A Dirty Shame
Directed by John Waters. Starring Tracey Ullman, Johnny Knoxville, Selma Blair, Chris Isaak, Mink Stole, Patricia Hearst, Suzanne Sheperd. (2004, NC-17, 89 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Sept. 24, 2004
America’s self-proclaimed king of trash cinema returns to form in this NC-17 tale of sex addiction, fetishes, and mad, bad, lascivious squirrel sexin’. It’s as if Waters’ forays into the confines of somewhat more respectable entertainment (i.e., the film Pecker, and Hairspray on Broadway) never happened, and fans of the perverse (and who isn’t?) will be tickled pink to have the man who gave cross-dressin’, poo-eatin’ cinemania a good name back in the warm, wet fold where he belongs. Waters has been shocking moviegoers for so long now that for a while in the mid-Nineties he came perilously close to seeming something like a relic of a bygone age. His guest spot on a 1997 episode of The Simpsons was either the high-water mark or the nadir of his career, depending on whom you asked; had Baltimore’s eternal outsider been co-opted by the very forces he once sought to skewer? The prognosis at that point was, let’s be honest, grim, and neither Pecker nor its follow-up, Cecil B. Demented, while both superior parodies in their own way, offered all that much comfort for fans of the man who, once upon a time, made a heavy-set transvestite named Divine a household name (if your household was hip enough, that is). So now here’s the very aptly titled A Dirty Shame, in which comedienne Tracey Ullman picks up a bottle using only her, ah, nether regions, while doing the Watusi at a nursing home; Jackass star Johnny Knoxville plays a character named Ray-Ray who gives people the gift of a rampant libido and then floats above them bathed in a Christ-like golden glow; and Hellboy’s Selma Blair bangs bikers and sports a pair of – to paraphrase Joe Bob Briggs – bodacious tatas large enough to preclude her ever using a phone booth or a Japanese restroom. It’s a sex farce on an Ecstasy cocktail, leavened, appropriately enough, with not much of anything, trashy in the extreme, but also rather joyously celebrating human sexuality in all its myriad forms. Waters is back to his old tricks, lobbing hand-job grenades at prudery and the anti-sex agenda of the conservative right, even while adult DVD rentals outstrip MPAA-approved fodder three to one (and surely it can’t all be Kerry supporters cuddling up to Butt Bangers III). It goes without saying – but we’ll say it anyway – that Waters’ films, like Astroglide, are an acquired taste, and few more so than A Dirty Shame, which is, even by Waters standards, a frequently silly affair. It’s also, however, a genuine cri de couer in the director’s long-running battle against the forces of censorship and a banal societal (and cinematic) status quo. And for those reasons alone it deserves to be seen.