As grotesque as it is, though, the film wouldn’t have lasted if it was simply an endurance test. “It’s easy to disgust someone,” said Waters in Shock Value. “I could make a ninety-minute film of people getting their limbs hacked off.” But this, he added, would not be “very stylish or original”. Instead, he made a film with a gleefully celebratory mood, some hilariously mock-grandiloquent dialogue, and a pointed satirical storyline about US moral hypocrisy. Pink Flamingos is ahead of its time, too. “It pushes back against the liberation-era gay politics of the 1970s, which were about being nice and fitting in,” says Gary Needham, a film lecturer at the University of Liverpool, “and anticipates the radical queer politics of the 1990s which were about a refusal to assimilate.”
You can also see the seeds of punk rock in the film’s trashy fashion sense, its violent nihilism, and its use of 1950s rockabilly. You can see the kind of degenerate misfit family that would lurk in such 1970s horror films as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes. And you can see murderers being turned into mass-media celebrities, 22 years before Oliver Stone and Quentin Tarantino’s Natural Born Killers.
You might not be able to see all that very easily, though. The BBFC-approved cut of Pink Flamingos came out on video in 1991, but it wasn’t until 2008 that an 18-certificate was awarded to the full, unexpurgated film – and then the distributors decided to cancel the release. Perhaps it was for the best. The place to see Pink Flamingos is in a cinema, preferably at midnight, surrounded by a crowd that is either laughing or gagging or both. Just make sure you know your way to the exit.
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