Pink Flamingos (1972)

Fifty years ago today, the film Pink Flamingos premiered. The first time I saw it was on VHS in my living room after high school one day. It was disturbing and hilarious and my introduction to Divine and John Waters. It was banned in Switzerland, Australia, and some provinces of Canada and Norway. It’s not for what you remember about the movie, it’s because of the sex scenes. You should watch this movie.

Title: Pink Flamingos
Directed by: John Waters
Produced by: John Waters
Written by: John Waters
Starring: Divine, David Lochary, Mink Stole, Mary Vivian Pearce, Danny Mills, Edith Massey
Narrated by: John Waters
Cinematography: John Waters
Edited by: John Waters
Production Companies: Dreamland
Distributed by: New Line Cinema (United States), AMLF (France)
Release date: March 17, 1972, April 11, 1997 (25th anniversary)
Running time: 92 minutes
1997 re-release: 107 minutes
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $12,000
Box office: $7 million

The notorious criminal Divine lives under the pseudonym “Babs Johnson” with her mentally ill mother Edie, delinquent son Crackers, and traveling companion Cotton. They share a trailer on the outskirts of Phoenix, Maryland, next to a gazing ball and a pair of plastic pink flamingos. After learning that Divine has been named “the filthiest person alive” by a tabloid paper, jealous rivals Connie and Raymond Marble attempt to usurp her title.

The Marbles run a black market baby ring: they kidnap young women, have them impregnated by their manservant, Channing, and sell the babies to lesbian couples. The proceeds are used to finance pornography shops and a network of dealers selling heroin in inner-city elementary schools. Raymond also earns money by exposing himself — with a large kielbasa sausage or turkey neck tied to his penis — to women and stealing their purses when they flee. One of Raymond’s would-be targets, a transgender woman who has not completed gender reassignment surgery, thwarts his scheme by exposing her breast, penis and scrotum, causing Raymond to flee in shock.

The Marbles enlist a spy, Cookie, to gather information about Divine by dating Crackers. In one of the film’s most infamous scenes, Cookie and Crackers have sex while crushing a live chicken between them as Cotton looks on through a window. Cookie then informs the Marbles about Babs’ real identity, her whereabouts, and her family — as well as her upcoming birthday party.

The Marbles send a box of human feces to Divine as a birthday present with a card addressing her as “Fatso” and proclaiming themselves “the filthiest people alive”. Worried her title has been seized, Divine declares whoever sent the package must die. While the Marbles are gone, Channing dresses in Connie’s clothes and imitates his employers’ overheard conversations. When the Marbles return home, they are outraged to find Channing mocking them, so they fire him and lock him in a closet.

The Marbles arrive at the trailer to spy on Divine’s birthday party. Her birthday gifts include poppers, fake vomit, lice shampoo, a pig’s head, and a meat cleaver. Entertainers include a topless woman with a snake act and a contortionist who flexes his prolapsed anus in rhythm to the song “Surfin’ Bird”. The Egg Man, who delivers eggs to Edie daily, confesses his love for her and proposes marriage. She accepts his proposal and he carts her off in a wheelbarrow. Disgusted by the outrageous party, the Marbles call the police, but this backfires when Divine and her guests ambush the officers, hack up their bodies with the meat cleaver, and eat them.

Divine and Crackers head to the Marbles’ house, where they lick and rub the furniture, which excites them so much that Divine fellates Crackers. They find Channing and discover two pregnant women held captive in the basement. After Divine and Crackers free the women with a large knife, the women use the knife to emasculate Channing offscreen.

The Marbles burn Divine’s beloved trailer to the ground. When they return home their furniture — cursed by being licked by Divine and Crackers — “rejects” them: when they try to sit down, the cushions fly up and throw them to the floor. They also find that Channing has bled to death from his emasculation and the two girls have escaped.

After finding the remains of their burned-out trailer, Divine and Crackers return to the Marbles’ home, kidnap them at gunpoint, and bring them to the arson site. Divine calls the local tabloid media to witness the Marbles’ trial and execution. Divine holds a kangaroo court and convicts the bound-and-gagged Marbles of “first-degree stupidity” and “assholism”. Cotton and Crackers recommend a sentence of execution, so the Marbles are tied to a tree, coated in tar and feathers, and shot in the head by Divine.

Divine, Crackers, and Cotton enthusiastically decide to move to Boise, Idaho, site of a homosexual scandal from 1955 to 1957. Spotting a small dog defecating on the sidewalk, Divine scoops up the feces with her hand and puts them in her mouth — proving, as the voice-over narration by Waters states, that Divine is “not only the filthiest person in the world, but is also the world’s filthiest actress”.

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