Underground Film Journal

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Movie Review: Divine Trash

By Mike Everleth ⋅ March 31, 2000

DVD cover featuring John Waters and Divine

In January, a comic book store manager was arrested for selling “obscene materials”. Was this January 1950? No, this was January 2000, just a couple months ago. Was this obscene material sold to a minor? Nope, it was sold to an undercover police officer. Was this obscene material squeezed in between the Archie comics and the Pok√©mon cards? No, it was in the back of the store cordoned off in the “18 or older” section.

Yes, some comic book stores have to have special “adult” sections just like video stores. The obscene material in question was a Japanese comic book (known as manga) called Demon Beast Invasion: The Fallen #2. Personally, I’ve never seen this comic, I’m not really into manga, so I can’t really offer an opinion about how “obscene” it is. Does it just have some nudity, which would mean it would be the equivalent of an R or NC-17 movie? Or does it have hardcore intercourse like a porno video, I can’t really say.

This event took place in Texas. If the cops want to bust a store for pornography, they should try the one I shop at regularly, St. Mark’s Comics in Manhattan. St. Mark’s keeps hardcore pornographic comics on the very bottom rack of their new releases shelves, though some of them have been sitting there for at least a year. This I think is wrong. Why put a book called The Crypt of Cum (or something like that) in direct eyesight of little kids? It just seems stupid, but the owner of the store seems like an unscrupulous jerk-off, so there you go.

I don’t really understand pornography in comics to begin with. I do come across it (no pun intended — but I should have!) in some of the undergrounds I buy. But there seems to be a difference between R. Crumb’s masculine female nudes or Dori Seda’s outrageous sex scenes than superfluous nudity thrown into a cheezy sci-fi comic. If I want to see tits, what do I want to read a comic book for? I’ll just rent a porno or log onto www.bighooters.com. Different people, i.e. guys mostly, need different fuel for their different depraved fantasies, I guess.

Divine Trash, a documentary by Steve Yeager, has an interview with the last surviving member of the Maryland Film Censor Board, some elderly religious lady. The reason to include her in the film is that the movie is about the career of filmmaker John Waters up until the time he made Pink Flamingos in 1972. If anyone hasn’t seen this film, you must! I remember saying I thought Waters was a genius in a film school screenwriting class. Another student laughed at me (I got laughed at a lot in film school by stupid asswipes) and said, “Have you seen Pink Flamingos?” I said, “He’s a genius especially because of Pink Flamingos!”

There’s the chicken sex scene, the artificial insemination scene, the singing asshole, the black market babies being sold to lesbian couples to fund an elementary school heroin ring subplot, and, of course, the infamous dogshit eating scene. There’s also quite a bit of sex in the movie. There’s a real blow job scene where a 300-pound transvestite sucks off her son. As mentioned before there’s the chicken sex scene, which is too disturbing for words (no chickens are screwed, but one is killed). There’s also a vicious toe sucking sequence. The Film Censor remembered this scene. She said she couldn’t figure out what they were doing so she just put down that the couple was “wrestling”.

So, in a way, you could label Pink Flamingos “pornography”. But in Divine Trash someone (I think it was the photographer Richard Kern) makes a great comment that pornography is supposed to be arousing and there’s nobody who can watch Pink Flamingos with the intent to masturbate to it. Well, maybe there are one or two people, but hopefully they’re all already locked up.

Divine Trash didn’t really make clear what the actual job duties of the Film Censor were. Did she ban Pink Flamingos from playing in Maryland? There’s no way Maryland could have shown an edited version of the film. For that, Divine Trash really wasn’t a great documentary. I enjoyed it immensely to see the behind-the-scenes footage of the making of the most revolting movie ever made. But most of the interviews with people not connected to the making or release of Waters’ movies were way too pretentious. Steve Buscemi especially drove me nuts, the first time he’s done that in a movie. Though the subject of Divine Trash was totally outrageous, it was actually a pretty standard documentary.

But John Waters has toned down his act these days and comic book store managers are arrested. Is there a correlation here or am I stretching? Our society has come to accept movies and videos for what they are. Some of them have graphic illustrated sex in them, others don’t. We live with that inevitability. But comic books are still victimized and hassled I guess because they still have that “Comics Are For Kids” stigma attached to them. I find it bizarre. I’ll never figure that out for the life of me.

Also, the comic book story was brought to my attention by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, of which I think I’m going to become a member after reading their latest newsletter. They also have a website, which I haven’t checked out yet, but if you want to it’s at: www.cbldf.org.

More on this film: Amazon