Cecil B. Demented

Cecil B. Demented

2000, R, 88 min. Directed by John Waters. Starring Melanie Griffith, Stephen Dorff, Alicia Witt, Adrian Grenier, Erika Lynn Rupli, Eric M. Barry, Zenzele Uzoma, Harriet Dodge, Mike Shannon, Jack Noseworthy, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Larry Gilliard Jr., Mink Stole, Ricki Lake, Patricia Hearst, Kevin Nealon.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Aug. 18, 2000

You say you want a cinema revolution? Well, recruitment centers are likely to be found anywhere that's showing John Waters' latest opus, Cecil B. DeMented. The movie throws a comic stink bomb into the gaping maw of bad cinema -- defined by Waters' self-styled revolutionaries (who call themselves the Sprocket Holes) as movies such as Patch Adams, Forrest Gump, and just about anything whose title ends with the number “2.” Waters, in his kitschy cool, anti-authoritarian filmmaking style, is in excellent form in Cecil B. DeMented; one senses that this is a true work of the heart. And how could it not be? Just check out this storyline. Cecil (Dorff), the lunatic director, leads a devoted band of cinema terrorists in the kidnapping of movie diva Honey Whitlock (Griffith) during the world premiere of her latest movie. They bleach her hair and trick her up in their over-the-top garb and make-up, and force her to star in their radical underground movie, which is staged and filmed on the fly during various guerrilla-style actions. The Sprocket Holes are a hilarious crew; each sports a tattoo of the name of cherished director (Warhol, Fassbinder, Herschell Gordon Lewis, Otto Preminger, Spike Lee, Kenneth Anger, and William Castle to name but a few) and spouts slogans like, “Death to the cinematically incorrect,” and “Punish bad cinema” at the drop of peroxide bottle. They also “save themselves for cinema” by remaining celibate and channeling their sexual frustration into their work. These are true “no-budget” filmmakers, who understand that all it will take is one ticket sale for their movie to turn a profit. The made-over Honey Whitlock is eventually brainwashed into discovering the error of her ways. Not since Douglas Sirk made such perfect use of Lana Turner in Imitation of Life has a director used an actress so seamlessly. Casting Griffith as a great actress forced to slum her way through the underground is a brilliant stroke. Even more delicious is the casting of Waters regular Patty Hearst, whose own kidnapping and later identification with her captors is practically a real-life model for this bizarro comedy. Like all Waters films, Cecil B. DeMented is an uneven work. It delivers a barrage of hilarious one-liners and then goes through stretches of unfocused activity. Of course, this film will have special delights for film aficionados for whom the in-jokes, like the dubbed version of Les Enfants du Paradis, will have an extra kick. If this movie does anything to rally crowds against cinema's mass distribution of mediocrity then it has served a noble purpose. If I were a member of the Sprocket Holes, I'd tattoo the name of John Waters on my raised middle finger.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More John Waters
Mark the Calendar for <i>A John Waters Christmas</i>
Mark the Calendar for A John Waters Christmas
The filmmaker and raconteur takes on COVID arguments, sloppy airplane dressing, and how to be rich with class

Richard Whittaker, Dec. 3, 2021

Filthy <i>and</i> Respectable!
Filthy and Respectable!
Legendary transgressive film director and author John Waters comes to Fun Fun Fun Fest

Tim Stegall, Nov. 7, 2014

More John Waters
Get Your Stank On
Get Your Stank On
Spy Kids 4 to open in Aromascope

Marc Savlov, June 27, 2011

More John Waters Films
A Dirty Shame
John Waters, America's king of trash, is back with this tale of sex addiction, fetishes, and mad, bad, lascivious squirrel sexin’.

Marc Savlov, Sept. 24, 2004

Female Trouble
Waters' over-the-top melodrama stars Divine in a tour-de-force performance as Dawn Davenport, a girl who leaves home when she doesn't get the cha-cha heels she wanted for Christmas. The film also stars most of the Waters' corps of regulars.

Marjorie Baumgarten, May 28, 2002

More by Marjorie Baumgarten
Joy Ride
Raunchy road trip goes all the way to China for filthy fun

July 7, 2023

All That Breathes
The struggle by three men to save the endangered black kite

March 31, 2023


Cecil B. Demented, John Waters, Melanie Griffith, Stephen Dorff, Alicia Witt, Adrian Grenier, Erika Lynn Rupli, Eric M. Barry, Zenzele Uzoma, Harriet Dodge, Mike Shannon, Jack Noseworthy, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Larry Gilliard Jr., Mink Stole, Ricki Lake, Patricia Hearst, Kevin Nealon

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle