. According to his manager, Bernard Jay, "What was, in the early seventies, a mind-blowing exercise in Poor Taste, was now, we both believed, sheer Bad Taste. Divi[ne] felt the public would never accept such an infantile effort in shock tactics some fifteen years later and by people fast approaching middle age."[17]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "PINK FLAMINGOS (18) (!)". British Board of Film Classification. 2013-06-27. Retrieved 2013-06-29. 
  2. ^ "Pink Flamingos". IMDb. Retrieved 2008-09-05. 
  3. ^ "Pink Flamingos". IMDb. Retrieved 2011-08-02. 
  4. ^ "Pink Flamingos". Dreamlandnews.com. Retrieved 2008-09-05. 
  5. ^ Milstead, Heffernan and Yeager 2001. pp. 61–62.
  6. ^ a b Milstead, Heffernan and Yeager 2001. p. 61.
  7. ^ Corliss, Richard (2010-08-07). "Isabel Sarli: A Sex Bomb at Lincoln Center". TIME. Retrieved 2011-04-13. 
  8. ^ Pink Flamingos (1972) - Soundtracks (IMDb)
  9. ^ Milstead, Heffernan and Yeager 2001. pp. 66-67.
  10. ^ Milstead, Heffernan and Yeager 2001. pp. 69-70.
  11. ^ Milstead, Heffernan and Yeager 2001. pp. 70-71.
  12. ^ Films: P. Refused-Classification.com. Retrieved October 25, 2011.
  13. ^ Pink Flamingos (1972) - Alternate versions (IMDb)
  14. ^ Pink Flamingos at Rotten Tomatoes
  15. ^ Milstead, Heffernan and Yeager 2001. p. 65.
  16. ^ Edith Massey (Find a Grave.com)
  17. ^ Jay 1993. p. 211.
Bibliography
  • Jay, Bernard (1993). Not Simply Divine!. London: Virgin Books. ISBN 0-86369-740-2. 
  • Milstead, Frances; Heffernan, Kevin; Yeager, Steve (2001). My Son Divine. Los Angeles and New York: Alyson Books. ISBN 978-1-55583-594-1. 

External links[edit]