Desperate living review

Pick for the Weekend: Desperate Living (1977)

– Desperate Living is the movie for the weekend. In this section every Saturday or Sunday Celluloid Dimension picks a movie for the weekend. The selections are preferably underrated movies or neglected movies that we think should get more attention. Have fun with these recommendations. –

Desperate living (1977) Directed by John Waters

The Dreamlanders are at their most indecorous and burlesque in the sapphic kitsch fairy tale of cinema’s favorite pervert. It may be John Waters’ most overtly political film, and while it may not be one of his most sublimely depraved excursions into trash art, the postmodern idiolect – within its farcical ideology and political satire – is integrally transgressive. Waters’ heterodox filmmaking narrates the story of the hysterical, paranoid Peggy (Mink Stole) and her plump maid (Jean Hill), who are forced to leave the bourgeois tranquility of suburban Baltimore for having murdered the ridiculously harmless Bosley, Peggy’s husband. At the suggestion of a degenerate cop, the two go to live in the fantastical, monarchical Mortville – Sodom and Gomorrah à la John Waters – a squalid place that takes in outcasts and subjects them to the despotic rules of Queen Carlotta (Edith Massey). The level of eccentricity here is like no other John Waters film you’ve ever seen; the diversity of characters is outrageous: an irreverent butch lesbian (Susan Lowe), buxom Liz Renay, filthy nymphomaniacs, exhibitionists, horny leather men and plenty more, all in the service of Waters’ tastelessness.

Usually, I prefer John Waters in straight up comedic territory, let’s just say I enjoy this quirky filmmaker’s provocation more when it is in the interest of deviant fun, here although it has an ambitious storytelling, the film is too distracting with its anti-fascist political caricature. Nevertheless, I appreciate the fact that John Waters reinvents his inimitable kinky humor in each of his films. I consider Desperate Living the film that closes Waters’ most unfathomably obscene cycle – Polyester is his first effort at being more accessible to the masses so I don’t like to classify it as one of the director’s dirtiest films. The pornographic imagery of Desperate Living is hilariously offensive, conservatives or liberals, neither is saved from being assaulted by its disruptive and insurmountably immoral philosophy, and perhaps that’s why John Waters is one of the truly great iconoclasts of American exploitation cinema. It’s not my personal favorite, but there’s something tantalizing about its subversive anti-aesthetic look at American society that I find vital and thought-provoking in many respects.


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