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On this page: MULTIPLE MANIACS | LA STRADA
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last update 16.May.17
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Multiple Maniacs
4/5    
dir-scr-prd John Waters
with Divine, David Lochary, Mary Vivian Pearce, Mink Stole, Cookie Mueller, Rick Morrow, Paul Swift, Edith Massey, Howard Gruber, Michael Renner Jr, Susan Lowe, Vincent Peranio
mink and divine release US 10.Apr.70
reissue UK 17.Feb.17
70/US 1h36
Multiple Maniacs Rarely screened, this early John Waters romp is jaw-dropping in all the best ways. Consistently over-the-top, it hilariously plays around with stereotypes as it tells a story about social outcasts literally eating each other for lunch. It's utterly bonkers, relentlessly vulgar, broadly acted and made on what looks like a pittance. It's also a masterpiece.

In the suburbs, Mr David (Lochary) lures bystanders to a travelling cavalcade of filth run by Lady Divine (Divine) and her acolytes. It's actually a scam to rob the patrons, and if one gets shot in the process, Divine doesn't mind. On the other hand, she's enraged because David is having an affair the bleached-blonde Bonnie (Pearce). On the way to kill them in their love-nest, she is raped by cross-dressing glue-huffers and more pleasantly stimulated in a church by the voracious Mink (Stole). Meanwhile, Divine's daughter (Mueller) is growing tired of the drama.

The plot traces Divine's murderous quest over the course of one day, shot in sunny black and white 16mm, beautifully restored digitally with a remarkably clear sound mix. And pretty much everyone in the movie has killing in mind, leading to a final act that takes a series of turns that would feel Shakespearean if they weren't so absurdly comical. Even with these increasingly outrageous situations, Waters saves a few even more raucous touches for the closing scenes, from an amorous lobster to a militarised street mob.

All of the performances are exaggerated, and some are rather amateurish, but they combine to create an amusing collection of characters who interact in ridiculous ways. Divine anchors the mayhem in diva mode, a bizarrely likeable sociopath who revels in becoming a full-fledged maniac. She's simply amazing, and has terrific chemistry with everyone, especially Stole. Lochary provides a solid kick as the unfaithful boyfriend, even giving David a reason for his frustration. And scenes are packed with colourful side characters.

Where this all goes is very, very silly, with a nonstop string of rude gags that have been inserted simply for shock value. But this is entirely the point, and adds an important layer to the joke, exploring the lines society draws in seemingly random places. These people are unbothered about crossing those lines in every conceivable direction. This may make the movie seem like a gimmicky bit of nastiness. But it also reminds us how important it is to have people in society who push the limits, even if we may not want to witness it firsthand.

18 themes, language, violence, sexuality
16.Jan.17
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shadows all-time top 100 filmsLa Strada
5/5   MUST MUST SEE SEE  
aka: The Road
dir Federico Fellini
scr Federico Fellini, Tullio Pinelli
prd Dino De Laurentiis, Carlo Ponti
with Anthony Quinn, Giulietta Masina, Richard Basehart, Aldo Silvani, Marcella Rovere, Livia Venturini, Anna Primula, Pietro Ceccarelli, Mario Passante, Giovanna Galli, Yami Kamadeva, Gustavo Giorgi
masina and quinn release It 23.Sep.54,
UK Nov.55, US 16.Jul.56
reissue UK 19.May.17
54/Italy 1h48

VENICE FILM FEST
la strada This Oscar-winning Italian drama predates Federico Fellini's equally famous The Nights of Cabiria by three years, and it offers an even more devastating performance from the awesome Giulietta Masina. Sweet, moving and darkly wrenching, this is a beautiful story about the power of hope and the deep need for a sense of purpose in life.

After his sidekick Rosa dies, Zampano (Quinn) returns to her seaside home and buys her younger sister Gelsomina (Masina) to assist him as he travels performing his strong-man routine. But Gelsomina has an askance way of looking at things, and the brutish Zampano treats her more like a pet than a partner. She's hurt by his relentless womanising. And when she befriends cheeky tight-rope walker The Fool (Basehart), she's confused and infuriated by the feud between these two men. But The Fool notices her curiosity and intelligence, and he sees her quiet influence on Zampano.

Shot in bracing monochrome, the film vividly captures the dusty life on the road, including raucous drunken nights and boisterous circus performances. While everything has a raw, earthy tone, the realism is heightened to draw attention to the drama taking place in the lives of the characters. The perspective is largely Gelsomina's, as she tries to make sense of Zampano's thug-like behaviour while marvelling at all of the new things she discovers around her. This gives the film's final sequence, in which the point of view shifts to Zampano, a proper kick.

Masina is radiant as the impish Gelsomina, a giggly, shy girl who is underestimated by almost everyone she meets. The actress vividly depicts the complex mix of wonder and fear, delight and irritation, as she contemplates running away from the circus. But there's a sense of purpose with this violent man that she can't escape. Both Quinn and Basehart are also excellent, breathing so much life into these complex men that they both feel capable of almost anything.

The film's production style may date it, but the performances and themes are still powerfully resonant. The interaction between these three very different people bristles with energy, offering profound insight into the way our attitudes and actions have an impact on each other, regardless of our intentions. And in Gelsomina there's a provocative challenge to break out of the expected mould, to look at the world through our own eyes rather than the way others think we should see it.

PG themes, violence
revisited 14.May.17

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