Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Multiple Maniacs – A John Waters, Carny Masterpiece

Review by Steve D. Stones

Thanks to my co-blogger and good friend Doug Gibson, I now have a beautiful Blu-Ray print of John Waters' 1970 carny masterpiece – Multiple Maniacs. Doug purchased the film for me as a Christmas gift. The print is a remastered special edition put out by Criterion/Janus Films in 2016 with an audio commentary by director Waters. The film also has interviews with cast and crew, such as George Figgs, who played Jesus Christ, and Mink Stole, who has at least two roles in the film, including a “church whore,” as she refers to herself in the film.

The film follows a group of misfits known as “the Cavalcade of Perversions” who set up a fast and cheap carnival attraction with such performances as a puke eater, a dope addict, a woman licking a bicycle seat and two men kissing. The main attraction, of course, is Lady Divine, who kills and robs patrons of their money and jewelry. Most of the film shows a strange and hateful conflict between Divine and her boyfriend known as Mr.David – played by David Lochary.

The entire film has a home movie, Andy Warhol experimental flavor to it, which adds greatly and never distracts from its tone and style. Many scenes show shaky camera movement and the shadows of the cameraman and crew on the ground during the filmed scene. Actors often look as if they are hesitant to deliver their lines, or too rigid in their composure to improvise their lines.

Look carefully for cars driving by in the background in a scene where actor George Figgs as Jesus Christ blesses loaves of store-bought, wrapped bread and canned tuna on a plastic, folding picnic table. As his followers gorge themselves on tuna and bread, modern cars drive by in the distance. Does this distract from the film in any way? Heck no. This is guerrilla film making at its best.

Low-budget director Andy Milligan does something similar in his 1971 cult classic Guru The Mad Monk in which the sound of driving cars can be heard in a scene that is supposed to take place in the Middle Ages in front of a church. Milligan often shows power lines in the background of scenes in which the time period depicted is many centuries or decades before electricity and the Industrial Revolution.

Figgs as Christ carries a cross and wears a crown of thorns just before his crucifixion in one scene. These images are juxtaposed with scenes of Mink Stole masturbating Lady Divine's anus with a rosary in a church chapel. Never in the history of cinema up to that point had such perverse, blasphemous images been put up on the screen. Director Waters loves to smear this kind of stuff in the faces of his viewers, and never would he want to apologize for it. Can you blame him? All this becomes a precursor leading up to Divine's excrement eating scene in Waters' next film – Pink Flamingos (1972).

Perhaps the most bizarre scene is saved for the near ending of the film when a giant paper mache lobster, known as Lobstora, rapes and has sex with Lady Divine. Divine makes no attempt to free herself from the fake lobster, and appears to be enjoying the lobster sex as she laughs hysterically during the entire scene. As the lobster backs away, broken parts of it are shown on the couch in which the sex act took place. Lady Divine now becomes hysterical and goes on a rampage of destruction.

As an essay included in the Blu-Ray written by Linda Yablonsky states: “Multiple Maniacs is a monster movie for people who would rather watch a comedy.”

As a big fan of all of Waters' films, I've felt for many years that Pink Flamingos is Waters' greatest early film. After viewing this newly remastered Blu-Ray print from Criterion/Janus Films, I've now changed my mind. Multiple Maniacs is not to be missed. It is Waters' best early film. Happy viewing.

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