Originally written for Liverpool Small Cinema
Cheap Thrills’ Christopher Brown talks Female Trouble and why you should embrace the art of being obnoxious.
Wayne’s World flashback.
When I was a teenager a few films had a strong impression on me. One was Dawn Of The Dead (who doesn’t like zombies) another was Wild At Heart (who doesn’t like Nicholas Cage ham) another was Female Trouble.
I saw it before I caught Pink Flamingos, on a dodgy VHS obviously, and was struck by its incredible willingness to confront its audience. Its plan was simple, either you’re the type of person who laughs at just how obnoxious Divine can be in all his pomp, or you’re offended by its carnival of grotesques. Either way John Waters had won and his film was a success. If the worst crime cinema can commit is being boring, then this does everything in its power it do the opposite. Pink Flamingos is his more famous film and, you could argue, Desperate Living is the better of the movies from this period of his career, but Female Trouble is without doubt John Waters at his most funny and reckless.
The film tells the story of Dawn Davenport, a hellraiser who goes on a mad dash of debauchery because her mother refused to buy her Cha Cha heels. Divine’s portrait of the teenage runaway is all high-hair and screeching. The story is a mixture of celebrity trash (a Waters running theme) praise for murder and fearsome sass.
It expects you to find the sight of an overweight drag artist hitting an old woman with a Christmas tree funny. It expects you to cheer the lengthy routine on the trampoline and with the fish. It knows that Divine appears to be in a completely different film from the rest of the cast. Davenport is high camp shrillness while everybody else appears to be playing this relatively straight.
It’s this fact, that the movie completely plays by its own rules, stuff it’s willing to throw away at the drop of a hat, that struck my impressionable young mind. After all, is that not the best type of narrative, one willing to burn its own rulebook?
Female Trouble is obsessed with the exact moment you decide to tell people to go fuck themselves. Its aggression feels like liberation and, because of that, I found many hours of dubious pleasures watching high trash cinema.
It’s a family drama that also happens to be dedicated to The Manson Family and for that I adore it.