John Waters’ very particular take on the melodramas of Douglas Sirk is often overlooked in lieu of his more notorious ‘midnite movie’ fare like the inimitable Female Trouble or the still outrageous Pink Flamingos. Yet, John Waters cites this as one of his favourite Divine performances.
And it really is superb: Divine brings considerable acting chops to the 1981 classic that falls (as only a Waters’ script can) between pastiche and loving homage. She’s like Elizabeth Taylor in drag, full meltdown, hysteria and hilarity under her considerable bosom. And as ever, the inimitable Edith Massey provides adorable support as bestie Cuddles Kovinsky.
Initially, according to Waters, Divine was resistant to the role of frustrated housewife Francine Fishpaw. She found the costumes and greasy black wig less than glamorous. but it was the prospect of kisses from seasoned matinee pin-up Tab Hunter that changed her mind, and she insisted on many retakes… Strictly for accuracy’s sake, you understand!
The storyline is full of the obligatory dramatic tropes: Francine is trapped in a loveless marriage to pornographer Elmer (David Samson) her disco crazed daughter Lu Lu (Mary Garlington) is pregnant and son Dexter (Ken King) is skipping school to cause footstomping mayhem. Surely love interest Todd can save her? Of COURSE not! This is John Waters, bitches!!! And when it all falls apart, it’s actually genuinely affecting. You can’t help but feel for poor, misguided Francine.
What elevates this, apart from the typical trashy lunacy of our moustachioed hero’s script, is the addition of Odorama, the scratch and sniff card, a homage to sensation cinema of the sixties, from the likes of William Castle.
Waters was always unique: this satirical eighties gem, having a pop at the religious right, teen violence and souring suburban life, is not to be sniffed at. And electronic cut -and- pasters The Avalanches sampled Divine cooing, ‘Surely EXPULSION is not the answer!’ on their cult track Frontier Psychiatrist. You gotta love it, flammable synthetic fabrics and all.