The front cover of the "Pink Flamingos" DVD box proudly quotes the pic's original <I>Daily Variety</I> review: "One of the most vile, stupid and repulsive film ever made." More than 30 years later, this still rings true and it still serves as an apt description of John Waters' oeuvre. Yet this new box set of his work illuminates Waters not as a mere shock/schlock artist, but as a savvy and subversive critic of middle-class suburban values.
The front cover of the “Pink Flamingos” DVD box proudly quotes the pic’s original Daily Variety review: “One of the most vile, stupid and repulsive film ever made.” More than 30 years later, this still rings true and it still serves as an apt description of John Waters’ oeuvre. Yet this new box set of his work — which ties into the DVD release of “A Dirty Shame” — illuminates Waters not as a mere shock/schlock artist, but as a savvy and subversive critic of middle-class suburban values.Besides an NC-17 version of “A Dirty Shame,” the set includes six previously issued titles, plus a bonus disc previously offered under a limited mail-in offer. Waters provides commentary on each disc and these are uniformly as entertaining as the films themselves. The raconteur fires off cutting and hilarious anecdote after anecdote: “Some critics said my films stunk so I thought I should make one that really did,” he says of the scratch ‘n’ sniff card dispensed to “Polyester” theatergoers and helpfully included here. Waters purposefully avoids highfalutin critical analysis (“The thing I hate most is pretentiousness — it’s just a movie!”), yet the commentaries reveal how rich in detail even his early low-budget works are. He calls “Pink Flamingos,” which remains his most infamous work, outright “terrorism against hippies.” It culminates with Divine chowing down on real dog feces, shit-eating grin to boot — a scene that retains its nauseating power even to this day. “Hairspray,” on the other hand, crossed over to mainstream auds before inspiring a stage musical, which in turn spawned the coming movie remake. Star Ricki Lake dishes on the commentary, and despite her clear appreciation for everything Waters did for her career, she still seems bitter that Waters made her bleach her hair platinum blond, only to tease it out so it looked like a wig anyway. The bulk of the extras can be found on the box’s bonus disc. It’s an absolute treasure-trove for Waters aficionados, filled with deleted scenes, trailers, archive footage, home movies and rarities such as outtakes from Waters’ early shorts and the docu “Love Letter to Edie.” New Line has included several hours of audio clips of Waters interviewing Divine, his late muse. Bonus disc extras can be accessed through a timeline menu system, which is initially frustrating. However, hunting around the screens yields unexpected rewards; the timeline provides a sociohistoric counterpoint to Waters’ career. New Line has done an excellent job with the film transfers — these discs look better than any 30-year-old low-budget indie has any right to look.