Sunday, January 6, 2013

Female Trouble

It's one of my favorite holiday movies, although Christmas is only about five minutes of it and i fucking hate holiday movies. It's one of the greatest female roles played by one of our finest interpreters of the feminine condition, although said actor is a male. It's sick, it's hilarious, it's profound, it's Female Trouble...
The great Divine stars in the tale of "Dawn Davenport. I'm a thief and a shitkicker and, uh, I'd like to be famous."
Our film starts where the story of any woman begins: The hallway at her high school. Dawn Davenport and her beehive are bitching and moaning about the cha-cha heels she wants for Christmas "and I'd better get 'em" she snarls to her buddies Chiclet and Concetta. (Before you go any further, feel free to go look at this song written for Divine about said heels, which was finally done by Eartha Kitt and Bronski Beat.... There's also this kinda lameish acoustic song about the movie, as well as this British pornopop band named after the shoes themselves. The cultural impact of Female Trouble, 'tis great indeed.)

In class, there's dress code violations, pop quizzes, gum chewing and "Dawn Davenport eating a meatball sandwich right out in class. And she's been passing notes!" More angst, more beehives, more threats of violence after school. Cue the Christmas music and the ranch house with its sad little wreath. I'd also like to note that Female Trouble features some of the ugliest wallpaper ever recorded on film.
Nope. She didn't get the shoes. "Nice girls don't wear cha cha heels!" hollers her father but Dawn doesn't give a fuck. She socks them both and knocks over the Christmas tree, balls n' all, pinning her mom underneath it. Back when it came out in the seventies, John Waters screened this film for the inmates of the Baltimore City Jail. He describes their deadpan reaction and his mounting nervousness -- he really wanted them to like it -- until the scene of Dawn's Christmas rampage, whereupon every felon in the house cheered and he had them for the rest of the film. Waters swears it was one of his proudest moments.

So, Dawn runs outside in her leather jacket and babydoll nightie and barely has a chance to stick her thumb out before she gets picked up by Earl. Earl is played by none other than Divine, with eyebrows grown back and in full-on butch mode. Like earflap hat and shitstained underpants butch. Divine fucks himself (herself?) on a trash pile and wouldn't ya know...
I haven't actually seen any episodes of Teen Mom, but I believe that this is how they all start.

There's the rejection by the nogood deadbeat babydaddy, the giving birth in a SRO and then we hit some truly magical montages. If you haven't noticed it yet, here is where Female Trouble will fully unfurl its classic "women's picture" roots. It's like a Joan Crawford movie gone mad or Bette Davis in Beyond the Forest: The saga of a woman going from bad to worse, with plenty of rotten men and delicious outfits, as well as some truly snippy dialogue along the way. Behold, "Dawn Davenport, Career Girl: 1961-1967."

Dawn continues into petty theft, child abuse, more ugly wallpaper, more tacky outfits, more sociopathy until on day she decides to get her har' did. And so she goes to the Lipstick Beauty Salon, owned by Donald and Donna Dasher (i have no idea if the reindeer reference is intentional or not) for the house specialty "warsh n' set."
There she meets the Dashers, who wear crazy outfits and audition their prospective customers. Dawn passes with flying colors (mostly chartreuse, fuschia, puce and a sort of bile green). It is around here that i begin to wish that one of Kim Kardashian's hair n' wardrobe queens (Sadly, you know she has some. Not the best, but they'll do.) would fuck her over by dressing her up in Divine's outfits from Female Trouble. I wonder how long it would take her to notice.
Seriously, the broad wears mesh-midriff whore dresses and a rat's nest of hair all the time -- how would she know? Hell, how would anyone? Except those of us in the secret club, of course... Anyway, Dawn winds up in the chair of Gator. Gator is a stringy-haired loser who speaks in an oddly inflected monotone ("I want to wuurk in tha aw-tow in-duh-stree.") and lives with his Aunt Ida, who is played by none other than the inimitable Edith Massey. Aunt Ida wants Gator to be gay, whining, "I worry that you'll work in an office. Have children. Celebrate wedding anniversaries. The world of a heterosexual is a sick and boring life!"
Again, the wallpaper is astounding. The rest speaks for itself. Aunt Ida spends most of her time squealing and shrieking and trying to set Gator up with a variety of seventies queens. However, her Susan Cabot-like efforts to fag-hag herself a lifelong companion by creating a clingy homosexual fail and he marries Dawn Davenport.
Yeah, going that D-list starlet/Vegas bachelorette party tourist flashing of the beav one better, Dawn Davenport has tits and bush on full display at her wedding. Miley Cyrus: You're engaged, take note!

Taffy grows up into the shrieking, smashing, biting child from hell, even more so once she is old enough to be played by Mink Stole, whose sneering, deranged performance deserved an Oscar nomination if not the win. (Ingrid Bergman won her third for Murder on the Orient Express, beating out the magnificent Madeline Kahn as Lili Von Shtupp. The fact that neither Empress Kahn nor the ultimate diva of supporting players, Thelma Ritter never won is a subject for another time.) If the mother's curse of "a child just like you" is truly valid, the infuriating, demented Taffy is just what Dawn Davenport deserves. Mink Stole is at her best when venting her rage at her pieceashit stepdad, responding to questions with a roar of "Writin' a book, hippie?! Why don't you go listen to some folk music and give me a break!" or repulsing his advances with one of the most brilliant lines in movie history, delivered with a level of contempt that cannot be measured on most human scales...

"I wouldn't suck your lousy cock if I was suffocating and there was oxygen in your balls!"

Oh. Snap. Oops upside your head. However, like most marriages and especially those in women's film, it begins to go south and not in a fun way. Standing on the stairway, Dawn Davenport announces, "I'm going to sink into a long, hot beauty bath and try to erase the stink of a five-year marriage" in a moment I'm pretty sure happened to Mary Astor or Kay Francis at some point.

But how fortunate that the the end of her marriage coincides with and exciting new career opportunity provided by the Dashers."Would you allow us to take some photos of you committing various crimes. Crimes that tickled our fancy.... We have a theory that crime enhances beauty. The worse the crime gets, the more ravishing one becomes."
The Dashers are prescient characters and I'm not just talking about the how the technicolor wackos in The Hunger Games rip them off in style, demeanor and plot function. It's the institution of reality TV itself -- wealthy snobs seeing the money to be made in exhibiting the foibles and failings of vulgar, lower-class America. The Dashers' contemptuous-yet-compelled dialogue as they make their way through Dawn Davenport's slum neighborhood is probably the same exact conversation the producers had in their Escalade on the way to Honey Boo Boo's house.

Waters knows this, citing Donna Dasher's prissy request for "I'll have two chicken breasts please," during Dawn Davenport's spaghetti dinner. As he says in his wonderful DVD commentary, "They are saying that before anyone did that. Ordering off the menu -- then it was a joke. Now everyone does it... It infuriates me. In L.A. they constantly say that now." What was once an indicator of profound assholism is now accepted special snowflake behavior.

Although what i really wish is that that dim bint Tyra Banks would stop scrambling for crap photo shoots like "dress up as Michael Jackson and be judged by LaToya!" and do a Female Trouble shoot. Suffice to say that Dawn Davenport goes all-in for "crime is beauty." There's some acid-in-the-face, some amputation, some infantcide, some mass murder, a trial and a trip to the electric chair. But Dawn Davenport remains supreme and undaunted, a veritable Nietzschean superwoman.

It's ultimately kind of difficult to write up Female Trouble because i feel like it all just comes down to you have to fucking see this movie! As Donna Dasher says, "Together we can overcome this boredom that imprisons us all!"

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