Archive for the CAMP Category

“Multiple Maniacs” and the Genius of John Waters

Posted in CAMP, CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, ME, Movies, Movies (Contemporary), My Shows, PLUGS with tags , , , , , , , , on August 5, 2016 by travsd


Tonight at New York’s IFC Center: opening night of the re-release of John Waters’ fully restored 1970 trashterpiece Multiple Maniacs! (With Waters there himself tonight)

Waters has been hugely influential on me, and inspirational to me as an artist and impresario, most evident in my musicals House of Trash,  my Manson musical Willy Nilly, and Beach Blanket Bluebeard, and in certain other productions of mine like Jack the Ripper’s Holiday Spectacular, and the short film Poison Shirt/ Boots of the Transsexual. But he may even be more important to me as a critic and aesthetic theorist. A large part of my philosophy, I think can ultimately be traced to Waters’ 1981 book Shock Value and his many public utterances over the decades, as well as J. Hoberman’s terrific contextualization of the artist in his 1983 book Midnight Movies.

What it boils down to is a different scale of merit than most critics and audiences bring to the table when they go to see a movie or play. Its antecedents are Theatre of the Ridiculous, the European avant-garde, and French auteur theory, which dared to see art in the Hollywood film (though Waters stakes out new territory, going “below” B movies all the way down to Grade Z pictures). One sees so much in Waters: Jack Smith, Jean Genet, Kenneth Anger, Russ Meyers, William Castle, exploitation pictures of a hundred different kinds. Under Waters’ spell I long ago pulled away from the conventional measures of “good” and “bad”. For the most part (except in cases of remarkable genius) I am indifferent to the prosaic pursuit of the illusion of “truth” in acting, or of “professionalism” in scenography. All I care is whether what I am watching makes an aesthetic impact of any kind, for that is rare enough. More often than not, what others will call “bad” (naive art, folk art, melodrama, amateur theatre, etc) will strike me as excellent — more excellent than the conventional and the polished, simply because it is more interesting. (See my essay on Ed Wood here).

I would say even that as an acolyte of Waters, I (and some of my friends, I think) now exceed the Master on this score. Waters is of his generation. He often seems to have a tongue-in-cheek, ironic stance about much of what he enjoys, and hence it can be read as camp. An example might be found when he speaks about one of his favorite movies, Boom! , a screen adaptation of Tennessee Williams The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore, which he loves, but feels compelled to brand as “bad” for our benefit. I knew the play and was thrilled to get to see the movie earlier this year. To me, it is only fascinating and over-the-top and excellent. No need to filter it through camp and irony. No need to apologize for it. It is just great. But of course, I am empowered to feel this way because Waters made it possible. He is an aesthetic pioneer. He plunged into terra incognita and then sent back travelogues that told us it was OK to follow.

Multiple Maniacs is an early linchpin in Waters’ career and his second feature. I’d long read about it, but it had long been unavailable. I’d long seen everything that came after, but never this legendary film. Shot in then-highly unfashionable black and white, it features his famous cast of “Dreamlanders”: Divine, Mink Stole, Cookie Mueller, Edith Massey (the egg sucker from Pink Flamingos), David Lochary and Mary Vivian Pearce. It looks like a combination of a French art film from ten years earlier, mixed with a home movie. The locations include Waters’ parents’ lawn, his own apartment (the poster for Boom! provides an excellent clue), local (Baltimore) streets, dive bars, and (most appallingly) churches. Some scenes are out of focus. Actors go up on lines. On one take, Lochary accidentally walks into a tree branch. In another, the old heap of a car the cast was riding around in died right in the middle of the road — it’s in the film. Passers-by look at the camera. Extras laugh out of character. When the budget is this small, there are no retakes.

