Thursday, December 11, 2008

Desperate Living (John Waters, 1977)

The seemingly uncomplimentary worlds of feminine fascism, organized lesbianism, and hippie nudism clash like they've never clashed before in the uproarious Desperate Living, John Waters' genteel ode to societal decay and the problems that can arise while trying to muff dive in a dystopian morass of your own making. Taking the borderline distasteful banquet of tainted meat and deformed potatoes the demented writer-director severed us in his previous ventures, Baltimore's most uncontaminated resident has dipped his latest cinematic nugget in a steaming cauldron of rabid bat pus, and sprinkled it with a hint rat urine. On the threshold of engaging in a full-on giddy fit on a number of occasions, this has to be one of the funniest movies I have ever seen. Sure, the characters that populate the world of Mortville, a dilapidated refuge for murders, nondescript scumbags, well-kept nudists, pie merchants, and lesbian wrestlers with excess facial moles, aren't exactly the most pleasant people to spend ninety minutes with. However, in my well-balanced mind, they represented the best and brightest the humanity have to offer.

The words and sentences these folks utter at the top of their lungs had me fumbling to retrieve the lacy contents my niminy-piminy lingerie collection and caused me to repeatedly roll around in a slimy heap of uncooked shellfish in an odd, yet rational celebration of its sheer wrongness. Yep, it was that funny. I mean, self-castration has never been rendered this humourous before.

The story of Desperate Living follows the on the lam adventures of professional neurotic Peggy Gravel and her alcoholic, Tampax-shielding housemaid Grizelda Brown after they kill Peggy's husband (Peggy knocks him unconscious, Grizelda asphyxiates him with her extremely large ass).

After a vexing run-in with a perverted motorcycle cop (the sight of the randy policeman writhing on the leafy ground while wearing both Peggy's and Grizelda's incompatible panties–along with his own panties–was strangely relatable), the fugitives find themselves in the aforementioned town of Mortville. Where they end up rooming with Mole, a surly dyke, and her bosomy girlfriend, Muffy (Liz Renay), and living under the tyrannical rule of one Queen Carlotta.

Protected by her platoon of gay bikers not on acid (leather-clad sycophants who give her sexual gratification at the drop of a hat), the pudgy monarch (played to the hilt of madness by Edith Massey) is randomly cruel and has a tight grip on the town. Nevertheless, there are signs of weakness. Specifically in the form of Princess Coo-Coo (a sexy, even with rabies, Mary Vivian Pearce), who's dating of a garbage man/nudist causes the Queen much anguish. Now, I'm no pundit, but this bit of family strife could start a revolution in Mortville.

The film is slathered in wonderfully diseased dialogue from start to finish, and who better to recite this dialogue than Mink Stole. I mean, I can't think of anyone I would rather watch go completely berserk over the simplest thing than Miss Mink. Her brazen turn as the mentally askew Peggy Gravel solidifies my opinion that she is the most accomplished actress in the history of cinematic filthiness.

Sporting an unexplained leg brace (which I constantly pictured resting atop my right shoulder as I gingerly defiled her aura) and her trademark gorgeousness (she looked like a catalogue model with stringy hair), Mink circumnavigates the bawdy and disgusting realm of Mortville with a breathtaking ease.

Seriously, the transition she makes from a puritanical housewife who hates nature to a hydrophobia producing fascist brought little bits of yellow matter custard to my eyes. Breathtaking ease aside, it was actually her pre-Mortville tirade that impressed me the most; as it's a thing of unhinged beauty.

Coming in second in the diseased dialogue department is the fearless Susan Lowe as Mole McHenry (a.k.a. Rastlin' Rita). Covered in moles and boasting an unflattering haircut (even by raging butch standards), Miss Lowe chews up Waters' unbalanced prose and spits it all over the place. An inspiration not only to tempestuous dykes the world over, but an inspiration to us all. If only everyone shared her headstrong approach to life. So here's to Mole McHenry: Trailblazing visionary with a festering Barbie-doll crotch.

video uploaded by congobeat


  1. And to think, I didn't go see John Waters when he came to town. Can't really say that I'm a fan, but he was on Homicide after all. And Serial Mom was ace.

    So what's new in the Canadian government? Anymore proroguing going on? Has Harper's hair moved since?

    Oh, I've never been a big fan of the Dallas theme.

  2. Can you believe I still haven't seen Serial Mom? Talk about messed up.

    Michael Ignatieff is the new leader of Liberals.

    Hmmm, not that I'm aware of.

    Speaking of which, has Governor Blagojevich's hair moved?

    Whenever I hear the Dallas theme, I get this sudden urge to vote for Ronald Reagan and eat a juicy steak.

  3. Hey! Thanks for this review. I was searching for a certain Mole McHenry avy, and google veered my e-direction towards your blogspot. I've taken view to Desperate Living a good number of times since the mid-teen years. It was my favorite Waters film and has remained so since[chose it to be signed @ a Female Trouble screening, here, in Fort Worth by Waters himself. VHS, of course.]Having seen it, though, your composition has given me the itch. And If I hadn't already bore witness to the trash paragon- well, I'd get right on it, stat. I skimmed through your other links. 30 percent of the titles - haven't known of. You can bet your ass this is going to be my guide within the next several movie-watching sessions. Also - you list Vocoder, Gina X, Cocteau Twins, and Liaisons Dangereuses in that musical area / confinement box;You're a man after my own heart. I'll be lingering around[Dr Caligari and Sedmikrásky greeting my peepers? You're a breed of one kind].

    Kathleen Turner was born to play Beverly Sutphin[Serial Mom]. It actually is very tragic that you've yet to strap that one on.

  4. Hey, reptilian Pig, thanks for veering in my general direction.

    It's not tragic anymore, as I've have since seen the epic splendour that is Serial Mom.