Saturday, December 19, 2015

Multiple Maniacs (1970)

          Baltimore provocateur John Waters got closer to perfecting his signature style with Multiple Maniacs, an extremely low-budget comedy starring the director’s longtime muse, overweight transvestite Divine. Whereas Waters’ best pictures have a strong element of sociopolitical satire, usually by means of presenting criminals and degenerates as outlaw heroes, Multiple Maniacs has a more scattershot approach. The playful notion of transforming perverts into romantic rebels is one element, but the movie also gets into rape, religion, and revenge. At the risk of giving away one of the more outlandish gags, the fact that the picture’s climax involves a giant lobster indicates that Waters wasn’t aspiring to artistic legitimacy when he made Multiple Maniacs; more than any of his other ’70s features, this one feels like a lark that Waters made with his pals for kicks.
          Divine plays Lady Divine, the proprietor of a freak show called “The Cavalcade of Perversions.” Occupying a series of tents in a suburban neighborhood, the show features people who are odd (the woman who fellates a shoe), repulsive (the self-explanatory “Puke Eater”), and socially marginalized (the amorous dudes billed as “actual queers”). Lady Divine uses the show as a means of luring normal people into the tents so she and her accomplices can rob them, but one day she decides to kill spectators instead. This transforms Lady Divine into a fugitive, so Lady Divine and her boyfriend, Mr. David (David Lochary), take separate escape routes.
          Waters spends a lot of time cutting between Lady Divine’s misadventures and Mr. David’s entanglement with a new lover. In Lady Divine’s scenes, the heroine endures two rapes, one of which leads to a religious conversation, complete with visions of Jesus. Eventually, she finds her way back to Mr. David and she learns he’s been unfaithful. Cue the “hell hath no fury” bit. Most of Waters’ beloved tropes are here, including comically upbeat dialogue, gleeful excess, and hopelessly inept actors. Yet poor cinematography, editing, and sound make it difficult for Waters to cast his special camp/trash spell, especially since the story frequently devolves into nonsense. (Remember the lobster?)

Multiple Maniacs: FUNKY

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