But even at this early stage of his career, Waters is a story teller of genius. I found myself wanting a copy of the screenplay. (I just looked; it is indeed available to purchase). In the beginning, Lady Divine and Mr. David (Divine and Lochary) are running a sideshow called The Cavalcade of Perversion, featuring “real queers”, “sluts, fags, dykes and pimps”, a junkie going through withdrawal, a bunch of naked hippies, a man performing cunnilingus on a bicycle seat, and a “Puke Eater” (hilariously, there is a helpful sign next to him with those words, even as we watch him eat the puke out of a bucket). But this layout is only a dodge. It is the bait that allows Divine and Mr. David and their company of freaks to kidnap and rob the customers. Unfortunately, this time Divine shoots and kills one of them in a fit of passion and now she must flee. Divine is now developing a taste for murder for its own sake. This proves especially unfortunate for Mr. David, who is beginning to have an affair with a devotee named Bonnie (Pearce) who longs to “perform acts” with him. When Divine charges down the street to get her revenge on the couple, she is clubbed and raped by a couple of freaks in an alley. She stumbles into a church, where she has a long, artistically shot (except for the hot dog rolls)  epiphany (done MOS under a long monologue by the actor), and then encounters lesbian adherent Mink Stole who gives her a “rosary job” — surely one of the most appalling things you will ever see on screen. Later, in a scene very much inspired by the then-current Manson Family events (which were so fresh the characters still refer to them as the “Sharon Tate Murders” —  it seems as though Manson and his family were discovered to be the culprits halfway through the shooting) Divine kills all the other main characters, eats their intestines, gets raped by a giant lobster (without explanation) and then chases people through the streets like a monster until she is taken out (shot like a rhinoceros) by several long-haired National Guardsmen to the tune of “America, the Beautiful”. The innards she gobbles were actual rancid cow guts from the butcher shop, making the stunt a dry run for Divine’s poo eating in Pink Flamginos. Have I sold you a ticket yet?

Astoundingly, the restoration is jaw-dropping. The film looks almost pristine, despite the fact that the original was edited under the crudest conditions and stored badly for decades. This version also has a new original rockabilly score by George S. Clinton, and it is appropriately Watersesque.

 But ya know what? I can stop here, because my buddy (and editor) Scott Stiffler has written a much more thorough feature on the film for Cheslsea Now, including an exclusive interview with Waters! Read it here. It’s a must!

Brooklyners! See Charles Busch’s “Psycho Beach Party” for Free!

Posted in BROOKLYN, CAMP, Indie Theatre, PLUGS with tags , , , , , on July 14, 2016 by travsd


Midnight on TCM: I’ll Cry Tomorrow

Posted in CAMP, Hollywood (History), Movies with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 17, 2015 by travsd


Tonight on TCM at midnight (Eastern), as part of their month-long celebration of Susan Hayward, Turner Movie Classics will be showing I’ll Cry Tomorrow, the 1955 bio-pic based on Lillian Roth’s eponymous memoir. The focal point is Roth’s descent into alcoholism and accompanying degradations. Hayward pulls out all the stops in a campstravaganza performance that’s a virtual billboard reading “On This Site Shall Be Built a Valley of the Dolls“. While she’s well cast as an alcoholic (the miles on that voice–and she’s only 38!) she doesn’t capture Roth’s impish sweetness or charm. Already a brassy broad at the outset, Hayward has nowhere to fall in the film but sideways. Nor does the film give much sense of the real Roth’s  talent or level of stardom. In fact, like nearly all bio-pics, it gets pretty much everything wrong, especially period details. For a film largely set in the 1920 and 30s, it looks, sounds and feels an awful lot like 1955. My advice is: don’t watch it to learn much about Lillian Roth, but definitely watch it to be entertained.

To find out more about the variety arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. And don’t miss Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, to be released by Bear Manor Media in 2013.


Tonight! Nerfertitty in Space and Barbarella

Posted in African American Interest, Art Models/ Bathing Beauties/ Beauty Queens/ Burlesque Dancers/ Chorines/ Pin-Ups/ Sexpots/ Vamps, BROOKLYN, CAMP, Drag and/or LGBT, Hollywood (History), PLUGS, Women with tags , , , , on September 15, 2015 by travsd


Here’s why you MUST see Nefertitty in Space:

In the Wee Hours: Two Crawford Camp Classics

Posted in CAMP, CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, Hollywood (History), Horror (Mostly Gothic), Movies with tags , , , , on August 10, 2015 by travsd

As part of TCM’s Summer Under the Stars salute to Joan Crawford, early tomorrow morning they will be showing two camp classics starring the high strung actress, from her late, “thick eyebrow” period:


1:45 am Eastern:

That heartwarming family classic Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? The part of the film that seems to stick uppermost in our mind is the situation of two old sisters, the one (Bette Davis) terrorizing and abusing her invalid sister (Crawford).

