“Pink Flamingos” (1972) dir. John Waters

Back when I was 12 years old or so and would be allowed to go off on my own at the local shopping mall, I used to spend a lot of my time at Walden Books. Every time I went, I used to peruse a huge book by Danny Peary called “Cult Movies.” For any of those who don’t know what this book is/was, it was the first major book to look at the phenomenon known as cult movies and examine these films from a critical, but non-judgmental viewpoint. Peary looked at a wide range of cult films, from the obvious (“Harold and Maude,” “Rocky Horror Picture Show”) to the classics (“Casablanca,” “Citizen Kane”) to … “Pink Flamingos.”

Peary included a lengthy synopsis of every film and the description of what happens in “Pink Flamingos” had me convulsing in laughter.  The film is about two families competing to be “the filthiest people alive.”  It’s about people who do all the wrong things and are defiantly proud of them. For someone who painstakingly always did the right thing, reading about this film and its characters made me levitate.

This film was like a holy grail for me for several years. The film was released on video in the early 1980s, but no video store located near me carried it. The local art house maybe showed it as a late night film only occasionally … but also had strict age requirements. It wasn’t until the summer before my last year of college that I finally found a video store that carried this and I rented it along with a lot of other Waters films that I had read about, but had never seen.

My initial reaction? Very disappointed, especially after all the build-up in my mind and not being able to see it for years. This isn’t a slam on the film. It’s just that nothing could have lived up to what I had expected this film to be in my mind. I actually preferred (and still prefer) Waters’ follow-up “Female Trouble.”

However, I saw it in a theater during its 25th anniversary in 1997 (when it was officially rated NC-17 for “for a wide range of perversions in explicit detail”) and finally appreciated it. “Pink Flamingos” is a film that works best watching it with lots of others, where you’re all sharing the collective embarrassment of seeing the most outrageous and disgusting human behavior together.

I still don’t think this is Waters’ best film, but it’s still pretty funny. This clip is one of my favorites. And while the characters are fully clothed, the language is pretty rough, so it’s definitely not safe for work. You gotta love those Delmarva accents.

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