If your image of John Waters is the image portrayed by his commercialistic successes of such films as Hairspray and Cry-Baby, then you are in for one rude fucking awakening if you see his latest, the proudly NC-17 rated A Dirty Shame. If you've never seen Waters early opus's like Pink Flamingos and Lust in the Dust - if you have never witnessed a hideously dragged-up Divine actually eat a pile of dogshit on camera, then boy are you about to be shocked if you walk into the theatre unawares. Waters has tossed his commercial successes out the back door and has gone back to his disgust-gleed foul-smelling roots. Although a lot sleeker than those early low-budget films, A Dirty Shame is still closer to those films than to the Broadway-bounded Hairspray.
Pitting the Freaks against the Squares once again, Waters gives us gross-out messiah Johnny Knoxville as Ray Ray, a sexual messiah, who has come to the suburbs of Baltimore to gather up his sexually diviant apostles. He finally finds number twelve in Sylvia Stickles, played with a zestful glee by Tracy Ullman. The usually repressed Sylvia is given a concussion and becomes a sexually-frenzied animal - joining many othe recently-transformed townsfolk, including a Baby-Huey looking Policeman with a penchant for being diapered and burped and a family of three bears (not the Grizzley kind - the hairy homosexual kind). Also along is Sylvia's daughter (a prosthetic-enhanced Selma Blair) who has had her breasts enlarged to criminal proportions and now goes by the name of Ursulla Udders. All-in-all, it is a sexual war in the streets of suburban Baltimore - but a rather single-noted war. Even when Ray Ray finally finds the elusive "unknown" sexual act and the Freaks win (c'mon, you didn't really think the Squares would win, did you?) - it is merely just another form of S&M.
This scenario is humourous at first (even downright hilarious a few times), but after a while begins to verge on tedious and becomes almost one-note. Waters does manage to enlighten us on the more obscure forms of fetishness, but A Dirty Shame ends up being not as purely gross-out shocking as his earlier films, nor does it manage to be as funny as his more recent works.
-October 6, 2004
Updated comments after seeing the film a second time (November 13th):
Watching John Waters' A Dirty Shame a second time - after that debacle people called an election - the correlation between the film and the election become frightingly apparent. Waters has pitted the open-minded blue states against the closed-minded red states - those that cherish freedom and equality over everything else versus those that would vote to tear down the walls of the civil rights movements and bring back a dark age of oppression against anyone who is different (e.g. Homosexuals, African-Americans, Muslims etc). There is even one scene wherein the 'Neuters' (the red states) are having a rally for decency and in a frenzied roar begin chanting "No More Tolerance!! No More Tolerance!!!" - isn't this what 51% of America chanted on November 3rd?!
I have a rather misguided friend who has been brainwashed into thinking Bush is a good and moral man - and that no opression will come of his accession to the throne through the lever-pulling, chad-punching bigotry of middle Amerika. He sat beside me at The Midtown Cinema in Harrisburg, as we watched the film and cackled like a spider monkey on acid as the film rolled. Sadly though he pulled no connection out of the fire and still has no understanding why I think telling 10% of the population that they can not get married, is considered intolerant - an especially disturbing mindset considering his own lamely closeted proclivities.
Unfortunately for us here in the real world, Waters' victory of the blue states has not yet come true - Where have you gone William Clinton? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you...