***** out of *****
When I first saw Pink Flamingos at the age of 14 on a battered 16mm print in a University of Winnipeg lecture hall, used most nights as a ‘Cinema Gallery’ repertory house, I knew I was seeing something unlike anything I’d ever seen before. Its grimy underground quality, dappled with occasional crispy blue skies, a mix of gloriously overcast and sunny days, mostly (if not all) natural light, almost-fluorescent pinks, blues and reds emanating from various set elements to make the drab look even more beautiful than it seemed and, super-gleefully, an oddly familiar patchwork quilt setting – at once modern, yet anchored in a kind of sad, dilapidated 50s architectural ennui, all contributing to an overwhelming feeling that seemed diametrically opposed to the aforementioned notion of seeing something unique.
The bottom line: I knew this burgh as if it were my own backyard. I’d never been to Baltimore, where the film was shot, and at this time of mid-adolescent purity, I had no idea it even was Baltimore. What thrilled me to no end is that it reminded me of Winnipeg, the sleepy midwestern prairie city in the longitudinal centre of Canada where I was born (in spite of conception in Detroit and a last-minute sentimental sojourn by my Mommy back home to pop me into the awaiting hands of some bushy-eyebrowed gyno with a ciggie dangling from his lips). Even the film’s warped sense of humour, its cast of perverse characters, a blend of trailer trash, cooler than cool freakazoids and some of its skewed, often deliciously viscous, vicious dialogue all crackled with a kind of perverse Winnipegian attention to ludicrous details.
Seeing this movie seemed like having a dream of home, and the world of the movie made me feel like I’d found my true home.
In retrospect, I realise why my immediate connection to the picture was a more-than telling detail, which ultimately reflected just how many friends, neighbors, teachers, priests and relatives regarded me with an occasionally bemused, but mostly wary suspicion.
Big deal! Fuck ’em. I loved the movie so much that years later I connected with regional filmmakers like John Paizs (Crime Wave) and Guy Maddin (My Winnipeg, Keyhole) to produce their early films, both imbued with similarly post-modern familiarity with both art and life. I also programmed my own rep cinema that unspooled mostly ‘cult’ films, managing in those halcyon pre-video-boom days to pack the joint and collect a whole lot of like-minded sickos as regulars, all living in dark corners and deep closets to escape the more repressive qualities of Winnipeg (whilst embracing said restrictively coercive delights with equal fervor).
It’s the dichotomous nature of John Waters’s great film that drives it. Every perverse element is rooted in a love and respect for all that is old, decrepit and yes, even horrifically, titillatingly straight-laced.
The simple plot involving the rivalry for the tabloid-bestowed title of ‘Filthiest Person Alive’ between vivacious Babs Johnson (Divine) and the nastily cruel Marble couple, Connie (Mink Stole) and Raymond (David Lochary), was a magnificently solid wooden coat hanger for Waters to proudly hang all manner of sheer, demented, ever-so-cool sickness upon. (Or, if you will, wellness, depending, of course, upon your particular persuasion.)
Babs lives in hiding in a small trailer on the outskirts of town with her sexually deviant son Crackers (Danny Mills), her jolly, roly-poly, mildly retarded and goofily sexy mother Edie (Edith Massey) and Cotton (Mary Vivian Pearce), the beautiful voyeuristic ‘traveling companion’ to Babs. They’re a happy family; perhaps even happier than ‘normal’ nuclear families in post-war urban housing developments.
For me, Edie proves to be the true spiritual mascot of the film. Unaware of the squalid surroundings, the aberrant qualities of her children and the fact that it might not be entirely normal to live her whole life in a playpen, adorned only in her ill-fitting undergarments, Edie is 300 pounds of innocence, purity, magnificent mounds and folds of milky white corpulence and, ultimately, a one-track mind.
Edie loves eggs. Well, who doesn’t?
Edie wants them scrambled, fried, boiled or fluffed-up into sumptuous omelets. Her greatest (and seemingly only) fear is that chickens might cease to exist and, as such, eggs would go the way of the dodo. Though Babs tries to reassure her that chickens will never become extinct, Edie won’t have any of it and, like a child resembling a record stuck on a skip, she continues to fear the worst until Babs finally has to admit to her, ‘Now, Mama, that’s just egg paranoia.’
All calms down, though, when Edie gets a visit from the friendly Egg Man (Paul Swift). Adorned in his sharp dairy-white duds and sporty sideburns, he opens his traveling salesman’s case full of eggs and provides the spiel that makes Edie’s fretting so much dust in the wind.
‘Just look at these,’ the Egg Man beams proudly. ‘Eggs so fresh you could hardly believe it. How about it, Edie? What will it be for the lady that the eggs like the most?’
Though Edie is placated, her ‘egg paranoia’ seems to rear its head once more, this time in the Egg Man’s presence as she begins to shudder desperately, almost orgasmically, screaming ‘Oh God, Oh God!’ However, the Egg Man will have none of it when he declares, ‘Miss Edie, as long as there are chickens laying and trucks driving and my feet walking, you can be sure that l will bring you the finest of the fine, the largest of the large and the whitest of the white. ln other words, that thin-shelled ovum of the domestic fowl will never be safe as long as there are chickens laying. I am your Egg Man and there ain’t a better one in town!’
So, does anyone reading this summary of egg obsession feel like the events are perfectly normal? Oh, good. I’m glad you think so too.
If you accept this as truth, then you will also accept the Marbles couple kidnapping young women, chaining them in their basement, getting their butler to rape and impregnate them and then to sell the babies to well-heeled lesbian couples.
If you accept the Marbles couple as truth, you will also accept Edie’s son screwing a new girlfriend (Cookie Mueller) whilst shoving live chickens into their mutual pubic areas, squashing them with his manly thrusts and culminating in the decapitation of a chicken and spilling its warm blood upon the naked flesh of his sex partner whilst sexy Cotton spies the proceedings through a window whilst seemingly masturbating.
If you accept the chicken-shack antics as truth, you will also accept how Babs marinates her (stolen) steaks from the butcher shop by shoving them up her dress to rest against her precious petals of liquides du quim.
If you accept all of the above and more as truth, then you, like I, will accept Winnipeg as Baltimore and Baltimore as the world and the universe of John Waters’s Pink Flamingos as the place we’d all rather be living in – a Milky Way of magnificent perversion, nestled in the purity of heart that is Miss Edie and her unbridled passion for eggs.
This is my yellow brick road to the Wizard of Oz.
Hopefully you’ll feel likewise.