John Waters’ Top 10 Films of 2013 (from Artforum)

Early December always brings cult filmmaker and raconteur John Waters’ immensely useful Top 10 film list for the year (published in Artforum). As always, he makes some very interesting choices and has some choice comments. Dave says check it out.

“You Think You’re A Man” – Divine


In honor of the new documentary “I Am Divine,” here’s everyone’s favorite 300-pound transvestite from Baltimore … Divine … singing his/her biggest hit. This was a Top 10 hit in Australia and a Top 20 hit in Great Britain. The producers were Stock Aitken Waterman, the evil bastards behind “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record),” the Bananarama remake of “Venus,” and worst of all … Rick Astley. Before you start calling for the death penalty for these three, “You Think You’re a Man” is extremely catchy.  In fact, I defy anyone not to let their freak flag fly to this. The fact that an underground legend such as Divine managed to score such mainstream success also brings a huge grin to my face. Sadly, Divine passed on when he/she was on the cusp of major mainstream success in the late 1980s.  The villainess in “The Little Mermaid” was based on Divine … a nice tribute to a comedy legend.

Memorably covered by the Vaselines (one of Kurt Cobain’s favorite bands) in the late 1980s, which … oddly … is how I first heard this song. Their cover is included below:

Best Moviegoing Memories of the Naro Expanded Cinema, Norfolk, VA


During my review of the documentary “The Rep,” I mentioned that some of my favorite moviegoing memories from my youth and young adulthood took place at the Naro Expanded Cinema, a repertory theater in Norfolk, VA. I thought I would recount a few of them here:

1. “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968) dir. Stanley Kubrick
The very first film I saw at the Naro. After having been to the Naro several times, my Mom took my brother and me to see this revival of “2001” in a 70mm 6-track stereo print during the summer of 1981. At the time, I was weaned on “Star Wars,” so I wasn’t as impressed with “2001” as I would become in later years. But I still remember being impressed with the realism Kubrick conveyed in this vision of space travel. Fortunately, I got to see it several years later in another 70mm revival in Washington D.C. when I was more ready for it and was … finally … bowled over.

2. “North by Northwest” (1959) dir. Alfred Hitchcock
Another one my Mom dragged me to because she thought it would be good for me. Initially, being 12-years old or so, I groaned over seeing an “older” unrated film that would have no profanity, nudity or graphic violence. These reservations were instantly dispelled once I realized how much fun this movie was … one that combined action, suspense, comedy, and … yes … sex in a brilliantly sophisticated package. To this day, Eva Marie Saint’s character is still one of the smartiest, sexiest, most complex action heroines of all time. And Cary Grant … as Robert Evans once said, Grant had more grace walking backwards than everyone else had walking forwards.

3. “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981) dir. Steven Spielberg
I had already seen this multiple times before seeing it at the Naro on a double-bill with “Poltergeist” during the summer of 1983. But … what I remember the most is the glorious stereo soundtrack that the Naro properly showcased. When Indy cracked his whip in the streets of Cairo, I heard the sound of the whip start behind my head, carry through the speakers surrounding the sides, and then exploding upfront. The single most impressive display of filmic sound design I’ve ever experienced. Thanks, Naro!

4. “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (1975) dir. Jim Sharman
The Naro was THE best place to see “Rocky Horror” because back when I first saw it around 1985 or so, the theater owners allowed the audience to go absolutely bats–t crazy. The only rule was that you couldn’t throw anything at the screen. Otherwise, anything went. I’ve since heard things have changed, but that’s OK. Seriously, you don’t want to trash such a wonderful place to see a movie … but it was really really fun.  Especially on Halloween.

5. “Stop Making Sense” (1984) dir. Jonathan Demme
This classic concert film featuring the Talking Heads was nice to see on a huge screen with a booming, bass heavy sound. What was especially cool was the fact that so many people in the audience were taken with the music that they started dancing in front of the screen … which prompted the film to stop until people sat down. This happened at least 8-9 times before the film could finally end.

6. “Suburbia” (1983) dir. Penelope Spheeris
One of the best moviegoing memories from my youth was seeing Penelope Spheeris’s punk melodrama “Suburbia’ in a packed midnight screening at the Naro in 1985 (with an audience full of mohawks and trenchcoats) with a good friend of mine and my friend’s Dad, who attended the screening with us since me and my friend were not legally able to drive.  The audience went completely nuts at the beginning of the film, when the wild dog attacks a toddler (one of the worst mannequin substitutes I’ve ever seen in any idiom), which isn’t funny, but kind of is in the context of the film and the audience.  My friend’s Dad (who, at the time, was roughly about my age now) took the film in stride, enjoyed himself, and later compared the film to “Rebel Without a Cause” on the ride home, which he highly recommended to us.  While I later saw “Rebel” and thought it a much superior film, I have a really soft spot in my heart for “Suburbia.”

