It was the night. I was going to watch a film. I didn’t know what I wanted to watch first until I heard something. It was a voice, but it wasn’t that of my parents or my sister. And it wasn’t a voice inside my head either. The voice kept saying “but Bobby, what about John Waters?” And the name was familiar. This was the man who directed Pink Flamingos, the film that made film critic Mark Kermode leave the cinema (he said it was one of the few films he ever walked out of). It was billed as “an exercise in poor taste.” And that led to me look at the rest of his filmography.
I was intrigued. And I would have wanted to watch one of his films, but I don’t think I was ready. I thought I would wait. Many months passed and I was just minding my own business until I saw a tweet by the GateCrashers. They said that for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I could watch a film of my own choosing from a list and talk about it.
John Waters has made a name for himself with his filmography of films that are transgressive. Some viewers think of his films as rather shocking. There’s no artistic value to them and to watch one of his films and to enjoy it would mean that one has bad taste in film. And I am sure, there were similar sentiments around Multiple Maniacs. It is a film that wears its identity proudly on its sleeve. It’s a film that asks us to embrace the garbage and the burning down of that garbage. From the beginning until the end, it is a film of absurd extremes. The premise of the film follows a traveling troupe of performers who rob their audience members after the end of a show. There’s a sensibility to the premise as it does sound normal, but the fact that this is a traveling troupe adds a zaniness to it, and that leads to the shock, or in this case, the schlock.
I could have tried to be analytical and viewed Multiple Maniacs through a rational lens, but where’s the fun in that? It’s a film that reminds me of why I love trash and all that comes to it. It may be disgusting and there may be a stench that still lingers, but you can’t forget it. You can look away, but that stench follows you and in the case of this film, there’s a memorability to it that made me consider it to be a masterpiece. It’s the film that I know can make someone squirm and cover their mouth in horror, yet it’s also deeply funny, especially when Divine is involved.
Speaking of Divine, this is the film’s crowning achievement. The character of Lady Divine is a delight to view on screen, especially when she’s interacting with the rest of the cast. She faces horrifying ordeals that inform Waters’ brand of trashy filmmaking, yet she also plays a role in some of the film’s most schlocky moments. Scenes that might play out differently in another film have a stench to them, which can be attributed to Waters’ style, but Divine is the person who gives them an identity. There’s a clear presence to the character that I appreciated.
So, in busting the gates of transgressive filmmaking and John Waters, is Multiple Maniacs a good introduction? Yes, but not in the conventional sense; it is a disgusting introduction that is horrifying and funny, yet one can’t help but look away. Some may claim that this is a pathetic excuse for a film and that it’s the sick fantasy of a warped man and his friends. But I think differently.
I call it cinema in the artistic meaning of the word that is used by cinephiles. And if one were to say that I have bad taste in film, then I will own it.