We Take Pride in our Trash

Part of our ongoing From the Videotheque Vault series and in honor of PRIDE month, contributor Ashlee Jordan takes us back to the 1970s to recount the works of  John Waters. 

Here at Facets we pride ourselves on carrying atypical films you won’t find somewhere else, and  John Waters is definitely not a typical filmmaker. Preceding the New Queer Cinema movement in the 1990s,Waters spearheaded the visibility of sexually explicit themes and the LGBTQ community in North American cinema. Heavily inspired by Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures (1963,)  a film that was originally seized by the police during its first screening in New York, because it was too obscene.

John Water’s first films debuted in midnight movie houses, which usually appealed to a variety of subcultures that were ignored by mainstream media. Challenging conservative norms and opposing the typical Hollywood story lines Waters’s films address themes of sexual orientation, identity, and transgression.


Waters films gave insight into LGBTQ life by uniquely addressing the conflict of gender through his lead actress Divine. The leading lady in nearly all of Waters’ hit films Divine is not a lady at all, she is one of the world’s first drag queen movies stars. Divine’s roles in each film were like nothing ever seen during this time period. Her persona oozed of sensuality and “feminine” grace, and led audiences to question gender as a socially constructed mechanism.

In time, Waters progressed as a filmmaker, not only due to larger budgets and employing film editing, but through  development of the actors. Waters uses his self-assembled troupe of neighborhood friends as actors known as the Dreamlanders in all of his earlier films. The Dreamlanders consist of Mink Stole, David Lochary, Susan Lowe, Cookie Mueller, Edith Massey, Susan Walsh, Mary Vivian Pierce, Vincent Peranio, Channing Wilroy, Patty Hearst, Ricki Lake, and a few others.  The troupe is known for being eccentric, overzealous, and overacting. Although the Dreamlanders considered themselves amateurs, they had to learn entire scripts verbatim in 1 to 2 days’ time. Each scene had to be shot perfectly because at the time Waters did not know what film editing was, if one of the actors missed a word the entire scene had to be shot over in its entirety. “The Dreamlanders had to get it right there was no money for retakes” says Waters.

At Facets Vidéothequé, we have the original versions of John Waters’s films before they were edited down for the sake of film distribution and common decency. Waters physically changed the way we experienced film, his intention was to shock audiences, engross them, and potentially make you hurl. From the development of  gags such as Odorama (scratch and sniff cards given  to audience to use throughout the film), fetishes, kinks, full frontal nudity, dog poop eating, sodomy via cold cuts, acid throwing, and incest.  Here is a few of  John Waters’ films that are available at Facets Vidéothequé:

Pink Flamingos (1972)

Pink Flamingos is the story of the infamous Divine — AKA the filthiest person in the world. Fueled by jealousy, Divine and her oddball family go head to head with the scandalous, kidnapping, rapist couple the Marbles for the title filthiest people in the world.

pink flamingos cropped

Female Trouble (1974)

There is going to be hell to pay if Dawn Davenport doesn’t get her cha cha heels for Christmas! Female Trouble is inspired by the Manson Family’s member Charles “Tex” Watson mantra “Crime is beauty”. Dubbed as the first lesbian movie, Female Trouble follows Dawn Davenport as a feisty-high-school-dropout-teen-mom turned criminal. The film’s introductory theme song “Female Trouble” is written by John Waters and performed by Divine.

Female Trouble (1974) There is going to be hell to pay if Dawn Davenport doesn't get her cha cha heels for Christmas! Female Trouble is inspired by the Manson Family’s member Charles "Tex" Watson mantra "Crime is beauty”. Dubbed as the first lesbian movie. Follows the life and times of Dawn Davenport as a feisty high school dropout teen mom turned criminal. The movie's introductory theme song " Female Trouble" is written by John Waters and performed by DIVINE.

Polyester (1981)

Go inside the life of Francine Fishpaw, an overweight middle class suburban housewife whose once sheltered life is spewing out of control. Her husband owns an X-rated movie theater that is currently at the center of public outrage in their town. Meanwhile, the two Fishpaw children are out of control: Lulu Fishpaw is a sex-crazed teenager whose only ambition in life is to be a Go-Go dancer, and Dexter Fishpaw is a delinquent glue sniffer with a woman’s foot fetish. To make matters worse Francine’s cocaine addicted mother plots to rob her blind. This film was rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America, all of Waters’s prior films were unrated or rated X.


John Waters’s  films are timeless and  will continue to shock audiences throughout the ages. Undoubtedly ahead of his time he encompasses the struggles of the LGBTQ community both past and present. Waters’s films embrace “otherness” with undertones of empathy, and showed audiences it’s okay to be different. Like Waters said himself: “My goal was to do everything they were afraid to do!”

Check out the complete list of John Waters films available at Facets.

Author:  Ashlee Jordan is a senior at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she is studying Communication and Political Science.  She currently is a UIC Radio\News contributor.  This summer she is the Editorial Assistant Intern at Facets.

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