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Pink Flamingos (Blu-ray Review)

4 min read

 was the first film made that had any real attention outside of festivals and some highly specialized art house theatres. It was an early example of a “midnight movie”: it was picked up by the Elgin Theater in New York City and quickly found an audience. Initially it was strictly a hip, downtown, queer audience, but soon the film broadened its reach. The Elgin is also where Alejandro Jodorowsky's El Topo played as a midnight movie, which started the midnight movie boom in the '70s.

Waters and his production team, the Dreamlanders, shot the film on weekends. The trailer park where Divine and her family lives was also the hippie commune where most of the cast and crew lived. It was one of the more difficult shoots for Waters, as the conditions were not ideal, and Divine's mother was surprised that Divine was such a trooper during the shoot.

Pink Flamingos is more episodic than Waters' later films. It follows the exploits of the criminal Divine, who has been named “the filthiest person alive” by a tabloid paper. Divine lives with her family, including her mother Edie, her delinquent son Crackers, and her companion Cotton. They all share a trailer in Phoenix, Maryland. Her rivals are the married couple Connie (Mink Stole) and Raymond Marble (David Lochary), who sell smack to school kids, and kidnap and impregnate women so they can sell the babies to lesbian couples. The majority of the film is a battle of filth between Divine and the Marbles, as they try to one-up each other.

Divine gives a performance for the ages—anybody who has seen the film knows that—and nobody ever said/shouted John Waters's dialogue better. Mink Stole also gets her meatiest role in all of Waters's films (she is one of only two actors who have appeared in all of them), and absolutely relishes playing the sociopathic Connie.

It's no coincidence that Pink Flamingos came out the same year as , or that both got extensive restorations for their 50th anniversaries. Both films are about families, revenge and loyalty, and are quintessentially about America, although in some vastly different ways. Both films also have moments that are still shocking even today, whether it's the horse's head in The Godfather or the moment that Divine eats dog faeces, which closes Pink Flamingos. Pink Flamingos still can shock, which was initially the main point. Waters set out to shock the counterculture types of the day who would come to the films, and he succeeded—he was punk before punk. It's a film that forever changed the landscape of cinema, and paved the way for everything from the New Queer Cinema of the '90s to the success of Jackass. The restoration very proudly boasts that Pink Flamingos was added to National Film Registry of the Library of Congress at the start of this restoration, which puts it where it belongs, alongside Citizen Kane, Casablanca and other such classics.

The Blu-Ray release from is a treasure trove for John Waters fans. Waters supplies two commentary tracks, which are typically hilarious. Both are archival, having been recorded for the 1997 Criterion laserdisc and the 2001 New Line Cinema DVD. The excellent feature-length documentary Divine Trash climbs out of obscurity again thanks to this release: for those who haven't seen it, it's an extensive look at John Waters's career, with a heavy focus on the '70s films, before he went over-ground. The new extras include a half-hour conversation between Waters and filmmaker Jim Jarmusch at the Criterion offices, and Waters revisiting the locations where he shot the film 50 years ago (and there is a filthy surprise at the end.) Deleted scenes, alternative takes and the film's trailer finish off the extras on the disc. The booklet includes an essay from critic Howard Hampton and an excerpt from Cookie Mueller's memoir Walking Through Clear Water in a Pool Painted Black.

DIRECTOR-APPROVED BLU-RAY SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES

  • New 4K digital restoration, supervised and approved by director John Waters, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
  • Divine Trash, a feature-length 1998 documentary by Steve Yeager about Waters and the making of Pink Flamingos, featuring interviews with cast and crew
  • Two audio commentaries featuring Waters, from the 1997 Criterion laserdisc and the 2001 DVD release
  • New conversation between Waters and filmmaker Jim Jarmusch
  • Tour of the film's Baltimore locations, led by Waters
  • Deleted scenes and alternate takes
  • Trailer
  • English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • PLUS: An essay by critic Howard Hampton and a piece by actor and author Cookie Mueller about the making of the film, from her 1990 book Walking Through Clear Water in a Pool Painted Black

Pink Flamingos is available on special edition Blu-ray from Criterion now.