Female Trouble (John Waters, 1974, USA)

               Female Trouble is widely regarded as the best of John Waters’ early works, and for good reason. Rather than attempt to top the gross-out factor of Pink Flamingos, which would have painted him into a corner, Waters instead decide to make an over-the-top melodrama as a vehicle for his friend and muse Divine. There is hardly a frame in Female Trouble which doesn’t feature Divine, and her performance dominates the film. Waters makes no pretense to realism, with the highly artificial performances in the film mirrored by the incredibly tacky sets from Vincent Peranio and costumes by Van Smith.

               Whereas the films from Waters’ contemporaries in the avant-garde or underground film scene, often feel like relics of a bygone era, Female Trouble feels remarkably fresh. The politically incorrect aspects of the film are still somewhat shocking today, and the film’s sexual politics – especially Aunt Ida wanting her son Gater to avoid the miserable life of a heterosexual – are still funny. With Female Trouble, Waters anticipated in many ways the serial killer tabloid culture that would come to dominate American life in the 1980s, as well as the reality TV shows that came to prominence in the 1990s.

               All that said, Waters clearly didn’t have any grand aspirations for the film, and that’s perhaps what makes it most enjoyable and not dated. Like all of Waters’ films, Female Trouble runs at a tight 90 minutes, and throughout the running time we are treated to a number of tropes from film, including women-in-prison, melodrama (Waters labeled the Susan Hayward melodrama I Want to Live! a major inspiration on the film), and Kennedy-era bad schoolgirls. Interestingly Female Trouble was not released as a midnight movie and did not play on the midnight circus, instead opening at mainstream premiere theaters in New York City.

8/10

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