Quite possibly the worst film ever made, Pink Flamingos is certainly one of the most notorious and celebrated pieces of trash cinema to come out of the American underground, virtually writing the manual of gross-out movie-making.
Written, produced and directed by John Waters (and shot around Waters’ hometown of Baltimore, Maryland), Pink Flamingos traces the inevitable victory of transvestite diva Divine (born Harris Glenn Milstead) as Babs Johnson.
Babs lives in a trailer with her equally eccentric family, including her mentally-challenged chicken-loving son, Crackers (Danny Mills), her obese, egg-obsessed playpen-residing mother, Edie (Edith Massey in a truly unforgettable performance) and her ‘travelling companion, Cotton (Mary Vivian Pearce).
The battle is to outdo the self-consciously twisted and antisocial Connie and Raymond Marble (Waters regulars Mink Stole and David Lochary, respectively) in disgusting and immoral behaviour to become nothing less than the “filthiest person in the world”.
Whereas the toe-sucking Marbles pose a strong challenge – by abducting female hitchhikers and forcing their hapless butler (Channing Wilroy) to impregnate them and then selling their babies to lesbian couples and using the money to finance schoolyard heroin schemes – Babs is not to be denied in her mission to maintain her family’s throne.
A now-classic scene of cinematic scuzz finds Babs and Crackers sneaking into the Marbles’ home to lick their furniture. In the excitement, Babs goes down on her son. “Do my balls, Mama,” screams Crackers in full Oedipal fervour. . .
The gritty, home movie feel of Pink Flamingos (with its occasionally off-centred and out-of-focus cinematography, random zooms and cutaways, and uneven sound quality) only adds to the trash (and cult) movie-watching experience.
The film gives extended screen time to butt-hole lip-synching (including a close-up of a man’s singing anus!), bowel movements delivered by post, an incestuous blowjob, toe-sucking fetishism and sex with chickens.
In the notorious epilogue, Divine stops on the street in downtown Baltimore to pick up the freshly laid turd of a small poodle.
She puts it in her mouth, chews for a moment, then gags a bit and gives the camera what can only be called a shit-eating grin.
The scene is arguably the most famous in all underground cinema – the underground equivalent of the shower scene from Psycho (1960).
Although John Waters would go on to make several other memorable exercises in bad taste – including Female Trouble (1974) and Desperate Living (1977) – none of his movies combined vulgarity and humour quite as perfectly as this one.
Mary Vivian Pearce
The Egg Man