Mondo Trasho

Director: John Waters
Screenplay: John Waters
Stars: Mary Vivian Pearce (Fashion fanatic), Divine (Portly bombshell), David Lochary (Dr Coat Hanger), Mink Stole (Institution inmate), Margie Skidmore (Virgin Mary), Berenica Cipcus (Nurse)
MPAA Rating: NR
Year of Release: 1970
Country: USA
The title of John Waters' "Mondo Trasho" pretty much sums up the movie.

Basically an hour and a half of amateurly produced celluloid garbage, this movie is memorable only as the first serious outing of one of America's most provocative, fiery, satirical, and ultimately hilarious filmmakers. Well, I guess "serious" isn't the right word. I'm not sure that anything John Waters has ever done is serious. I mean, we're talking about a director best known for making a movie where someone eats dog excrement.

"Mondo Trasho" contains all the signature Waters components: alienated people living on the fringes of society, doing disgusting things that insult and nauseate the establishment. Back in 1969 when Waters was making movies like this, he wasn't just being stupid -- he was attacking the ordinary and daring to push the medium to its limits. He didn't want to be confined by anything, whether that be high and mighty moral standards or just plain common decency. He wanted to infuriate, he wanted to offend, he wanted to make people sick. He once said that someone vomiting during his movie was like getting a standing ovation.

But does this make his work good?

The answer is yes and no. "Mondo Trasho" is by no means a good movie. It's poorly made on crummy silent 16 mm black and white film, and edited together with a meathook. It's jumpy and scratchy, and the only sound is a continuous barrage of cheap sound effects and golden oldie songs that make statements about the action. These songs cover the entire musical spectrum, ranging from Elvis Presley to Mozart to Aretha Franklin.

I won't even begin to describe the plot, because in order to fully understand it, I would have to watch the movie again, which is something I don't desire to do. Suffice to say it somehow includes all of the following: a hit-and-run accident, the clumsy beheading of several live chickens, an extended sequence that can only be described as making love to a foot, a psychiatry ward full of nutcases, a heroin-shooting doctor who does surgery with a wood saw, a yard full of pigs, a Cinderella fantasy, and several appearances by the Virgin Mary herself, complete with a tin foil halo.

Beyond all that, the movie is also memorable for introducing the world to an actor named Divine, who become one of Waters' frequent collaborators. Divine is a 300-pound transvestite who would be as ugly as a man as he is as a woman. With a blond wig, pounds of lipstick, and his cubby midriff hanging out all over his shiny hot pants, Divine is quite a spectacle to behold.

Of course, if "Mondo Trasho" weren't so happy to be bad (like all of Waters' films), I would hate it. But, as it stands, I have to admire the man's daring and sheer audacity. This movie doesn't stand on its own as a work of art or even as entertainment, but seen as part of a unique larger body of work, it is indeed an important milestone -- the beginning of the end of cinematic decency.

©1997 James Kendrick

Overall Rating: (1)

James Kendrick

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