John Waters Cleans Up Classic Pink Flamingos to Make Family-Friendly Kiddie Flamingos’
After a summer criss-crossing the country to promote a restored version of his 1970 film Multiple Maniacs, filmmaker JohnWaters’ latest project is back in his hometown.
Starting today, the Baltimore Museum of Art is showing Kiddie Flamingos, a 74-minute version of his 1972 classic Pink Flamingos. It’s a table reading of a sanitized version of the Pink Flamingos screenplay, performed by 6- to 10-year-olds in wigs and costumes, taking on roles originally played by Divine, Mink Stole, Edith Massey and other cast members.
Reportedly produced for about $10,000, and hailed as “the watershed of bad taste,” Pink Flamingos tells the story of a notorious Baltimore criminal and underground figure, played by Divine, who holds the title of “The Filthiest Person Alive.”
Divine goes up against Connie and Raymond Marble, a sleazy married couple who try to humiliate Divine and seize the “Filthiest Person Alive” title. The movie’s final scene is one in which Divine, having killed the Marbles, solidifies his claim to the Filthiest Person Alive title by eating dog droppings – a cinematic first that helped make the movie a cult favorite.
The Baltimore Museum of Art owns a copy of Kiddie Flamingos and will be showing it on continuous loop until January 22, 2017. It’s the first local viewing of the 2014 production, which has been seen in New York and London, and the first time it’s been shown in a museum.
In an interview before the museum exhibit opened, Waters said Kiddie Flamingos was a different sort of project than his feature films. Following are excerpts from the interview.
Do you consider Kiddie Flamingos one of your films?
I made Kiddie Flamingos not as a film. I don’t think it’s in my filmography. It’s not in my filmography. It was a video art piece that was done for an art show that I had that was in New York at the Marianne Boesky gallery and it was in the Sprüth Magers gallery in London. So it was done completely in an art context where you see it in a room in an art gallery. I would never allow it to be shown at the Charles at 2 o’clock. It’s not that. It’s a video art piece, where you’re supposed to come in and you can watch five minutes of it, you can watch the whole thing. But it is a concept piece about the fact that Pink Flamingos was the most notorious movie I made, but now Hollywood makes those movies and does it badly. They are trying too hard. So the only way I thought to deal with it was to go backwards and… turn my movie into a movie for children, and when the children read it, they never saw the original so they didn’t know what the parents feared they were going to say when you watch the movie, so I was trying to make the G rating as perverse as the NC 17 rating.
It was a way to extend the life of the original movie?
Sure. You could remake them all. You could do Female Trouble in a senior citizens’ home. It is a concept of reinventing. And the fact that Hairspray ended up as a musical…I’m always joking, like, well I want this one to be on Ice Capades, I want this one to be in space. It was, again, reworking the original material in the exact opposite way that it was originally made. I think that’s the only way left, to not try too hard and to use humor in the other direction, in a way. Now my last movie, A Dirty Shame, was basically, maybe I’m never going to make another one, I don’t know, but if I did, I ended it right where I began, in making fun of sexploitation movies. So I don’t think I’ve changed at all, ever, since I made the first movie in Baltimore in 1964. The budgets have changed. But the intention never has, I don’t think.
But you don’t consider Kiddie Flamingos a film?
Absolutely not. No. It’s a video art piece. You know, I have a whole career in the art world…It’s a video art piece. You can’t see it in a theater. It’s sold in an edition of five. The Baltimore Museum of Art bought an edition.
The Baltimore Museum of Art owns an edition?
All video art is sold that way. It’s sold in an edition. It’s shown only in a museum or an art gallery, and you get a certificate with it. You can’t make copies. You can’t show it in a theater. That’s just the way the art world works…[Under the terms of the BMA’s acquisition] only the Baltimore Museum can show it in the Baltimore Museum, or they could lend it to another art show. …It’s like if you buy an art piece. I mean, they could technically sell that to another museum. It’s just like if you bought a photograph in maybe say an edition of five. It’s exactly the same principle.
What was the genesis of Kiddie Flamingos?
