“To me, bad taste is what entertainment is all about,” Waters wrote in his memoir Shock Value. “If someone vomits watching one of my films, it’s like getting a standing ovation.”
“There are just two kinds of people, my kind and assholes.”
Pink Flamingos is filled with such cheer. It was pilloried for featuring rape, murder, incest, cannibalism, cop-killing, bestiality, necrophilia, sadism, masochism, and coprophagy, the last of which was included, the director has said, just so critics would have to look it up. “Pornography was also just becoming legal, which left exploitation and art films with nowhere else to go,” Waters told The Guardian. “So I tried thinking up things that weren’t illegal on film yet, but should be. I always knew that eating dog shit was going to be the kicker ending.”
The film’s most infamous scene is a single-take shot. Babs Johnson (Glenn Milstead, better known as Divine), walks her dog down a Baltimore sidewalk until it does its thing. She bends over, scoops it up, puts in her mouth, chews, and smiles, all to the tune of “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window.” There are no cuts. It is real. It is cinema verité at its vilest veracity.
Mel Brooks only had to use sound effects to get his bean-fart scene in Blazing Saddles on every list of classic “gross-out films.” No one mistook the hair gel in Cameron Diaz’s doo in There’s Something About Mary to be anything but a lookalike product from a prop department.
“It was just a little piece of dogshit, and it made her a star,” Waters gleefully told reporters at press conferences. After Pink FlamingosDivine complained that people believed the character ate dog shit on a regular basis.
Pink Flamingos was repulsion with a cause. It skewered middle-class conformity, family values, and suburban similitude. The characters confront traditional perceptions of taste, challenge sexuality, gender, culture, and intestinal fortitude. It was groundbreaking. It redrew the boundaries of gross out humor, paving the way for National Lampoon’s Animal House, Porky’sand all their mainstream imitators.