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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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