A Dirty Shame
You know what is really sad? When a provocateur’s ideas actually become “quaint,” which, is either a step down or a step up from “marketable,” I’m just not too sure. But I digress; “quaint” was the adjective consistently running through my head as I watched John Waters’s newest film A Dirty Shame
, which strives for outrageousness, and succeeds...if the film was transported back in time, oh, I don’t know, 25-35 years ago. In this age of Loveline
, Dan Savage, that old lady on the Oxygen network, the mainstreaming of the pornography business, and this little thing called the Internet, Waters’s latest poor-taste opus concerning the perpetual war between the Neuters (aka “The Squares”) and the Sex Addicts (aka “Insert Any Outcast Group Here”), is well “quaint,” this despite the “dreaded” NC-17 rating (though this is perhaps the tamest, albeit deserving, NC-17 movie that I’ve ever seen; what again was Christine Vachon complaining about?).
I would not call Waters “reactionary” like Joker. Nobody that is this affectionate towards all forms of pervs and fetishists, as well as being the creator of the one of the more blasphemous films I’ve seen in a long time, really deserves that label. Kind of bland?...OK. Dated?...You betcha. A sexual attitude that once would have been regarded as somewhat daring, but now is squarely the province of 13-year old boys (or younger)...Yep. How about inoffensive? Well, maybe I’m jaded (or more likely I lived through the last 20 years and pretty much know what to expect from a John Waters film), but I wasn’t really offended or grossed-out in the slightest by any of the sexual shenanigans going on in the film. In its more daring moments, the film seems to be really skirting towards the edge (the final hint of necrophilia) but pulls back, or avoids the less appealing aspects of the many perversions listed throughout the film altogether. Basically, nobody is eating dog shit in this movie, much to its detriment.
Not that I would have minded as much, if the film had been funnier. Again, unlike Joker, I found parts of the film to be amusing, but maybe I’m just a sucker for watching people repeatedly get hit on the head (I do like me some Three Stooges). Waters is clearly going for the intentionally bad, campy, amateurish vibe of the New York Underground of the 60s, so it’s kind of hard to fault the performers for their over the top or stilted performances; the incoherent story with its mind boggling, paper thin message; the cheesy, obvious music; the “cheap” special effects; and crude mise-en-scene, since that is the whole point (though A Dirty Shame
is still much, much more slicker than anything by such directors as Herschel Gordon Lewis, Mike Kuchar, Kenneth Anger, Jack Smith, Russ Myers, or Andy Warhol; for instance, it was consistently in focus). Making a good bad movie is a bit of tricky alchemy, but Waters comes up with more lead than gold. His film is neither outrageous, gross, or hysterically bad enough to warrant much praise, which, as the title suggest, is a dirty shame.