Please join me in welcoming guest contributor Derek Domike.
Logline: Honey Whitlock (Melanie Griffith) a fading, mediocre Hollywood actress, falls into the anarchic terrorist filmmaking cabal/cult-of-personality of Cecil B. Demented (Steven Dorff), who seek to make the ultimate guerilla movie at the expense of the Classical Hollywood Cinema apparatus.
I’m Derek, and I write Advanced Dorks and Deconstruction, and part of what makes me a scholar and what makes me a huge dork is my obsession with movies. John Waters is a rather divisive filmmaker, and whether you love him or you hate him, you have to admire how he has made the movies he’s wanted to make for over 30 years with and without major backing. To be honest, my favorite Waters movies are Hairspray, Crybaby, and Polyester, but most of his recent work, including A Dirty Shame and his recent retread of Hairspray have left me a little cold. The last movie of his I remember liking was this one, Cecil B. Demented.
Is It Better or Worse Than I Remember?
I’m actually surprised at how similar my opinion of this movie is, despite a decade separating the two. I can appreciate a couple of the filmmaker references a bit more (despite how progressive my parents might have been, I hadn’t seen any Kenneth Anger movies when I was 14, or, Fassbinder, while we’re at it), so that adds a bit more enjoyment to the whole thing. The whole movie is one twisted cinemaphile’s love-letter to the art house/independent movement, so its hard, as a cinemaphile, to not be at least a little charmed by that. Is it as good as other Waters movies…I don’t think its even as good as Pecker (which was Waters beginning to decline, as much as I love that movie.)
What’s Better About The Film?
- Maggie Gyllenhaal (and, for you Entourage fans, Adrian Grenier) have supporting parts in this movie. That isn’t necessarily better, but I keep noticing them. I remember liking Gyllenhaal’s character before, I mean, she’s a perky gothic Satanist with a Kenneth Anger collarbone tattoo, what’s not to like?
- Cherish’s monologue about being raped by her entire family under the Christmas tree is classic Waters.
- “No ad-libbing!”
- The music’s held up surprisingly well, and not as dated as I remember even at the time.
What’s Worse About the Film?
- Melanie Griffith feels even more forced than I remember. A lot of the potshots at Hollywood feel a little tame for Waters’ standards. The ending is really weak, is trying too hard to be shocking, and kind of falls flat for me.
- Ricki Lake is woefully underutilized.
- Stop and start in the second act, could maybe have used some trimming and stronger set pieces.
- But, as I said earlier, I’m pleasantly surprised how much this movie’s held up for me.
What Did I Learn From This Experience?
In short: I’ll forgive a lot from John Waters. This isn’t a great movie, it’s probably barely a good one, but I like it, primarily because of that trashy Waters’ tragically ludicrous/ludicrously tragic aesthetic. It’s still good for a laugh, as well, but I could think of improvements, although I doubt I could get past Waters’ auteur oeuvre, and most of it would come across as more cheap shock jokes and a more extreme ending. (The fact that the principal cast all dying and Melanie Griffith setting her hair on fire isn’t extreme enough for me speaks volumes.)