A Dirty Shame

A Dirty Shame

2004, NC-17, 89 min. Directed by John Waters. Starring Tracey Ullman, Johnny Knoxville, Selma Blair, Chris Isaak, Mink Stole, Patricia Hearst, Suzanne Sheperd.

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.

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
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

A "pleasantly plump" teen (Lake) in 1962 Baltimore wants to dance on the local TV dance program in this PG-rated John Waters romp featuring lots ...

Marjorie Baumgarten, Sept. 26, 2001

More by Marc Savlov
Remembering James “Prince” Hughes, Atomic City Owner and Austin Punk Luminary
Remembering James “Prince” Hughes, Atomic City Owner and Austin Punk Luminary
The Prince is dead, long live the Prince

Aug. 7, 2022

Green Ghost and the Masters of the Stone
Texas-made luchadores-meets-wire fu playful adventure

April 29, 2022


A Dirty Shame, John Waters, Tracey Ullman, Johnny Knoxville, Selma Blair, Chris Isaak, Mink Stole, Patricia Hearst, Suzanne Sheperd

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

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

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