‘Multiple Maniacs’ poster on sale at Westgate Gallery
I wonder how many film snobs are out there who buy every single new Blu-Ray released by the Criterion Collection as a kind of Cliff Notes subscription to “Impeccable Taste in Cinema.” You know the type—if you suggest seeing a movie, they rush straight to Meta-Critic before committing to anything. I relish their reaction to Multiple Maniacs, John Waters’ self-described “celluloid atrocity,” a riveting, rancid, rollickingly funny B&W snapshot of everything we now cherish from his greatest work, of which MM absolutely must be included. It’s all here, all for the first time: corpulent diva Divine starring as a dominant, foul-mouthed, white-trash bitch goddess, narcissistic and deliciously cruel, yet oddly endearing and cloaked in charisma; the equally talented Mink Stole, creating the first of her many deeply disturbed fabulous underdog characters for Waters; Cookie Mueller (“a mean hippie who was recently released from a mental hospital”) and Edith Massey, (playing herself, a wacky barmaid at Dreamland Studios’ favorite dive, Pete’s Hotel); reams of overwrought, razor-sharp, quotable dialogue; vicious satire unleashed equally upon the Peace & Love generation and Nixon voters; striking jolts of surrealism which both pay homage to and parody experimental and art films; and plenty of scabrous, black-comedy shocks. It’s even better than amyl nitrate.
In Multiple Maniacs, the surreal and the shocking reach their mutual pinnacle in a jaw-dropping sequence in the second half of the movie: Lady Divine’s mission of vengeance against her cheating boyfriend (David Lochary) and his brainless blonde chatterbox lover (Mary Vivian Pearce) is waylaid when a “religious whore” (Mink) lures Divine into a church to perform a rectal “rosary-job” accompanied by Divine’s orgasmic visions of the life of Jesus Christ (George Figgs), complete with miracles (the “fishes & loaves” here represented by canned cat food and Wonder Bread), Edie as the Virgin Mary and a positively Gibsonian crucifixion, all played for very queasy laughs, of course.
‘Divine Saves the World’ stageplay/‘Multiple Maniacs’ poster from 1972
Historically the most difficult Waters film to see that’s actually worth seeing, Multiple Maniacs’ most successful cinematic run was as a pre-Pink Flamingos midnight show at San Francisco’s Palace Theatre circa 1971, where it became a deeply offensive sensation, often accompanied by live stage shows written and directed by Sebastian of The Cockettes, with titles like “The Heartbreak of Psoriasis” and “Divine Saves The World.” Never blown up to 35mm when New Line Cinema began distributing it post-smash-Pink Flamingos, it got an “okay” VHS release in 1987, but never made it to DVD. Anyone familiar with battered 16mm repertory prints or the shrill, tinny videotape may think they’re experiencing their own rosary-job hallucination—Multiple Maniacs looks amazing in HD (Waters himself remarked “Finally, Multiple Maniacs looks like a bad John Cassavetes film!”) and sounds even better. With one rather key caveat: due to music licensing rights- and cost issues, the entire brilliant, bootleg soundtrack of dozens of inspired songs from multiple decades has been replaced by a new score by composer George S. Clinton. Which is a truly tragic loss. This devil’s bargain does yield some choice extras: a Waters audio commentary, interviews with surviving cast and crew, and more.
Italian ‘Desperate Living’ poster
So as far as Golden Age John Waters in HD, this package is as good as it gets for now: Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble have yet to surface anywhere in HD, and while a gorgeous-looking HD Polyester is available for rental and purchase via Amazon Video, they used a version WITHOUT the flashing Odorama numbers… that stupidly retains the intro with “Dr Arnold Quackenshaw” explaining how to use the Odorama scratch ‘n’ sniff card (not hard to locate them even now if you try) which is essential to fully enjoying the film. However, iTunes currently has Desperate Living in HD, so that could possibly mean a Criterion edition of this fucked-up masterpiece might be in the works. The sharp transfer brought tears to these perverted eyes—turns out it IS very pretty, what a town without pity can do.
‘Multiple Maniacs’ trailer
The trailer for 1977’s ‘Desperate Living’