A triple fowl decapitation inaugurates John Waters' 16mm freak pageant, shot with an eye for splendiferous decay in Baltimore circa 1968-'69 ("a Dreamland Production," the credits announce over a garbage pail). A bleached Mary Vivian Pearce in runny stockings leaning against a bus-stop sign is from Warhol; she leafs through Hollywood Babylon on the way to the park, where she feeds bugs and exposes the film's nature as a guerilla fairytale while "The Shrimper" (John Leisenring) sucks on her toes. Divine arrives in a wave of Mae West and Little Richard, post-Tashlin and post-Fellini in his/her debauchery, and runs over Pearce while ogling a bare-assed hitchhiker. Confrontational images include the Virgin Mary (Margie Skidmore) materializing in a pigsty and the unaccountably Jazz Age-looking Mink Stole tap-dancing topless on a table, but Waters' great gambit remains his spastic sound design, a disjunctive aural collage of everything from Beethoven to Judy Garland to Chuck Berry. An autonomous, assaultive beast (the alarm siren and machine-gun rattle which open The Robins' "Riot in Cell Block #9" provide the motif), the soundtrack gradually incorporates slurping, upchucking, oinking, and Divine's operatic timbre ("Oh Mary! Oh Holy Trinity! Oh God!"). The heroines escape the asylum and reach the office of Dr. Coathanger (David Lochary), the nurse in the blood-splattered apron ushers them in -- Divine poses for the tabloid cameras, Pearce has her gams sawed off and replaced with outsized chicken feet, which are clicked, Wizard of Oz-style, for a final miracle. A dry run for Waters' later outlaw-salvos, a bit of utterly ballsy dissonance, to be seen, heard, felt, suffered through. With Bob Skidmore, Berenica Cipcus, Mark Isherwood, and Susan Lowe. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce