Movie Project #37: Pink Flamingos [1972]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

Pink Flamingos [1972]

Pink Flamingos [1972]
Director: John Waters
Genre: Trash
Starring: Divine, David Lochary and Mary Vivian Pearce
Runtime: 93 minutes

Sometimes my curiosity gets the best of me.

I have a habit of seeking out films that have garnered notoriety over the years for any number of reasons. Cult films, “so bad they’re good” flicks, disgusting endeavors… you name it, I’ll watch it. One of my biggest blind spots in this regard is the work of director John Waters. Dubbed the “King of Trash”, his early 1970s output is frequently hailed as some of the filthiest, most rotten films ever created. Pink Flamingos is perhaps his most notorious full-length feature, and that seemed like an appropriate choice for this project.

Pink Flamingos [1972]

Amusingly dubbed as a “transgressive black comedy exploitation film” by Wikipedia, the movie revolves around the character of Divine (played by the drag queen actor of the same name) who has been dubbed the “filthiest person alive” by local tabloids. She lives in a small trailer with her family, including her large egg-loving mother, Edie (Edith Massey), her sex-crazed son, Crackers (Danny Mills), and her good friend Cotton (Mary Vivian Pearce). They are living a seemingly happy life until a rival couple, Raymond and Connie Marble (David Lochary and Mink Stole, respectively), develop a plan to sabotage Divine’s career and take over the “filthiest person alive” title. The film follows both sides as they attempt to “out-filth” each other.

The plot is basically a moot point because this is all about shock value. This is one vile, disgusting film that completely shattered my preconceptions of how trashy a movie can be. I had heard of one scene beforehand, the infamous eating of dog feces, but I did not know that this was 100% real. That’s what makes this so gross — everything in this is legit, aside from the human murder scenes. There is a certain scene early in the film involving a chicken that will upset any and all animal rights activists. There’s also a character that is credited as “The Singing Asshole”, and yes, that title works literally. There is a scene with unsimulated oral sex, and full-frontal nudity is a common occurrence. Needless to say, this movie has no boundaries at all, and most people will not be able to handle this.

Pink Flamingos [1972]

Pink Flamingos was made on a ridiculously low budget of $10,000, and the cast is comprised almost entirely of friends of John Waters. As such, the acting is terrible, and overall there is very much a “home movie” presentation. This is amateur to the full degree, but I suppose that is partly what has helped give this a cult following. Not many people could make a trash film of this magnitude on that type of budget, but then again, there isn’t anyone like John Waters.

By and large, Pink Flamingos is a bad film. It piles on the trash and never lets up. There are a few genuinely quality scenes — primarily when the 50s rockabilly tunes are featured prominently — but this lives and dies by its shock value. A film of this magnitude did not need to be made, and I am quite shocked that this holds an 81% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I suppose I am content with seeing this once just to remove my curiosity, but I cannot recommend doing the same for anyone else. Also: I will never hear Surfin’ Bird the same way again.


Pink Flamingos [1972] - title screen

24 thoughts on “Movie Project #37: Pink Flamingos [1972]

  1. le0pard13 says:

    Yeah, you’ve found the reason this one has the term notorious usually in the same sentence when others describe it. Hell, it would have it for just that eating scene alone. Still, this one make a lot of cult film midnight screenings even now.

    • Eric says:

      Yeah, there was actually a midnight screening of this over here a few months ago. I kind of wish I had been able to go, simply to see the reactions of everyone else. Then again, I’m not sure I would want to see some of this stuff on a big screen…

  2. thomasoutt says:

    There are lots of reasons that this “celluloid atrocity” took on a life of it’s own–(Before I continue, I just thrive on it, have seen it on the big screen countless times!). I think the most important reason is that John Waters took real life experiences, direct/indirect & just gave them a spin that was full of sinister humour & took the normal day to day insanity of the times & tossed it in a context that could not be ignored & created loveable & enduring characters. Yes, it’s not for everyone. And the chicken killing scene, was a mistake–I have to shut my eyes on that one, it’s too much even for me–but the rest of it happens in some form all of the time, incest, abduction, nasty idiot bosses who interview people & don’t have a clue as to what they are doing (the job interview scene is just brilliant!) How many times in real life have any of us wanted (but did not dare) to tell a prospective employer to take their job & shove it?
    He touches on so many social & ethical violations that would be impossible to enumerate here. The whole cult thing of criminals becoming celebrities was not invented by John Waters, he just took the concept & made it funny! And it still plays to full houses in many urban areas to this day! That’s the real tribute!

    • Eric says:

      Hi Thomas, thanks for the comment! I can definitely see some appeal in this film — however twisted it may be — and it’s a testament to Waters’ talent that he was able to make a trashy, low-budget film like this and have it gain a huge cult following. It just felt like some of the more “shocking” scenes were completely unnecessary in the context of the film, such as the “Singing Asshole” and the oral sex (which Waters apparently admitted was a scene he regretted including).

      As I mentioned in another comment, I’m curious to see some of Waters’ later work because there is clearly some talent in there, just hopefully without the reliance on shock tactics.

  3. Jess says:

    Well, as a Baltimore native Pink Flamingos is almost requisite viewing. Despite how awful and disgusting his films are he’s seriously a local treasure and it’s cool because it’s pretty common (not that I’ve ever had this happen, but plenty of my friends have) to see Waters hanging out at local bars.

    My favorite Waters movie is Pecker (with Edward Furlong pre-puffy face and Christina Ricci). It has his nasty sensibilities but is not so reliant on shock value. There’s a bit of a plot. Also, Serial Mom is probably his most mainstream, easily accessible film and it’s a ton of fun.

    By the way, if you ever hear Harford Rd mentioned in one of his films I live right off it!

    • Eric says:

      Baltimore sure has some interesting connections — John Waters and The Wire seem to be its most popular exports. Quite the combo right there. 🙂

      I’ll keep an eye out for Pecker and Serial Mom. Thanks for the recs!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s