Saturday, November 15, 2008

The annals of bad taste: "Pink Flamingos"

The latest entry in the series that's slowly taking over the-blog-that-no-one-reads is the mother of all tasteless and trashy media. Without Pink Flamingos, there would not be a Jackass or Borat. But most people probably recommend the execution of its director/producer/writer John Waters after viewing, or at least demand their previously virgin minds back. I would never recommend this film to anyone with a soul.

When people discuss the most disgusting scene in "Pink Flamingos," they usually reference Divine eating shit seconds after it tumbles out of a dog's asshole.

So, ordering the notorious John Waters 1972 trash classic from Netflix, I figured that would be the pinnacle scene (or nadir, I don't even know any more) of filthy behavior perpetrated by Divine and her cohorts. Everything else in the film would be a little less extreme. I figured, "hey it can't be much worse than 'Jackass,' and it was made 30 years ago, how shocking could it really be?"

I was wrong. There are two scenes in particular, plenty more foul than said shit-eating scene, that I will never be able to un-watch. If people really wanted to mention the most disgusting scenes in the film, they would have to admit to watching some sick shit, and that's how you end up with me and my three buddies, which now have a shared, scarred experience — similar to the recent South Park where the gang can't get images of Indiana Jones getting raped out of their heads after seeing the most recent film in the franchise. You know how your parents seemed to walk in on the worst part of any movie growing up, even innocent ones? Well, they could walk in on just about any second of this film and disown you forever.

But the film is a cultural touchstone, released around the same time as "Deep Throat." "Pink Flamingos" is not pornography in the traditional sense, but it's definitely pornographic. "Pink Flamingos" allowed the freaks and assorted counter cultures to go to an art house theater in a big city, and see some truly envelope-pushing shit, roll around in it together and enjoy the stench. The acting is terrible, possibly purposefully so, the film is grainy and the camera is shaky. It's the kind of movie Rob Zombie probably grew up watching (Along with the "Last House on the Left"). In fact, you can see influence from "Pink Flamingos," even though it's a black comedy, all over the "Devils Rejects" and even some mainstream horror affair — i.e — people doing horrible and freakish things to others and themselves just 'cuz.

The plot revolves around a couple, one red haired and one blue, who are deeply offended when they learn that Divine (the main character) is regarded as the filthiest person alive. They take the very idea that anyone could be filthier than them as a personal affront. For instance, the couple's main source of income involves kidnapping hitchhikers, ordering their servant to impregnate them, and then selling the babies to lesbian couples.

The couple's first act of vengeance is mailing Divine a piece of shit gift wrapped in a nice bow and shiny paper. Not to be outdone, Divine and her two grown children embark on a quest of stunts to prove that they are, still, the filthiest people alive.

In short, as my friend said, "that was disgusting, but I'm glad I saw it." I wouldn't use the word "glad," but when its over you feel like you just returned to your own brain. I would not recommend watching "Pink Flamingos," unless you know everyone you are watching it with wont hate you forever. I'm pretty sure one of my friends will need counseling, and isn't that the highest praise anyone could ever give glorified trash?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The annals of bad taste: "Bad Lieutenant"

"Bad Lieutenant" is the second entry in my ongoing list of films festering in politically-incorrect humor, action, sex, themes, with or without shoddy production values. The first entry, 2007's "Postal" was a self-serious disaster directed by hack-extraordinaire Uwe Boll.

1992's "Bad Lieutenant" is artful yet unsubtle film making. It belongs in the Annals of Bad Taste not because of the quality of work, but because of the content.

Within the first 25 minutes of "Bad Lieutenant," Harvey Keitel's titular character smokes crack, draws his cop buddies into an illegal gambling racket, has a threesome with two lesbians and encourages misogynistic behavior in his two grade-school age sons.

And those are the easy-to-watch scenes. The film not only earns its NC-17 rating, but dives headfirst into a pool of dead MPAA member's severed heads.
I don't know if it was because I was so taken back by the sharp abrasiveness of the film, or if it was never mentioned, but I don't even know what Keitel's character's name was, or where his bank statements are mailed to. One night he sleeps at the aforementioned three-some crowd's crib, the next he stays at some heroine-chic looking model type's who loves to freebase, and the next he's staying over at his Mom's house.

To say Keitel's character has friends is an exaggeration at best. The man displays an impenetrable shell to the other police investigators. But, all his cracks start on the inside, and they grow more obtuse until you can nearly see him splitting open.
The film is firmly rooted in its early '90s setting with a Dodgers/Mets National League Championship Series used as one of the few clues to how many days have passed. Throughout the film, and during many of its scenes void of any dialogue, the games are broadcast in the background on the car radio, or on a bar TV. Watching the Dodgers continue to lose as Keitel digs a deeper whole effectively adds tension and suspense throughout its hour-and-a-half run time. Director Abel Ferrera allows viewers to follow the baseball series without characters talking about it incessantly throughout the film. As his gambling debts begin to build, and he levies his debts from the previous NLCS game double-or-nothing on the next, bookies, drugs and his job close in tighter with each passing minute.

"Bad Lieutenant" is a character study, one that throws around religious imagery, drugs and sex with equal abandon. But character studies still need a plot, even if it is barely used to progress the film's events. "Bad Lieutenant's" excuse for existence hinges on the rape of a nun, its forcing of Keitel to revisit his Catholicism and eventually his slurred, yet charmed investigation into the crime.

This is not a movie to actually like, or even one to endure again, but it can be respected. No other film, besides "Requiem for a Dream," can claim such brutal honestly in its depiction of addiction. There is one scene that I don't feel comfortable describing in detail. Let's just say it involves Keitel repeatedly asking a pair of 15 year-old-girls, pulled over for not having a license, if they have ever (rhymes with bucked) a man's (rhymes with sock), before progressing onto sexual acts.

Ferrara is known for his uncompromising, gritty film making. His best known work, "King of New York" was nearly cartoonishly violent and over-the-top — think "New Jack City" but with more Uzi's and a scene-chewing lead performance by Chris Walken. "Bad Lieutenant" takes an ugly character, gouges out your eye balls with his likeness and ends with a morally interesting yet ambiguous and baffling decision. Is he redeemed? Can anyone be redeemed? Is forgiveness greater than justice, even if that forgiveness is selfish? Ferrara leaves it in the hands of the viewer to decide.

PS I just learned this is being remade by Werner Herzog with Nicholas Cage staring, not kidding ... fear for your eyes.

here is the original's trailer: