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Wednesday, December 26, 2012
Monday, December 24, 2012
John Waters’s fledgling full-length feature effort, 1969’s MONDO TRASHO is a very odd duck of a movie that even the writer/director’s may find a daunting work to sit through in one straight shot, and I can totally understand why. It’s very crudely crafted — in terms of artistic quality and realization, not just in terms of questionable content — needs several editing and pacing problems addressed, and possesses other aspects that irritate, but I have a very soft spot in my heart for it. Simply put, it’s a bizarre head-on collision of film school-style pseudo-artsy narrative and aural collage with the look and feel of a squalid fever dream.
Opening with a sequence of a medieval executioner beheading a live chicken with an axe — a bit that, as far as I can figure, has nothing whatsoever to do with the actual story — the narrative proper (such as it is) commences with a tawdry-looking bleached blond in fishnets and short-shorts (Mary Vivian Pearce, identified in the credits as “the Bombshell”) strolls to the bus stop and rides the public conveyance to the strains of the incongruously-employed “Pomp and Circumstance,” a tune that lets the audience know it’s gazing upon a late-20th century avatar of Venus-like beauty and regality. (Yeah, right. Sure, she’s kinda/sorta cute in a trashy way, but come on…) Our heroine makes her way to a local Baltimore park bench, where she feeds raw hamburger to scampering cockroaches (to the accompaniment of Billy Stewart’s 1965 hit “Sitting in the Park”) while a scurvy-looking longhair (Danny Mills) observes and stalks her from the nearby bushes.
Seduction in the park.
Initially startled by the hippie’s attentions, the Bombshell soon finds herself quite taken by the fellow’s dubious charms and apparently aphrodisiacal foot-fetishism, allowing him to lead her deep into the woods near the park for privacy, where she ends up on her back on the ground as she is seduced by the hippie as he sensually kisses and sucks her feet. For her part in all of this, the Bombshell is clearly transported upon the wings of pedally induced sexual ecstasy, moaning like a rusty door hinge as she fantasizes about being Cinderella (complete with the cunty step-sisters and the hippie cast in the role of Prince Charming).
But all good things must eventually come to an end and the hippie, after having satisfied his own selfish foot-related needs, fucks off into the unknown (to the tune of “See You Later, Alligator”), leaving our heroine heartbroken and in a confused daze. She staggers out of the woods, straight into the path of a joyriding Divine (the now-legendary drag performer in her first feature film role) who, distracted by her fantasy of a nude hitchhiker, backs her car over the Bombshell. Divine throws the seriously injured Bombshell into the back seat of her convertible and the pair embarks upon a trashy odyssey of petty larceny, a highly questionable mental institution (after they are forcibly abducted off the street by the institution’s staff), foot-replacement surgery performed by the heroin-addicted “Doctor Coathanger” (David Lochary), religious visions and visitations from the Virgin Mary (Margie Skidmore), death in a pig sty, and an ending that absurdly harks back to Dorothy’s “there’s no place like home” bit from THE WIZARD OF OZ.
Filmed on a budget that probably wouldn’t get you a decent cheese sandwich even back when it was shot, the grainy, black-and-white MONDO TRASHO reads like what would have happened if David Lynch’s ERASERHEAD had been made as a comedy, only with no mutants and monsters (unless one counts damned near the entire human cast). There’s virtually no dialogue and the film relies on its imagery and soundtrack of illegally appropriated music segments to tell its story. The soundtrack is the key reason why the film is unlikely to ever again be released in a legitimate home video format, thanks to Waters re-purposing snippets from dozens of old pop songs — ranging from the 1930’s through the mid/late-1960’s — to serve as the movie’s Greek chorus. The resulting effect is akin to being stuck in a room with one’s demented grandfather as the old geezer incessantly plays around with the dial on his battered radio, unsatisfied with any song he encounters and changing the station after only a taste of any given tune is heard. That aspect is one of the “flaws” that prevent less-hardy movie fans (I call them “pussies”) from making it all the way through MONDO TRASHO without being driven hopelessly mad.
Other sanity and patience-shredding elements include the at times dodgy editing (several scenes go on for far too long), often murky/terrible lighting, an idiotic and aimlessly rambling plot, and an aesthetic/cinematic feel that makes the audience feel like it’s been on a three-day binge involving heavy-duty Jamaican cough syrup and Everclear, while chain-smoking one’s way through an entire carton of unfiltered Marlboros. All of that is as it may be, but to me it all adds up to an engrossing and occasionally hilarious live-action cartoon nonsense odyssey that gene-splices a fairytale quest with an ultra-sleazy, doped-up late-1960’s Baltimore hillbilly sensibility that just holds me mesmerized.
Every filmmaker has to start somewhere and it’s surprising to see so many of John Waters’s signature tropes and themes already in place so early in his filmography. All would soon be refined and perfected into what is now one of the most singular directorial voices in American (and world) cinema, but the rough and messy birth of his oeuvre an be traced straight back to this scabrous little first feature-length flick. And several of Waters’s soon-to-be-familiar repertory players are on hand for this journey into aggressive weirdness/absurdity, including:
- Mary Vivian Pearce as our hapless heroine.
- Mink Stole as a tutued, topless, and merrily tap-dancing funny farm inmate.
- David Lochary as the most questionable of bargain basement surgeons.
- And of course Divine, who is of course at the epicenter of the narrative’s shitstorm, pitching overwrought histrionics and generally being as fat and delinquent as she wants to be. (Hey, the girl can’t help it.)
The one and only Divine, vamping it up.
Unavailable on DVD — legally, that is — MONDO TRASHO is worth seeking out on VHS or via whatever shady means you can obtain a hard copy (it’s available in its entirety on YouTube) and it’s a must-see for students of Waters’s career, especially those who are fucked-up out of their minds at Jesus o’clock in the morning and need something to hold their attention in an effort to stave off imminent death via alcohol and drug-related misadventure. That said, though possessing damned near everything one could ask for from a movie — drama, romance/sex (sort of), adventure, nudity, transvestites — it’s definitely not for all tastes and certainly way tamer than the majority of the director’s subsequent efforts. A wholly worthwhile curiosity.
Sunday, December 23, 2012
Saturday, December 08, 2012
Saturday, November 24, 2012
Thursday, November 22, 2012
Sunday, November 18, 2012
I just got back from a trip to Albany, where I gave a slideshow presentation and fun lecture on the geekish wonder of comics conventions and cosplay at Temple Israel, and I had a blast!
Invited up by my friend Bob Crystal — the older brother of my dear friend and fellow reprobate, Ruthie — I presented a lecture and slideshow of some 120 photos taken at the various cons I've attended over the past five years to the temple's periodic brunch gorp of nearly forty people, and it went over a treat.
Anyway, the whole thing was a hit and I had a terrific time. I hope to do more events like this in the foreseeable future!
Yer Bunche, explaining to an attendee that cosplayers do not necessarily suffer mental disorders that make them believe they are the characters that they portray, nor is their desire to cosplay a drug-induced state of delusion. No, I'm not kidding.
10/14-The last day.
After the SOYLENT GREEN-level crowds of the previous day, things calmed down considerably but it was still pretty crowded for a Sunday, which is usually a "dead" day.
The 2000 AD booth, always the first place I hit on this show's opening day.
Found him! (Talk about a brilliant costume to wear in the midst of tens of thousands of people!)
Xena and the Black Panther.
The Doctor and River Song.
The Jason Todd sisters.
It was a mutual and utterly shameless geek-out.
(L-R) Russ Braun, Phil LaMarr, Anina Bennett, and Paul Guinan.
Not just a gratuitous booty shot: this shows off the back of the costume, plus the fact that Brandy went the distance and included the Aquaman-style fins.
Seriously, it's the seemingly-small details that make for a classic.
A.C. (who certainly appreciates a great costuming effort) with Brandy.
Brandy imparts some of her cosplaying wisdom to a young aspirant.
TRANSMETROPOLITAN's Spider Jerusalem.
Neo versus the Dragon. My money's on the shirtless guy.
The red and green Hulks.
A charming Kitsune.
You're never too young to appreciate Bruce!
Another Tuxedo Mask.
Good versus evil at Hogwarts.
An excellent comics-accurate young Loki.
Tintin (twice) and Captain Haddock.
A whole lotta Doctors.
My beglittered face after it was swathed by none other than Carrie Fisher, Princess Leia herself.
The latest treasure for my autograph collection.
A.C. and the Twins.
Jimmy and the Twins.
With Marvel Bullpen sister Lysa Hawkins.
Amy and Rory.
Amy and Rory take on a passing Dalek.
The awesome Michael Golden.
Shang-Chi, master of kung fu.
Two of the baddest martial artists in American comics.
This Rorschach's mask pattern would change a bit when he breathed.
The Question and Rorscach: basically the same character, only with the latter being a re-jiggered version of the former. (It's a long story from the creation of WATCHMEN back in the 1980's, so I urge you to look it up online since it's a tad too long to go into here.)
Amanda Conner: corrupter of the youth of America.
With Michael Golden.
I may hate He-Man, but I love me some Orko.
I love the DIY aspect of steampunk costuming.
The best of the weekend's several new-look Captain Marvels.
(L-R) Bob Camp, Larry Hama, and Michael Golden.
As the show closes, a few stragglers make their way out of Artist Alley.
After four solid days of fun and geekery, I returned home to tally my swag and mull over the weekend's events. While I had a terrific time, I have to admit that the epic crowds made things quite claustrophobic and difficult to physically navigate through, an aspect that led me to spend nearly the entire weekend in Artist Alley when I would have otherwise explored the full con in more exacting detail. Not that I didn't expect such a state of affairs, especially as geek culture finds more mainstream acceptance with each passing year and that good grace being co-opted by Hollywood and greedy corporations. Shows like this are steadily becoming less and less about the medium they were spawned to celebrate, and that, coupled with the choking crowds, may finally spell my bowing out of the convention scene after being a regular since I was ten years old. I still love the might and majesty of geekdom, but the venues in which it is celebrated is not necessarily for old school folks like me anymore. I have nearly another year in which to make up my mind if I'll attend the next Javits Center show, but I have to admit that during this year's show I seriously contemplated calling it quits after this last round. Check back next year to see what decision is eventually made...
The Thor sketch by Walt Simonson.
The weekend's complete haul. (The large plastic sleeves in the back contain stuff already in my collection and are filled only so the sleeves can be visible.)