Multiple Maniacs (1970) Blu-ray Release
“Yes folks, this isn’t any cheap X-rated movie or any 5th rate porno play, this is the show you want! Lady Divine’s cavalcade of perversions, the sleaziest show on earth! Not actors, not paid impostors, but real actual filth who have been carefully screened in order to present to you the most flagrant violation of natural law known to man! These assorted sluts, fags, dykes and pimps know no bounds! They have committed acts against God and nature, acts that by their mere existence would make any decent person recoil in disgust!” So says Mr. David at the start of John Waters’ cult trash classic. In 1969 Waters had made his feature debut with Mondo Trasho and followed it up in 1970 with Multiple Maniacs, once again starring drag star Divine who would appear in most of John Waters’ films. Both films were made on a shoe string budget filming in friends houses, shooting on the streets of Baltimore without permits and with actors playing multiple roles. But as Mink Stole says on an interview on one of the extras they approached the film professionally and knew their lines. While the budget was small and the film deliberately trash they took what they were doing seriously.
Mr. David’s statement at the start of Multiple Maniacs clearly defines this film as deliberately trashy and subversive. While this film is made in the late 1960s, a decade in which politics framed the 1960s counter-culture and the visual essay that accompanies the disc states that that Waters’ films are not political, it does never the less demonstrate a different cultural agenda to the anti-war, Civil Rights and Feminist politics of the time and covers queer politics as well. At the same time Waters opens the film with Mr. David working the audience like a fairground barker in a Baltimore park, rounding as he does on the spectators to witness the grim and amoral show starring Lady Divine. The white middle-class locals gather round as they watch a doped up panty sniffer and gasp in horror at two bearded males passionately kissing and finally the star of the show, transvestite Lady Divine stepping out to shock further and thereby inviting ‘respectable society’ to witness sub-society. Initially seen in a tent wearing a bad Elizabeth Taylor type wig Divan is lying across a divan naked, diva-style like a Matisse odalisque.
The main thrust of the story has Lady Divine discovering that her boyfriend (Mr. David) has been unfaithful to her and goes after him. In one lengthy scene Lady Divine is seen having a religious experience recalling the passion of Christ while receiving a ‘rosary sodamization’ by her first ‘lesbian’ lover. It don’t get trashier than this. Divine tracks down her boyfriend and kills them both (after the boyfriend has also killed Lady Divine’s daughter) and eats their entrails. At this point Lady Divine has clearly becomes insane and there are allusions that she had killed Sharon Tate and is one of the Manson gang. Waters decided to dilute this element of the story as Charles Manson and the Family were on trial during the making of this film. Are there limits for John Waters? In her madness Lady Divine is also seen getting molested and attacked by a giant lobster, a typically Surrealistic device as well as a counter-cultural suggestion of a bad LSD trip. So it would appear not.
Clearly made in a guerilla style in the director’s hometown of Baltimore, Maryland where all his films are set and filmed, the film becomes increasingly excessive as it develops. Many of Waters’ regulars appear in this film, including of course Divine as well as Mink Stole as Divine’s lover. Waters was not the first subversive director of the 1960s to gain a cult success, but he is the one who broke into mainstream cinema without really ever losing his trashness. The likes of Herschell Gordon Lewis who made splatter movies always remained making cheap horror films or Russ Meyer (a film poster of a Meyer film can be seen on a wall in one scene) always made cheap saucy saucy films with big breasted women. Yet with the likes of Hairspray (1988) and Cry Baby (1990) Waters was still able to be trashy in mainstream cinema. But it is Divine, both here and all the films he appeared in for Waters who steals the show and became an icon for Waters’ brand of trash. And as Mary Vivian Pearce as the peroxide blonde says in one sex scene, “this is better than amyl nitrate.”