Director John Waters breaks new boundaries of bad taste with the six-film John Waters Collection. Waters actually made his bid for PG respectability with Hairspray, an enjoyably trashy comedy about the racial integration of a teen dance show on Baltimore television in the early “60s. Waters, as always, makes a virtue of junk culture and the powerful emotional forces it can represent as kids vie to get on the show. Meanwhile, a parade of former stars (Pia Zadora, Debbie Harry, Sonny Bono) and pseudostars (Divine, Ricki Lake) cross the screen, playing freakish characters absorbed by thoughts of fame. Pecker (Edward Furlong) loves to use the camera to capture his fellow Baltimore residents living their daily lives. Of course, since Pecker is a Waters movie, those daily lives include visits to strip bars, shoplifting, and various other quirky, and frequently hilarious, human activities. When Pecker”s makeshift photo exhibit comes to the attention of a New York art agent (Lili Taylor), Pecker becomes the latest sensation. Pecker has something to offend just about everyone. But those who take the offenses to heart would be missing out on what amounts to a sweet-natured farce. In Waters”s hilariously trashy tale of suburban misadventure Polyester, his favorite leading lady, transvestite Divine, plays Francine Fishpaw, a dissatisfied suburban housefrau who longs for a little romance in her life because her husband and children drive her crazy. Salvation arrives in the form of Tod Tomorrow (Tab Hunter), a drive-in owner who sweeps Francine off her feet (a mean task, given Divine”s girth). But he”s not all he”s cracked up to be. Everyone in Desperate Living”s Mortville has some horrible secret to hide.
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The mentally unstable Peggy Gravel (Mink Stole, in a superb display of overacting) and her 300-pound-plus maid Grizelda must take it on the lam after Grizelda smothers Peggy”s husband under her elephantine buttocks. They find themselves in Mortville, a shanty fiefdom ruled by the grotesque Queen Carlotta (the incomparable Edith Massey). The evil queen delights in tormenting her subjects, but Peggy and Grizelda soon team up with a pair of lesbian outcasts, and a rebellion is in the air. Notable for the absence of Waters regular Divine, this movie pushes the rest of the cast to their over-the-top best. Nasty, shabby, gross, and hilarious, this is John Waters at his best. Pink Flamingos is the movie that made Waters famous, and quite possibly the film that made bad taste cool. The plot revolves around two vile families laying claim to the title “The Filthiest People Alive.” You”ve got pregnant women in pits, you”ve got grown men getting sexual satisfaction from chickens, you”ve got people licking furniture to perform trailer-park voodoo, and you”ve got classic lines like: “Oh my God! The couch … it … it rejected you!” Waters made this celluloid sideshow with one aim–to make a name for himself. It worked. In Female Trouble, cross-dressing cult icon Divine is at her most gleefully outrageous as teenage brat Dawn Davenport, who runs away from home and into a life of wanton hedonism all because she didn”t get cha-cha heels for Christmas. Almost immediately she”s molested by a sleazy motorcycle thug (also played by Divine), but she doesn”t let motherhood interfere with her plans of stardom and turns herself into an unlikely fashion statement in an apocalyptic fashion show. Waters”s fourth feature is just as cinematically primitive and even more gleefully vulgar, right down to the electric climax of Dawn”s road to everlasting fame.