BluRay/DVD Reviews

POLYESTER / DESPERATE LIVING

By • Sep 4th, 2001 •

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Double disc set (New Line)

Disc 1: POLYESTER 86min., 1:85:1 Aspect Ratio, Reproduction of original “Odorama” card
Feature commentary by John Waters, Original Theatrical Trailer.
Starring Divine, Tab Hunter, Edith Massey, Mink Stole and Stiv Bators. Written, produced and Directed by John Waters.

Disc 2: DESPERATE LIVING 91 min., 1:33:1 Aspect Ratio
Audio commentary by John Waters and Liz Renay, Original Theatrical Trailer. Starring Mink Stole, Jean Hill, Liz Renay, Susan Lowe, Edith Massey and Mary Vivian Pierce.
Written, directed and filmed by John Waters.

RECOMMENDED

John Waters fans rejoice! The fine folks at New Line have answered our DVD prayers. Beginning a few months ago, New Line began releasing the John Waters Collection, a series of double-disc packages chronicling the films of Baltimore-bred indie auteur John Waters. The first disc features two of Water’s mainstream efforts: HAIRSPRAY and PECKER. Although I haven’t seen the disc of HAIRSPRAY, I have seen the PECKER DVD, which was released solo along with the release of the VHS cassette. Although this review isn’t about PECKER it is my opinion that PECKER is the perfect marriage of Water’s earlier trash aesthetic combined with the sweetness of his later films, which is probably why it was paired with his only PG film, HAIRSPRAY (before you jump down my throat, remember that CRY-BABY was PG-13, not PG). Therefore, if you’ve got the Water’s bug, PECKER/HAIRSPRAY Combo pack is probably a wonderful addition to anyone’s collection. Plus, you can turn your kids into John Waters fans overnight with HAIRSPRAY, without all of jail time you would serve by showing them PINK FLAMINGOS (also recently released along with FEMALE TROUBLE, but more on that later.) The Pecker disc includes hilarious and insightful commentary by Waters as well as a featurette on Chuck Shacochis, the photographer responsible for Pecker’s photographs, cast and crew biographies and filmographies, original theatrical trailer. OK, so I got that off my chest. Moving on.

While the PECKER/HAIRSPRAY combo pack makes for a night of good entertainment, nothing beats good old-fashioned Waters in his pre-HAIRSPRAY years. And that, my friends is what collection 2 is all about. The first disc features Waters’ first studio film, POLYESTER. The real treat about this disc is that it comes complete with a reproduction of the original “Odorama” card distributed in theaters during its theatrical run. The interesting aspect is that since DVD was released, distributors have been claiming DVD was the closest you could come to a theater experience in your own home. Well, New Line has been more than grateful with their releases thus far, but including the Odorama card is a testament to their dedication and respect to fans. For those of you unaware, POLYESTER is John Waters tribute to William Castle, the king of the movie gimick. To the best of my knowledge, POLYESTER was, sadly, the last film to employ a gimmick. But rather than have the seats vibrate or a plastic skeleton descend from the heavens (projection booth) Waters offered us the last thing we would want to do while watching a John Waters film: smell it! The Odorama card is a scratch and sniff card with numbers printed on each scent. When the number flashes on the screen you just scratch and sniff (you following me here?) and prepare to smell the delicate and not so delicate odors Francine Fishpaw smells on screen. Genius, right? OK, so POLYESTER is the story of Francine Fishpaw (played with tragic gusto by the late, great Divine), a forlorn Baltimore housewife dealing with an unfaithful porn-theater-owning husband, an insubordinate teenage daughter, a drug addicted, foot-stomping son and a desire for something more. That certain something comes in the body of Hunk Tab Hunter who helps Francine to turn her life around and find happiness (for a while). While this synopsis may sound short, I can’t bear to give away all of the film’s plot points, because, after all, isn’t that the fun of watching movies? Rest assured the film is chock full of hilarious set pieces, eye popping sight gags (including Jean Hill as a bus hijacking nun!), and enough odors to turn off the most dedicated scratch-and-sniff aficionado. Also included is Waters veterans Edith Massey (in one of her sweetest roles since she portrayed Mama Edie in PINK FLAMINGOS) as Francine’s best friend Cuddles, and Mink Stole as the mistress of Elmer Fishpaw, Francine’s cheating husband.

The film is presented in the original Aspect Ratio 1:85:1 and the print looks great. The sound is still a little bit tinny at times, but still sounds better than ever. As for the commentary track, no one is as much fun to listen to as John Waters. On the track, Waters discusses everything from his aspirations to own a porno theater to how the neighbors felt about them shooting scenes at four in the morning. In short, this film is a must for Waters fans and makes a nice double feature with disc 2, DESPERATE LIVING.

Ah, DESPERATE LIVING. There truly is no other film like it. Part twisted fairy tale, part lesbian love story, part social revolution…this film has it all. While not as easy to digest as some of Water’s other films, DESPERATE LIVING must be seen to be believed. The story centers on Peggy Gravel (Mink Stole), a neurotic woman living in the hell of a nervous breakdown. After killing her husband with the aid of her 400 pound maid, Grizelda (Jean Hill), the duo attempt to flee Baltimore only to be harassed by a cop with a penchant for ladies’ underwear. Offering the women freedom in Mortville, a fantasyland where criminals can roam free, but have to succumb to the ridiculous laws of evil Queen Carlotta (Edith Massey). Upon arriving in Mortville, Peggy and Grizelda rent a room from lesbian couple Mole McHenry (Susan Lowe) and Muffy St. Jacques (Liz Renay). Meanwhile, Queen Carlotta is trying to stop her rebellious daughter, Princess Coo-Coo (Mary Vivian Pearce) from running off with the janitor of a local nudist colony. Then, a house falls on Grizelda and Peggy Joins the Queen in her evil plot to give the citizens of Mortville rabies and for some reason dresses up like the wicked Queen from SNOW WHITE. Oh, yeah, and Mole McHenry wins the lottery and gets a sex change operation…ok, you get the idea. TERMS OF ENDEARMENT, this isn’t. But if you’re in the mood for a wild 90 minutes, this is the film for you. If you do plan on making an evening out of this set, start off with POLYESTER and work your way into DESPERATE LIVING. If laughing yourself silly is your goal, you won’t be disappointed with these two masterworks by Baltimore’s “Sultan of Sleaze”.

DESPERATE LIVING is presented in its original 1:33:1 Aspect Ratio and looks better than ever. The sound is pretty good, but still far better than any other tape of DESPERATE LIVING I have ever seen. The trailer is entertaining and the commentary track is…interesting. The John waters segment is wonderful as usual, but the Liz Renay material gets old pretty fast. While Waters is endearing to listen to, Renay comes off as a self-indulgent has-been. But you know what? She’s Liz Renay and she’s earned the right to have an ego. I mean, she bared her breasts in the film (a first and last for her), so the least we can do is hear her out.

OK, so you’ve watched these two discs and it’s only 2:30AM? Why not make tonight a quadruple feature! Also available is quite possibly the greatest thing New Line will ever release: The John Waters Collection #3: PINK FLAMINGOS and, my personal favorite, FEMALE TROUBLE. Both films come letterboxed (1:85:1) and digitally re-mastered and include the original trailers as well as commentary tracks by Waters. PINK FLAMINGOS is presented in the 25th Anniversary edition with new titles and a slew of deleted scenes. Both packages 2 and 3 are worth their weight in gold and belong in any fan’s collection.

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