What would the world of cinema be without the works of Baltimore’s favorite son, John Waters? From his early works like “Pink Flamingos” to his more popular and mainstream titles “Cry Baby” and “Hairspray”—the latter of which spawned a popular Broadway musical that just had a production done by Johnson City Community Theater—movies have been more colorful—to say the least—thanks to Waters’ unique take on movies. The Criterion Collection has recently been dipping into the early days of Waters’ catalog, releasing “Multiple Maniacs” on blu-ray last year.
Criterion follows up that release this month with Water’s 1974 film “Female Trouble,” his follow up to the notorious “Pink Flamingos.” “Female Trouble” stars his muse Divine and other regulars from the Waters repertory including Mink Stole, David Lochary, Mary Vivian Pearce, Edith Massey, and Cookie Muller. “Female Trouble” is Waters’ VERY warped take on both melodrama and the 1950s juvenile delinquent film. In many ways, it’s everything the “ABC After-school Special” wishes it could have been.
Divine plays Dawn Davenport, a teenager who only wants a pair of “cha-cha heels” for Christmas. When Dawn’s festive dreams are crushed, she runs away from home and starts down a path of crime that leads her right to the big house. Along the way, Dawn has a baby, marries a hairdresser, performs a nightclub act, and decapitates her mother-in-law—as you do. Shot in and around Baltimore, “Female Trouble” is a wild ride, plastered with garish glam on every frame of the film.
Unlike most of John Waters’ early works, which he kept in his attic, the original elements for “Female Trouble”—shot on 16mm—were kept in a vault at Warner Brothers. The original A/B reversal rolls for the film were used in creating a new 4K restoration of the film that makes its debut on Criterion’s blu-ray. The film looks quite good but also is—appropriately—heavy on the grain side, common with 16mm and frankly the look fits the film better. The uncompressed mono soundtrack is clear and sounds as good as you can get out of a low budget film.
The bonus material Criterion has put together for this release is absolutely delightful. There’s a commentary track by Waters from the 2004 DVD release. It’s a fantastic! Waters is chatty and informative all throughout, both offering his comments on the production and how he sees the film today. New and Archival interviews with cast and crew are included. One of my favorites is a conversation between Waters and critic Dennis Lim, the two just casually chat about “Female Trouble” for about half an hour. Regardless if Waters is talking about his own work or someone else’s, it’s a delight to listen to the man talk movies.
A reel of alternate takes and deleted scenes are included, plus excerpts from the film “I Am Divine” that discuss the making of “Female Trouble.” Rare behind the scenes footage of the film being made is included as well. For fans of the film and Waters’ catalog, this is an essential release for your collection. Criterion always does the best job with their titles, be it a John Waters film made for $25,000 or a major motion picture by Alfred Hitchcock.
The Criterion Collection’s new blu-ray of “Female Trouble” is a fantastic release from top to bottom. Recommended for fans of Waters’ work. The film is currently streaming on FilmStruck too if you want to wade into the Waters of, um, John Waters, before diving head first into the pool. I hope Criterion will continue to do more films from his catalog, as I’d like to see a blu-ray of “Polyester”—complete with the scratch and sniff scent cards for the full experience. See you next week.