‘Pink Flamingos’ and the value of fun while making a movie
A few months ago I finally decided to check out Pink Flamingos, a near 50-year-old film by legendary cult director John Waters.
I went into seeing the film without knowing anything about it or about Waters’ other films. Do not take this approach—you will regret it.
Simply put, Pink Flamingosis the most disgusting movie I’ve ever seen. There were several scenes that made me feel physically ill and some that I just couldn’t watch altogether.
If crime was a movie, it would be Pink Flamingos. To call this film gross may be the biggest understatement of the century.
When the film ended I was in a state of near shock, convinced that what I had just witnessed was a project made by insane people and that it may have been the worst thing I have ever seen.
However, upon further reflection and research, I grew to appreciate the film. With a little added context, Pink Flamingoschanged from a horrible, nasty and chaotic film made by crazy people to a pretty good, nasty, chaotic film made by crazy people.
First, a basic summary of the film. The plot is centered around two feuding factions—both leaders claiming the semi-official title of ‘filthiest person alive’.
Staring Divine—played by a drag queen whose stage name is also divine—the two sides attempt to gross out the other side into submission. However, what really steals the show is the imagery which, as previously mentioned, is not meant for the easily nauseated.
For starters, there’s more sexual imagery than some pornographic films—none of which is tasteful—often displaying full-frontal nudity.
Additionally, the film depicts cannibalism, murder, arson, the enslavement of pregnant women, fecal matter, theft, and on a few occasions, actual pornography.
It’s likely that half of what is shown in the film is enough to make you gag but that isn’t enough for Waters. In his own words: “when someone vomits during one of my films, it’s like getting a standing ovation.”
Waters is infamous for his exploitation films, usually with recurring actors who are known as Dreamlanders.
All of these regulars are real-life friends of Waters from Baltimore, where he lived and filmed most of his early films—including Pink Flamingos.
There are some truly grotesque scenes in the film, scenes that required actors to be loyal enough to perform them—the loyalty of the Dreamlanders is near unparalleled. Select an area to comment on
Waters had a vision and his actors were willing to do anything he asked because they trusted him.
It’s beautiful to see actors so committed to the work of their director that they go to lengths that most actors wouldn’t even ponder. I think part of the reason the film actually works is the behind the scenes relationship the cast had with each other.
The Dreamlanders were a cast of misfits guided by a man who wanted to gross people out while making them laugh.
I watched some behind the scenes footage of Pink Flamingos and I saw the cast having a good time while laughing at the ridiculousness of their actions. They really were just one big family that loved making movies—a rarity in modern-day casts.
When you’re making a movie and you’re having fun while doing it, I think that’s an indication that you’re doing something right and the film will improve as a result.
Not a bad lesson considering we’ve deriving this from a film that features a sex scene in which a chicken gets slaughtered.
There’s a saying among film enthusiasts to encourage aspiring filmmakers: “you can make a movie about anything.” I heard this but never understood it until I watched Pink Flamingos.
The film, if anything, can inspire filmmakers to make a movie no matter what—there are no excuses. Low budget?Pink Flamingoscost $12,000 to make—a micro-budget if there ever was one.
A weird idea? A movie can be about literally anything and still be a hit. You can’t afford really good actors? Waters didn’t even have a casting call. The majority of the cast were his friends.
Waters wrote, directed, narrated, produced, and edited his crazy little vision and it garnered a cult following that has been going strong for nearly fifty years.
You can make a movie about anything, using anything, any time—all you need is a camera. He could do it, why can’t you?