The genesis was to do a video art piece because video art is very big today. And it’s also, I think, collectors secretly groan when they go into an art gallery and it’s video art. So in my last show, I did this thing called Faux Video Room… There was a door to the video room, the curtain, the sound and everything. But there was no video room. It was just painted black under the walls. So it was for collectors that wanted to collect video art but they didn’t have enough room. We actually sold two. It was humor about having video art in your house and your collection anyway. So I think that was the first piece I did addressing video art . This came next.
Where was Kiddie Flamingos filmed?
It was filmed in my studio in Hampden. It was all kids I didn’t know, basically, that were just friends-of-mine’s children and stuff. It was not done with any of the people who worked on my movies or anything because it was not a movie.
Did they audition?
Yes, they auditioned. They came over. My favorite one, the little kid that played Crackers, I took them down in my kitchen and talked to each one. And he said to me, “Oh, I’ve made a couple other movies.” And I said, “Oh good, which ones?” And he said, “Oh, I don’t remember the titles.” And then when we came up I said to his mom, “Wow, he’s made a couple other movies?” She said. “He told you that? It’s a lie. He didn’t make any other movies.” And I thought this kid is going to go far in show business. He was already padding his resume.
The kids did read, yes. And they were great. And the parents came when we shot it. They weren’t sitting right there. They were sitting in the other room. …It was done in two days.
What are your hopes for people who come to see Kiddie Flamingos in Baltimore?
Well, I hope that they chuckle. I hope that if they’ve seen the movie, they will understand the tension of seeing children about ready to say things that…they know the dialogue is pretty hideous and no child should ever say it. But, of course, it’s been rewritten. There’s a scene in the movie where Mary Vivian Pearce is watching her boyfriend Crackers have sex with chickens. And in this movie, [the kid who plays] Mary Vivian Pearce’s character of Cotton, who is actually Brook Yeaton’s daughter, who is Pat Moran’s grandchild, is watching him eat fried chicken with disgusting manners and liking it…Many children’s books these days are about gross-out battles and grossness. If you look at a lot of them, they are. So that’s what gave me the idea to write. If you take out the dirty stuff and the violence, Pink Flamingos is a children’s movie. Divine is a clown.
And that goes back to your ‘working backward’ concept?
Well, that was certainly working backward. I had a movie that was censored constantly, my whole life, and I censored it completely and rewrote it as if a studio came in and said you have to make this be able to be seen on television. But in a way, I think it’s more perverse. There’s one scene in the movie where Divine is licking the banister of a house and putting a curse on it, and in the children’s movie, they just kiss the banister. And the kids said, Well, why?…Their reaction to it was very funny. The script itself. Because it’s still bizarre. But the kids, of course, they liked anything that was gross. They loved it…They do say the word, turd. And I think that was their favorite moment in the whole thing. But they got into it. The kid that played Divine, it was no big deal to him. He went and played in a football game afterward.
Kids are different today, you know. They’re taught to have limits and be shocked. Kids are opened minded. They were laughing. I get along with kids. I always have. We had a good experience. I think all the kids had a great time. I had them over and they all watched it. We had popcorn and everything. They weren’t that interested in their own performance, really, when they watched it. It was refreshing…They reacted like children would react. But I think they had a good day. They had fun doing it.
What was the comparable to the final scene in Pink Flamingos?
Well, I’m not going to tell you. You have to go see it for that. I’m not going to give you the money shot.
Waters said he’s pleased that Pink Flamingos has held up over the years.
“Pink Flamingos still works. That’s why it’s still playing. But, at the same time, it’s been shown on television, on the Sundance channel, uncut. Which shocks me.
“People come up to me, many young people that have Divine tattoos on them: ‘My parents showed me Pink Flamingos the first time.’ They did? In my day, they’d be arrested for doing that. So it’s kind of funny to me how Pink Flamingos is accepted, in the best kind of way. And it has played all over the world. It continues to play. And at the same time, it didn’t get old hat. Young people are always looking for something that they’ve heard that came before them that it might be old hat. So I’m proud that it continues to translate down to the next generation of bohemians or whoever’s causing trouble today, which are probably hackers.”
What separates Kiddie Flamingos and the BMA exhibit, he said, is that a wider audience can see it.
“Really, the thing is, you can take your whole family to see it. Which is the very first time I’ve ever said that about any of my movies.”