Polyester (John Waters, 1981, USA)

  Polyester was John Waters’ first foray into mainstream filmmaking, following his filth trio of the 1970s – Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble, and Desperate Living. The film landscape was changing rapidly, as the dawn of the video age and moral crusading signaled the end of the midnight movie era. New Line, Waters’ distributor in the 1970s, started to go into production at the dawn of the 1980s and invited Waters on board with a budget. Rather than paint himself into a corner with more extreme filmmaking, Waters’ decided to take a more mainstream approach, and Polyester represents a bridge in his filmography between the earlier works and his late mainstream success with Hairspray, Cry Baby, and Serial Mom.

Inspired by the great director of melodramas Douglas Sirk, Polyester is John Waters’ winking and self-referential take on the “women’s films” of the 1950s. His muse Divine plays Francine Fishpaw, an upper-middle class housewife whose adult movie theater-operating husband abandons her for his secretary, throwing Francine’s life into chaos. In the meantime her daughter Lu-Lu gets pregnant by her delinquent boyfriend (played by Stiv Bators),and her son Dexter has been stomping on women’s feet in his spare time. Francine’s savior seems to be Todd Tomorrow (Tab Hunter), with whom she develops a romantic relationship.

Waters’ mines American suburban life for satire in the film, but also clearly shows an affinity for it. His peculiar eye targets major issues like censorship and abortion, but also the specifically American obsession with smells. This smell obsession, which has great metaphorical significance in the film, is given great life by the gimmick employed – “Odorama”. Following along to Polyester with the scratch and sniff card gives the film a fun level of interactivity. While Polyester might not be as funny as Female Trouble, it is just as watchable and also quite perceptive.



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