7. “Blue Velvet” (1986) dir. David Lynch

I was fortunate enough to see “Blue Velvet” on its original theatrical run when I was one of three paying customers in the audience.  I’m so grateful for this particular experience, because I was able to accept Lynch’s vision the way it was originally intended … an unironic (but not unfunny), highly disturbing nightmare.  When I saw it at the Naro a few months later, the place was packed.  Unfortunately, it was packed with hipsters already predisposed to laugh at everything.  While I remember having a great time that night when I saw it in a packed theater, in retrospect, I also remember being a little pissed that they were treating it all as a big joke.  Again, the film is not unfunny … but it’s not a smug post-modern jokefest.  That night I learned that there’s a danger in thinking you’re smarter than the material you’re watching … especially before you’ve actually seen it.

8.  “Husbands and Wives” (1992) dir. Woody Allen

I remember seeing this at the Naro in early 1993 during a particularly dark period in my life as the second half of a double-bill with another film I don’t remember.  I distinctly remember the Allen film hitting me right between the eyes.  Yes, I remember laughing a lot, but I also remember being completely shattered at the end of it.  One of the most brutally cynical views of marriage and relationships ever created.  It’s no wonder this was filmed and edited during the height of Allen’s and Mia Farrow’s relationship “issues.” I think I skipped the invitation to have a beer after the film that night.

9. “Pink Flamingoes” (1972) dir. John Waters
The very last film I saw at the Naro … and I saw this during the film’s 25th anniversary revival in 1997.  I had seen the film more than a few times on video before and while I thought it was funny, I thought other Waters films (specifically, “Female Trouble” and “Polyester”) were much better.  However, seeing “Pink Flamingoes” in a theater brought a new dimension that I had never considered before … collective embarrassment.   Seeing this film with a paying audience on a huge screen made a lot of “Flamingo’s” notorious scenes seem way dirtier … and funnier.   One of the few times I remember actually convulsing in embarrassed laughter during a theater screening … while turning several shades of red.  Seriously, that s–t hurt!  But it was a lot of fun!

The opening of “Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!” (1965) dir. Russ Meyer


Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to violence, the word and the act. While violence cloaks itself in a plethora of disguises, its favorite mantle still remains… sex. Violence devours all it touches, its voracious appetite rarely fulfilled. Yet violence doesn’t only destroy, it creates and molds as well. Let’s examine closely then this dangerously evil creation, this new breed encased and contained within the supple skin of woman. The softness is there, the unmistakable smell of female, the surface shiny and silken, the body yielding yet wanton. But a word of caution: handle with care and don’t drop your guard. This rapacious new breed prowls both alone and in packs, operating at any level, any time, anywhere, and with anybody. Who are they? One might be your secretary, your doctor’s receptionist… or a dancer in a go-go club!

OK, I did not write those words. They come from the infamous opening to the film director John Waters once called the greatest film ever made. Russ Meyer’s “Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!” film is one of the most wonderfully sleazy movies ever made … and it’s also one of the most fun to watch.  It’s one of those films that seems really, really dirty even though it probably would get rated PG-13 if released today (it was rated TV-14 when it popped up on Turner Classic Movies).  It would make a great double-feature with “Road House.” There’s no nudity here, but the above clip not safe for work as this is from a less politically correct time. Go baby go! Go! Go! GO BABY GO! Work it out!

“Female Trouble” – Mink Stole


Actress Mink Stole … who has starred in several John Waters films over the years … tries her hand at singing and the results are terrific! “Female Trouble” is her take on the theme song from Waters’ 1974 film of the same name and her slow, sultry take goes down well with a fine bourbon. I posted another song from Mink at the start of the year, “Sometimes I Wish I Had a Gun,” which is similarly stunning.

Now, both songs, along with several others are available on Mink’s first (and hopefully, not last) CD, “Do Re Mink” which is available for download on iTunes or on Mink’s website:

A really wonderful selection of tunes for when you’re feeling especially bad … but in a good way.

“Pecker” (1998) dir. John Waters


“Pecker” is arguably John Waters’ last good film. I hate to say this, because I personally like Waters as a raconteur and essayist. Even for his movies that I didn’t particularly like (“Cecil B. Demented” and “A Dirty Shame”), the audio commentaries on the DVDs are a riot and are worth the price of the DVDs alone.

