#641) Pink Flamingos (1972)
OR “Divine Intervention”
Directed & Written by John Waters
Class of 2021
The Plot: Divine, alias “Babs Johnson” (Divine), is a criminal living a quiet life in a trailer outside Phoenix, Maryland with her family. She also holds the title of “the filthiest person alive”, which infuriates her rival Connie Marble (Mink Stole), who intends to claim the title for herself. I refuse to go into any further detail of what everyone in this movie does to out-filth each other, suffice it to say that this movie earns its NC-17 rating, and you’ll never look at your dog the same way again.
Why It Matters: The NFR calls the film a “delirious fantasia” and “a landmark in queer cinema”. John Waters is hailed as “Baltimore’s favorite son”.
But Does It Really?: Ah yes, the “Be Careful What You Wish For” movie. For years it surprised me that John Waters wasn’t represented on the National Film Registry, and “Pink Flamingos” seemed the natural choice. So I would nominate “Pink Flamingos”, never once considering that if it made the list I would have to actually watch it. This was – without a doubt – the most difficult viewing experience I’ve ever had for this blog. “Pink Flamingos” is filthy, disturbing, grotesque, obscene…and one of the most culturally significant movies on this list. At a time when American film was just starting to experiment with far how it could push the envelope, John Waters set the envelope on fire, and in the process brought new notoriety to underground filmmaking. In the hands of a lesser director, “Pink Flamingos” would be unwatchable smut, but with Waters’ deft, borderline voyeuristic direction, “Pink Flamingos” is the most entertaining unwatchable smut you’ve ever seen. John Waters is an icon of queer and cult filmdom, and having “Pink Flamingos” on the NFR is overdue and well deserved. Now let us never speak of this again.
Everybody Gets One: John Waters was born and raised in the Baltimore suburb of Lutherville, and among his early cinematic influences were “The Wizard of Oz“, “Lili”, the experimental films of Andy Warhol and Kenneth Anger, and a healthy dose of “tacky” films at his local drive-in. “Pink Flamingos” was Waters’ third feature-length film, shot in and around Baltimore in late 1971. Waters’ parents Patricia and John Sr. funded “Pink Flamingos”, and while they were proud of their son’s achievements, they chose never to watch the final film.
Wow, That’s Dated: There are several references to the Manson Family throughout the film, including in the opening dedication. Waters cited the Manson Family (and the media coverage surrounding their murder trial) as an inspiration for “Pink Flamingos”, though he had intended for these allusions to be “a sarcastic nod”, and ultimately regretted their inclusion.
Title Track: The pink flamingos of the title are the plastic ones outside Divine’s trailer. John Waters named the film “Pink Flamingos” because he wanted a “normal” title to counter the film’s outrageousness.
Seriously, Oscars?: Surprising no one, “Pink Flamingos” received zero Oscar nominations. More surprising, however: John Waters has never been nominated. How about an honorary Oscar, Academy?
As I previously mentioned, “Pink Flamingos” was a tough watch for me, and with all due respect to Mr. Waters, I don’t have the stomach to go more in-depth about the film’s subject matter. In lieu of my typical Other notes section, I’m just going to transcribe verbatim my notes from this film.
- This is already the weirdest movie.
- Wow, the C word! Twice!
- Oh dear god.
- Oh! Okay then.
- I don’t know if I can do this.
- Oh God!
- Oh Jesus!
- [Weirded-out noises]
- Is he-? Oh he is.
- Oh no. Oh nooooo.
- Good soundtrack though.
- “Pink Flamingos” premiered at the Baltimore Film Festival in March 1972 before its official New York premiere in February 1973. Critics were mixed about the film, and even the ones who enjoyed it admitted the film is “for the very open-minded.” “Pink Flamingos” found success as one of the first “midnight movies”, playing in New York and Los Angeles for years. By 1980 the film had made more than 500 times its budget at the box office.
- John Waters’ subsequent filmography includes “Polyester”, “Cry-Baby”, and fellow NFR entry “Hairspray”. My personal favorite is “Serial Mom” with arguably Kathleen Turner’s best film performance.
- Although Waters hasn’t helmed a film since 2004’s “A Dirty Shame”, he continues to make appearances in documentaries (including “These Amazing Shadows“) and cameos in various movies and TV shows. Like most of my generation, I was introduced to John Waters via his charming performance on “The Simpsons”. “This is a sordid little burg, isn’t it? Makes me sick in a wonderful, wonderful way.”
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