Female Trouble (1974): Christmas Was Never So Divine
All right, I'll admit right off that talking about John Waters' Female Trouble as a Christmas movie might be a stretch rivaled only by straining fabric of Divine's outfits in this film. However, Christmas does have something to do with kicking off the events of the film, and clearly John Waters has an affinity for the holiday. He wrote an extensive tribute to the holiday in his book Crackpot, has issued a Christmas CD compilation with tracks like "Here Comes Fatty Claus" and "Santa Was a Black Man", and has been known to tour with a one man Christmas show that "puts the X in Xmas". Waters was once even quoted as saying, "If you don't have yourself a merry little Christmas, you might as well kill yourself." I suppose if you don't get what you want for Christmas, then you merely have to run away from home, get raped, become a career criminal / fashion model, and end up in the electric chair. This is John Waters' Christmas after all.
Dawn Davenport (Divine) is a juvenile delinquent, one of the trashy girls at high school with her bouffant hairdo and bad attitude. On Christmas morning, when her parents don't deliver the Cha Cha heels she asked for, Dawn runs away from home and starts hitchhiking. She gets picked up, gets raped, and nine months later her daughter Taffy is born. Making her way in the world, Dawn goes from being a waitress to a go-go dancer before falling into petty crime and prostitution. Dawn marries a hairdresser named Gator (Michael Potter), but their relationship comes unraveled thanks to the interference of teenage Taffy (Mink Stole) and the fact that Gator likes to read magazines while penetrating Dawn with tools. The owners of Gator's salon, The Dashers (David Lochary, Mary Vivian Pierce), invite Dawn into a world of modeling. Crime modeling that is. They believe that "crime equals beauty" and the pair intend to push Dawn further and further down a criminal path. Hooking Dawn on "liquid eyeliner" (read:heroin), the Dashers drive Dawn to new heights of criminality and art.
Female Trouble was Waters' follow-up to Pink Flamingos, and the story contained in Female Trouble doesn't seem that far removed from Flamingo's quest for "The Filthiest Person Alive". Waters again populates his film with the collection of freaks, weirdos, and ne're-do-wells one would expect in his films. While the film clearly belongs to Divine, the supporting cast is magnificent. Mink Stole shines as Dawn's daughter Taffy. With her slapdash make-up and rebellious teen/little girl attitude, Stole provides an excellent counterpoint to Divine's over the top insanity. Edith Massey, a Waters regular best known for her role as Edie the Egg Lady in Flamingos, is all thrashing weirdness as Aunt Ida, Dawn's acid throwing rival who ends up as a one handed prisoner in a giant birdcage. David Lochary, who I wish had appeared in more films before his death in 1977, plays the artistically devious photographer with great aplomb. While all the actors hold their own, only Lochary seems like a real match for Divine.
Now onto the Divine one himself... or herself. I suppose both would be in order here. While Divine spends most of his time in tight dresses and sky high wigs, he also makes a rare appearance in Female Trouble as a man. In fact, he appears as the man who rapes Dawn Davenport. So when Dawn later tells her rapist to "fuck himself", it appears he already had. (Divine would appear onscreen in male clothes only two more times, in Hairspray and his only all male movie role, Trouble in Mind, co-starring Kris Kristofferson.) Dawn Davenport is the kind of character that only Divine could have brought to life. Waters wrote movies that went beyond the scope and scale of good taste, and Divine could bring the larger than life grandeur needed for a character that equates the electric chair with the Academy Award. Their pairing was a perfect one, and while Waters is held up as a paragon of cult film and Indie film in general, I hope that Divine's memory is not diminished to just kitsch. As good as Waters' films were, they were built on the performances and Divine's presence most of all.
The main theme of Female Trouble is the quest for fame and adulation at any cost. Dawn Davenport doesn't have any respect for her parents, her child, the law, or society in general. However, by the end of the film she is deeply concerned with the message she leaves behind for her "fans" as she is electrocuted. This brought to mind much that is rampant in the media today. More often than not, bad behavior only serves to increase celebrity. Take for example Kim Kardashian. While her mother is married to a famous athlete, Kim has made no discernible contribution to society for which she should be awarded celebrity. Oh wait, I forgot. She was in a home made porn and has a big booty. My mistake. I don't mean to pick on Kim, (Okay, maybe I do a bit.) but she makes a good example. While Kim's actions aren't tantamount to gunning down a live audience, they do prove that acting badly gets attention. Even after all these years, Manson still holds a token of celebrity among some people, and Charlie might have been on John's mind during Female Trouble as well. The "crime is beauty" idea came from discussions Waters had when he visited Manson family member "Tex" Watson in jail.
So Christmas, yep, there's nothing like watching Divine cut the hand off The Egg Lady to get yourself in the mood for the festive holiday. Okay, so it wasn't the most Chrissmassy movie around, but who can resist watching Divine throw a fit under her Christmas tree because of Cha Cha heels. I know I can't, and if you can, well your heart needs some Grinch sized growth. In the days leading up to the holiday, I've got some more festive titles lined up, but it was a real holiday treat for me to get to review this John Waters film. Somehow I've managed to get into year four without ever talking about one of the King of Trash's features, and every time I watch one I remember what a great gift they are to cult film lovers. So this season, when everyone else turns their thoughts to Baby Jesus, I encourage everyone to check out Female Trouble, leave the religious trappings behind, and turn your holiday into something Divine.