Ah but there is a vaudeville angle! For Davis’s character is the fictional former vaud child star Baby Jane Hudson, a cloying, irritating spoiled brat of a thing. If memory serves, the vaudeville scenes in the movie’s prologue are wildly inaccurate, neither the theatre itself, nor the nature of Baby Jane’s act nor the music played or the amount or type of merchandising of Baby Jane products in the lobby bear any relationship to reality. However, according to my personal experience, the scene where one sibling serves another a dead rat for luncheon was not only true to life, but tastefully realized for the screen.


4:15 am Eastern: Trog (1970)

This is the movie that made Crawford (who LIVED to be a movie star), say, “Fuck it. I’ve had enough of this shit.” It was her last starring film role (not including television) and I’m sure there was no love lost by this point. In this peculiar monster movie Crawford plays some vague sort of scientist, who finds a living caveman, or troglodyte (trog for short). In numerous hilarious scenes, she attempts to “reason” with him, to “understand” him, to treat him kindly and with love in the accepted 1970 fashion. But to no avail. The instant the creature gets loose he goes on a rampage, just like monsters are supposed to do.  Maybe it’s because she calls him “Trog” — like that’s his name! A little insulting if you ask me. I got your touchy-feely social science right here, “Doctor”! Amplifying the hilarity is Trog’s costume, which consists of a single ape mask. The rest of the guy’s body is normal, not even particularly hairy. He’s just some guy wearing an ape mask. In the end, our Trog, just like Old Yeller, must be destroyed. To quote the late Pete Seeger, ” O, when will they ever learn?”

The Hotel Casablanca: A Hoot ‘n’ Hollerin’ Comic Opera

Posted in AMERICANA, CAMP, Indie Theatre, PLUGS with tags , , , on May 7, 2015 by travsd


Today on TCM: Attack of the 50 Foot Woman

Posted in Art Models/ Bathing Beauties/ Beauty Queens/ Burlesque Dancers/ Chorines/ Pin-Ups/ Sexpots/ Vamps, CAMP, CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, Hollywood (History), Horror (Mostly Gothic), Movies, Women with tags , , , , , on April 18, 2015 by travsd


Today at 2pm (EST) on Turner Movie Classics, a camp classic if ever there was one, 1958’s Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. 

The film is a riff on the previous’s year’s equally preposterous The Amazing Colossal Man, with the savvy addition of sex appeal. At its center is a love triangle with the luckiest schmuck in the world (William Hudson) at its center. His wealthy wife is played by beauty queen Allison Hayes (Miss Washington D.C. 1949.) Drunk, pill-popping and neurotic, she drives him into the arms of town floozy Honey Parker (Yvette VickersPlayboy’s Playmate of the Month, July 1959) and both scheme over hamburgers and drinks at a local roadhouse to steal the wife’s fortune by sticking her in a sanitarium.

Already afflicted with too many women, he is soon afflicted with TOO MUCH WOMAN, when his jealous wife gets zapped with radiation from a nearby flying saucer and grows as large as a house. Shouting the priceless refrain “Har-ree!”, which echoes and resounds throughout the desert canyons, the giant battle-axe stomps over hill and dale to re-claim her man. (It’s a pity her rolling pin and frying pan didn’t grow with her). The movie was shot for only $89,000 — nothing like the scene depicted in that poster above ever transpires. Mostly what we get is a giant rubbery hand coming in through the window guided by wires. And the mansion the couple is supposed to live in looks modest indeed. But there is something wonderfully, suggestively Freudian about the giant mama/wife terrorizing the suddenly diminished and guilty-as-fuck boy-man. College papers could be written, and undoubtedly have been.

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