Baltimore’s John Waters was and is definitely a “do-it-yourself” guerilla filmmaker — the type of director that makes Kevin Smith’s early works look like big budget Hollywood flicks. Armed with borrowed video cameras and a troop of friends, Waters set out in the early ’70’s to either change the world, create art, or just shock people. In reality, he probably suceeded in all three.
Divine Trash is a fairly raw documentary about John Waters and his entourage. The hour and a half long film focuses mostly on the early years, beginning with Waters’ early filmmaking days and ending with the making of 1972’s Pink Flamingos, Waters’ first big claim to fame.
Before Waters was making films such as Cecil B. DeMented, Pecker, Serial Mom and Cry-Baby, the self-proclaimed strange one was making “underground films” (defined within the documentary as films with basically no budget, no big name stars, and no distribution deals). Using some of Baltimore’s finest (and oddest) actors, Waters set out to do … something.
The documentary briefly touches on some of Waters’ early films, including Hag In A Black Leather Jacket, Roman Candles and Eat Your Make Up! It then focuses a bit more on Mondo Trasho, a 90 minute film which, in Waters’ own words, “should have been 10.” Mondo Trasho was basically a silent black and white film, with its plot told by musical cues. After two more films (The Diane Linkletter Story and Multiple Maniacs), Waters and crew set out to make their masterpiece.
Pink Flamingos is the major focus of the second half of the documentary. Pink Flamingos tells the story of Babs Johnson (played by Divine) who moves into Baltimore and is labeled “The Filthiest Person In The World” by a local newspaper. Connie and Raymond Marble (a couple across town who have slaves in their basement which they impregnate and sell the babies to lesbian couples for adoption) dispute the claim, and the competition is on.
Without spoiling too much of the plot, a search on the web for Pink Flamingos turned back the following key words: egg fetish, chickens, cannibalism, transsexual, shoplifting, murder, incest, oral sex, and shit eating.
Much of the rest of the documentary focuses on Divine, the 300+ pound man who dresses in drag and appears in most if not all of Waters’ early works. There are interviews with both Waters’ and Divine’s parents, both wondering what exactly went wrong (neither pair have seen Pink Flamingos, nor do they plan to). Divine passed away in 1988, so the interview segments with him/her are (obviously) from before that.
The documentary stops around the release of Pink Flamingos, and no mention is made of Hairspray, Polyester, or any of Waters’ later films. Added onto the end of the film is about two minutes of footage made during the filming of Pecker, but it really just seems to be “tacked” on — no explanation is given, and it really doesn’t do anything except make the movie two minutes longer.
John Waters doesn’t make “normal” movies. That’s a good thing; there’s plenty of “normal” movies out there already. While Waters’ later works have come closer to the mainstream, his earlier works were really “out there”. If you’re brave, rent Pink Flamingos (if you can find it) or some of Waters’ earlier works. If you can’t find them, or just want to “wade in” so to speak, check out Divine Trash (available on both VHS and DVD).