Monday, August 20, 2007

Multiple Maniacs (1970)

(Directed by John Waters, 1971, in lovely Baltimore, USA)

I knew I just couldn't stay away from great trash, so "Multiple Maniacs" was watched again recently, during one of those ever more frequent "there's nothing on TV" nights. As a real cinemaphile, I never saw a John Waters movie until "Polyester" came out with the tacky scratch-n-sniff cards in the early 1980's. I knew right away that Divine was fantastic and I had to see everything Waters did (thanks Steve, I still blame you!). In the words of the late, great Divine: "I've enjoyed every fucking last minute of it!"

This is John Waters' second feature and first talkie with Divine and co. previously there was a short campy film called "The Diane Linklater Story" and the non-sync sound "Mondo Trasho". Divine plays Lady Divine, owning a "Cavalcade of Perversions" overseen by her boyfriend Mr. David (David Lochery) serving as a two-timing ringmaster/emcee. Lochary does a good job trying to entice suburban Baltimore audiences (most of whom play major roles later: Mink Stole, Cookie Mueller, Mary Vivien Pierce) and the sideshow tent focuses on perverted (at the time) acts: two homosexuals engaged in a kiss, a heroin addict going cold turkey, a woman sniffing and licking a bicycle seat and a puke eater (no explanation needed there). The sideshow is just an excuse for Lady Divine to rob the audience (even resorting to shooting a recalcitrant audience member if necessary). Mr. David is about to have an affair with Bonnie (Mary Vivien Pierce)a self-described "auto-eroticist" trying to join the Cavalcade, and Divine tries to keep him in line by telling him he's involved with the Manson family murders, (unsolved at the time of filming), while crashing at her daughter Cookie's apartment (Cookie Mueller), she threatens to tell all. A bar owner (played by Edith Massey in her first Waters film) phones Divine to inform her that her David is fooling around and it sets in motion another cavalcade of perversions involving Divine and the other characters.

Among the many highlights: religious imagery in the form of a little boy dressed ceremoniously as the "Infant of Prague" seen after Divine is raped by a junkie couple (a woman and man in a dress), leading her to a church where she has a 'rosary job' performed by a self-described "religious whore" Mink Stole (don't ask) as the Stations of the Cross are recited. The low rent blasphemy continues as a dream sequence occurs of both "Sermon of the Loaves and Fishes" complete with Wonder Bread loaves, tuna fish cans and later a visual recounting of Christ's crucifixion (with Edith Massey as the Virgin Mother!).

Multiple atrocities abound: Mink and Divine get hassled and then murder a harassing cop, Bonnie shoots Cookie (mistaking her for Divine), Divine kills David and eats some of his entrails, and nearly everyone dies save for Divine who becomes: "A Maniac!" after being raped by a large noisy wooden lobster ("Oh No! LOBSTORA!") To the strains of Holst's "Mars", Divine goes on a Godzilla-like rampage: stealing a car, terrorizing a couple parked on a date, all the while she is dressed in a mink coat and lingerie in what looks like winter. She is finally brought down and shot by the National Guard to the strains of Kate Smith warbling "God Bless America".

This early Waters film is a bit of a satiric time capsule on late 1960's/early 1970's mores, and occasionally works. A lot of the movie is cheap: cheaply shot, acted in one take (with flubbed lines included) and shakily edited. It's not as smooth as later mainstream Waters movies (Polyester, Hairspray, etc.) But there are many endearing moments amid the semi-surreal and campy, sacriligeous plot. The ending I took to be indicative of its time and place, with echoes of 1968 Chicago riots and Kent State. Divine's 'acting' is rather raw here, but you can see the seeds of Babs Johnson or Dawn Davenport in embryonic stage.

It's a fun watch and a must for John Waters fans. It gives a basic blueprint for his later sardonic style, but here it's rather raw. All that and a lobster that creaks like the Coney Island Cyclone.

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