Having said that, “Pecker” is Waters’ very funny and appealing utopian vision of an unusually cool, but diverse underground … a mix of high-brow and low-brow, blue-collar and hipster, gay and straight, criminal and non-criminal, etc. I’ve never really liked Edward Furlong as an actor, but he’s really great as the title character, an “outsider” artist and photographer who sees beauty and art in (mostly blue collar) things many people dismiss or laugh at “ironically.” His navigation from obscurity to fame to fame on his terms may be unrealistic, but it is inspiring and very sweet.

Despite my sentiments about what a sweet film this is, there is full frontal nudity and a lot of rude jokes / language scattered throughout “Pecker” so if you’re prudish, it’s best to stay away. However, “Pecker” is a very fun movie and it gives one hope that someday, artistic and social barriers can come down and all the cool people can finally come together, hang out, and well, be cool with what each person decides makes them happy.

For better or worse, “Pecker” is the pop cultural artifact that introduced “teabagging” to a wide audience.

“Matador” (1986) dir. Pedro Alomodovar


I discovered the films of Pedro Almodovar at just the right time in America, around 1988 or so. Almodovar was just about to release his American breakthrough “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” and my college film class that fall showed his 1984 comic masterpiece “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” to a bewildered, but otherwise appreciative audience. I loved “What Have I Done …?” so when our college film society showed “Matador” later that semester, I made it a point to go.

If there was ever a film to see with an audience, “Matador” was it. I remember the college theater was about 3/4 full (unusual for a foreign-language film showing on a Sunday night). The opening sequence features a montage of some of the most graphically violent scenes in recent movie history while the lead male character (played by someone named Nacho Martinez … one of the greatest actor names in film history) frantically masturbates while watching it. At that point, the audience started nervously laughing. And the laughs continued throughout. As I walked out of the theater, I thought “Matador” was one of the most deliriously obscene and funny films ever made. It was as crude and as nasty as any John Waters underground masterpiece, but unlike Waters, “Matador” looked like it had a decent budget and production values. I thought, “Finally, someone blended art and extreme sleaze in a wonderfully shot, acted, written, and directed package.”

Almodovar has continued to top himself over the years and won Oscars for Best Foreign Film in 1999 for “All About My Mother” and in 2002 for Best Original Screenplay for “Talk to Her.” Almodovar consistently is one of the most bracingly original filmmakers working today. However, “Matador” remains my favorite. Its combination of high art and NC-17 rated sex, violence, and sleaze is still remarkably potent.

The attached trailer is in Spanish with subtitles in a language that’s not English. However, the trailer does give a pretty good idea of what this film is about. Antonio Banderas plays a pivotal supporting role in “Matador.” If you’re not a prude and are looking for a walk on the wild side, check out “Matador” pronto. Not to be confused with the 2005 film “The Matador” starring Pierce Brosnan and Greg Kinnear.

“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.

“Sometimes I Wish I Had a Gun” – Mink Stole

Here’s a real surprise!  John Waters superstar Mink Stole lends her pipes to this sultry cover of “Sometimes I Wish I Had a Gun.”  All I can say is “Wow!”  No offense to her hilarious turns in Waters’ anti-masterpieces, but Stole should have pursued a singing career.  From the compilation “A Date with John Waters.”

“Compliance” (2012) dir. Craig Zobel


One of the best and creepiest films of the year is Craig Zobel’s indie drama “Compliance.” Based on a stranger-than-fiction true story, the film is about a manager at a fast food restaurant who receives a call from someone who says they’re a police officer. The caller says that one of the employees has stolen from a restaurant patron and that the manger needs to detain the employee until the police arrive. Through verbal manipulation, the caller has the manager (and others) perform an increasingly bizarre, disturbing, and illegal series of activities on the employee.

“Compliance” has garnered a lot of praise … and a lot of walkouts. Many people can’t believe that others would be so stupid, that they would commit heinous acts because someone who sounds like they’re an authority figure told them to. But they do. And it happens more frequently than you would think. “Compliance” is based on a real case that happened in 2004 in Kentucky, and what happened is actually not an isolated occurrence.  It’s called the “strip search prank call scam,” and there’s loads more details at this Wikipedia article:

As for the film, Zobel has done a solid job showing how this sordid series of events went down. Actress Ann Dowd, who plays the manager, has already won Best Supporting Actress from the National Board of Review for her performance. This was also one of director John Waters Ten Best Films of 2012.