Part­ing Shot

Newsweek - - News - —MKS

John Wa­ters

THE TRANS­GRES­SIVE 1974 FILM FE­MALE TROU­BLE IS OF­FI­CIALLY A CLAS­SIC. In cer­tain cir­cles, it al­ways was, but a new 4K dig­i­tal restora­tion from Cri­te­rion clas­sics, with bonus footage, puts a gar­ish cherry on top. John Wa­ters was 25 when he wrote, pro­duced and shot the film, for $25,000, on the streets of his beloved Bal­ti­more. It was the sec­ond in his Trash Tril­ogy (be­tween 1972’s Pink Flamin­gos and 1977’s Des­per­ate Liv­ing) and starred the Dream­lan­ders, his reg­u­lar troupe of ec­centrics, led by Wa­ters’s child­hood friend and muse, Har­ris Glenn Milstead, aka Di­vine (who died too soon, in 1988). Trou­ble be­gins with Di­vine’s Dawn Daven­port shov­ing her mother into a Christ­mas tree when she doesn’t get black cha-cha heels. All man­ner of crime and hi­lar­i­ous grotes­querie en­sues, end­ing with Dawn ex­e­cuted in the elec­tric chair. Wa­ters, who would go on to di­rect nine more films, in­clud­ing Hair­spray (1988), spoke to Newsweek about how time has treated his de­mented baby. “It’s funny. Fe­male Trou­ble wasn’t a hit when it came out,” he says. “It was thought of as Pink Flamin­gos’s poor step­sis­ter.”

When you watch Fe­male Trou­ble now, what is your im­pres­sion?

Kind of what my fa­ther used to say: “What were you think­ing?” [Laughs.]

The film is a trea­sure trove of quotable lines. Do you have a fa­vorite?

When Dawn says to her daugh­ter Taffy, “A team of doc­tors ex­am­ined you, and I don’t like it any bet­ter than you do, but you are most def­i­nitely re­tarded.” It’s the most po­lit­i­cally in­cor­rect line in the whole movie, and it still makes me laugh, I’m em­bar­rassed to ad­mit. But then I am po­lit­i­cally in­cor­rect, and Dawn was in­tended as a par­ody of a bad mother. Nat­u­rally she would use the r-word.

Doesn’t she also beat Taffy with a car aerial?

Yes. The rea­son I put that in was be­cause my sis­ter was a so­cial worker, and she told me that child abusers used them be­cause they don’t leave marks.

Did your hero, the French author Jean Genet, in­flu­ence Dawn?

Of course he did. He said, “crime is beauty.” He in­flu­ences ev­ery­thing I do. When I got dressed this morn­ing, I was in­flu­enced by him.

Some­one wrote that Dawn fore­shad­owed the life of Anna Ni­cole Smith. Would you agree?

Not re­ally. I have noth­ing against Smith, but I think Dawn was more in­tel­lec­tual.

“Jean Genet said, şcrime is beauty.’ He in­flu­ences ev­ery­thing I do.”

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