“People around you can make you sick”: a review of Pink Flamingos (1972)

 

John Waters’ shocking 1972 breakthrough Pink Flamingos is a perverted and intentionally low-brow, low-budget film.

Centred around Divine and her family’s competition with Connie and Raymond Marble over the tabloid title of The filthiest person alive!, the Marbles run a business kidnapping and raping hippie women, trapping them in their basement so that they can sell their babies to lesbian couples for adoption. Divine lives in a trailer with her obese cot-ridden mother, mentally disabled son and Cotton.

Divine proceeds to defend her title against her jealous rivals, the Marbles, by proving that she is truly the filthiest of them all. Do not be misled, this is a shock piece and features animal abuse, unsimulated sex scenes, violence, mental, verbal and physical abuse, arson, puke, faeces and banister licking. However, despite all these arguably cheap tricks, the film is a revealing portrait of white trash America, as well as a prominent milestone in queer film.

Divine (Glenn Milstead) is a true leading lady: with a hairline shaved far past her forehead to make room for her eyeshadow and breasts pointing to East and West, her quick quips and razor tongue put any Ru-Paul girl to shame.

Her best scene is a subtler one: having just stolen a steak and keeping it closed between her legs Divine walks through downtown Baltimore on Christmas eve with every member of the public not failing to turn to stare at her. A great historic document of the kind of genuine reaction that members of the LGBTQ+ community would have experienced daily. This is not a movie you need to follow intently: the plot is unnecessarily complicated, the camera work is shaky and the acting awful. However, to judge Pink Flamingos on this is to entirely miss the point.

There is a surprisingly large amount of dialogue for such an action-packed film, sardonic and drawling, full of made up sayings and one liners. If you want to have a good-bad-time, watch this film and appreciate it as the engaging and funny satire it is, but brace yourself for the surprises along the way.

 

Image: Youtube, Film Society of Lincoln Center

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