Release Date(s)1974 (June 26, 2018)
Studio(s)New Line Cinema/Warner Bros. (Criterion - Spine #929)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: A
John Waters’ Female Trouble is a psychodrama of truly mountainous proportions. Containing one of Divine’s finest, over-the-top comedic performances, it’s a ludicrously satirical mise-en-scène that levels the female-driven melodrama sub-genre – one of the finest in existence. Hot off of the success of Pink Flamingos, Waters, Divine, and their merry troupe of Dreamlanders continued pushing the boundaries of good taste with what amounted to be a less-successful, but no less entertaining, filmmaking endeavor.
Female Trouble, for all intents and purposes, is a mish-mash of Elizabeth Taylor films and soap operas, the former of which was highly influential on both Divine and Waters. It’s like a mad, fever dream version of Raintree County, BUtterfield 8, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? all rolled into one. Divine holds nothing back, as per usual, but he seems more unhinged, giving his all in not just one, but two roles this time around, including a scene where his characters frantically make love to each other in the freezing Baltimore cold.
You also have John Waters’ continued fascination with celebrity and the problems that come along with it. Both Female Trouble and Pink Flamingos are about reaching the ultimate zenith of fame, but in the case of Female Trouble, Divine’s character becomes more obsessed with the notoriety. He is constantly despicable, getting more egotistical and crazier by the millisecond – to the point when society has to step in and do something about it. What it winds up being is a window into our modern culture of fame for the sake of it, with instant celebrities being born by the minute through social media, Youtube, reality TV, or by simply by doing something out of the ordinary.
Say what you will about the film, but it is far from boring. A menagerie of quirky and disgusting characters screaming at each other in unorthodox costumes and doing outrageous things are some of the key components of Waters’ early films. There’s so much energy to it that the frames of the film can barely contain it – it’s literally bleeding enthusiasm. Some fans even believe it to be the finest collaboration between Waters and Divine, including Waters himself. Divine is most definitely at his funniest, and with the help of Waters’ script and direction to back him up, it makes for a perfect pairing.
For Criterion’s Blu-ray debut of the film, the full, uncut, 97-minute version of the film in an aspect ratio of 1.66:1 is included from a new 4K restoration of the film’s original 16mm A/B reversal negative. It’s a predictably enormous leap in clarity. The film looks a little slicker than Waters’ previous efforts as he was getting better as a filmmaker as he went along, and the transfer reflects that with crisp images, a high amount of fine detail, refined but unobtrusive grain, and excellent contrast. Black levels are solid and the color palette, varied in every sense of the word, is robust. It’s also very clean and stable. The audio, which is an English mono DTS-HD track with optional subtitles in English SDH, is also of the same caliber. The music selection certainly has plenty of heft, and everything sounds cleaner and clearer than ever before. Although it’s all location sound with characters yelling from far away to be heard properly, all of the dialogue is quite discernable.
Criterion has also dug up a wonderful set of extras, including the 2004 audio commentary with John Waters himself; a 15-minute collection of trims and cut scenes from the film of various qualities, some presented without location sound; a new 23-minute interview with John Waters, conducted by critic and programmer Dennis Lim; Dreamlanders, which features 3 separate interview portions (Little Taffy, an 18-minute interview with Hilary Taylor; Moran, Pearce, and Smith, which is 8 minutes of archival interviews with production manager Pat Moran, actor Mary Vivian Pearce, and costume designer and makeup artist Van Smith, all conducted by filmmaker Steve Yeager in 1974; and a 5-minute audio interview with Van Smith, which was also conducted by Yeager in 1974); 12 minutes of silent, on-set footage from the making of the film, shot by Yeager with commentary by John Waters; Crime and Beauty: Remembering Female Trouble, which is 18 minutes of interview outtakes from the 2013 documentary I Am Divine with John Waters, actors Susan Lowe, Mink Stole, George Figgs, and Mary Vivian Pearce, film critic Dennis Dermody, production designer Vincent Peranio, and production manager Pat Moran; a 33-minute roundtable interview with Divine, Waters, Mink Stole, and David Lochary, conducted by columnist R. Couri Hat at Andy Warhol’s Factory for Manhattan public-access TV in 1975; and finally, a 20-page insert booklet featuring the essay Spare Me Your Morals by Ed Halter and restoration details. It’s also worth noting that the main menu and interviews all feature even more alternate takes, outtakes, and deleted scenes that are not included in the other extras.
Criterion has given another John Waters title the utmost respect with a shockingly thorough and solid Blu-ray release. Female Trouble is a slice of controlled lunacy, but with a great pair of minds behind it. Along with Criterion’s previous Blu-ray release of Multiple Maniacs, it’s essential viewing for those with a bent towards the unusual. In that regard, it comes highly recommended.
– Tim Salmons