by Greg Muskewitz
There isn't very much written material available on John Waters' second full feature "Multiple Maniacs," but that's because beyond some transitory releasing and more interval showings in Baltimore, this movie went largely unseen. I, of course, am only seeing it years after "initial release" in the late 1960s. So that means I've had the benefit of viewing his other works of trash such as the more recent (and way more tame) "Pecker," "Polyester," "Cry-Baby," "Serial Mom," "and of course the crowning achievments of "Pink Flamingos" and "Hairspray." It is of course safe to say that Waters has come a long way since his earlier days, but in any case, that isn't always such a good thing.I don't know if you could really qualify anything in "Multiple Maniacs," as a story, but Waters takes credit for it, just as he does with the directing, producing, filming, and editing. Incorporating everybody's first name as the character's name; Divine, the 300-pound drag-queen, is Lady Divine, the brains behind "Lady Divine's Calvacade of Perversion." (Where for no admission you can see, "Real live queers kissing ("ewwww!")" eating regurgatation, a heroine addict quitting "cold turkey," et al.) But the trick of the trade is Divine's act, which is nothing more than gathering up all the attendants into one small tent where they're robbed, and if necessary, killed.
"No one can blame Waters for telling and not showing!"
We witness one of these gigs, and everyone is on edge because the "pigs" have been on their trail. Lady Divine's main collaborator David (Lochary) tries to introduce a new act by Mary (Vivian Pearce), a Marilyn Monroe-esque chick, where she performs auto-erotica. But she's shot down by an uninterested Divine. Though apparently having just met, Mary wants him and is deathly in love with David. She's instructed to meet him at a bar. Meanwhile, the Calvacade moves out quickly to spend the afternoon at Divine's "slutty" daughter's house (Cookie Mueller).
Sick of David, Divine schemes to fire him, despite their "six year history," but since she's got the goods on him, it's keeping her from being turned in by him. Divine goes out in the city to vent while David and Mary plot to kill her. On her way out, Divine gets raped by a man in a dress and his female accessory. Feeling dirty, Divine runs to a church where she feels she can cleanse herself and ends up meeting Mink (Stole) --which leads to a tryst which includes the reason I will never view a rosary the same again.
"Multiple Maniacs," a claimed homage to Charlie Manson and family (Sharon Tate is incorporated too), is outrageous, shocking, gross and disgusting. But Waters here lacks conceptualization --everything and the sink is included. Like when the giant lobster, "Lobstera" breaks in a rapes Divine, there's no reason nor explanation for it except to show off the fact that they had a 15-foot lobster suit laying around like the way Ed Wood and his crew stole the giant octopus for "Bride of the Monster." In his own way John Waters is a maverick Ed Wood, but in his later days, he has shown some taste and depth. The problem with Waters today however, is hi s inability to shock audiences as before. We still love to be surprised by something as outrageous as "There's Something About Mary," "Happiness," or even "Scary Movie." So when you compare how tame "Pecker," or "Cry-Baby" is to "Pink Flamingos," there's a big gap. Where he's gained storytelling powers ("Hairspray" and "Serial Mom" being two of the best) and his additional growth of satiraizing social commentaries, he's lost a lot of shock and audacity. But what that has done, is it's allowed room for Waters to develop his screenplays and cull out some decent performances. "Multiple Maniacs" had some of the unintentionally hokiest and hammiest acting I have ever witnessed. Divine and company carry on like Waters has promised they will get an Oscar for this. However, I can attest to the maturity of Divine, Mink, and others have gained over the years, because even in "Flamingos" there was a substancial difference. And however phony the (sudden) deterioration of Lady Divine is, the parallel with Charles Manson is undoubtedly unique all the same.
Some may argue that Waters has only done these movies for himself (though in that statement I'm being hypocritical towards what I wrote about Mike Leigh and "Topsy-Turvy"), while others can't argue because they're too busy puking. I don't knock him for that. After all, it is what drew me specifically to his work. He's daring and original, and I got my entertainment out of it, thus the overly fair rating, but I cannot in my right mind give this a flat-out recommendation. There's a fair line between a bad guilty pleasure, and a passable guilty pleasure. It's obvious what this falls under. No one can ever blame Waters for telling and not showing, because he bares and bears all. When complaining about such, who's being hypocritical now? Despite the obvious nature of the "homeliness" of Waters' picture, need I mention the horribly shot photography, the cruddy sound, and Waters' choppy editing? It's purely home movie-style (no brownie points there, but for effort).
But who's complaining? This is only his second movie, and I have seen deeper into his career enough to be satisfied with the outcome. Yet at the same time during the '60s when this was released among us, the world understandably should have been shaken up.Final Verdict: C+
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=4409&reviewer=172
originally posted: 07/21/00 19:28:49