I love the Criterion Collection. I love that a film can be restored to the highest quality it deserves and a distribution company will give the movie its flowers by releasing special content and essays to inspire even more critical conversation on the film. Criterion gives some films a second chance by introducing them to a new generation; films that may not have received the credit it deserved during the time of its release. You want to know someone else I love? John Waters. I have a long-standing relationship with John Waters films. My first was Cry-Baby (1990) and I was around seven or eight, and I loved that movie so much that my relationship continued to grow through puberty and my teenage years. You see, Waters made outsider films for outsider people. He made films that challenged the idea of normalcy and created a universe so externally filthy but its core was true, free-spirited beauty. His films shaped me, Waters is like a Godfather to me through his work. I needed characters like Divine, Mink Stole, Edith Massey, David Lochary and Mary Vivian Pierce to be my cinema friends; Dreamland was my escape. My favorite John Waters film is Female Trouble (1974) and the Criterion Collection has restored it to Blu-ray. I can say that this edition of Female Trouble makes me so happy.
Female Trouble stars Dreamland’s biggest attraction, drag queen Divine. Divine plays Dawn Davenport and the film chronicles her life into crime. The drama really begins when Davenport doesn’t get the cha-cha heels that she wanted for Christmas. Dawn runs away and gets pregnant and has her daughter Taffy (Mink Stole). Fast forward a few years and Dawn is known as a petty thief and a stripper. She ends up meeting a rich couple, Donald and Donna Dasher (David Lochary and Mary Vivian Pearce) and they’re fascinated with Davenport. They make a deal for Davenport to become their model for crimes where Divine’s career and status really begin to take off.
This movie has so many quotable lines like, “Nice girls don’t wear cha-cha heels!”, “I worry that you’ll work in an office, have children, celebrate wedding anniversaries. The world of the heterosexual is a sick and boring life.” and my personal favorite, “I wouldn’t suck your lousy dick if I was suffocating and there was oxygen in your balls!”. There are a lot more, but I’m trying my best not to spoil all of the movie for you. The dialogue is one of the reasons that Female Trouble is my favorite John Waters film. I love that the evolution of Dawn Davenport’s life are told in chapters like a stage play. What’s not to love about all of Divine’s wardrobe and makeup in this movie? I actually had a birthday cake made in the likeness of Divine in Female Trouble one year. Waters takes a Norman Rockwell painting, turns it upside down and adds a smoke bomb of sleaze to it to make it more fitting for us deviants out there questioning social norms. Dawn Davenport’s “normal” is a life of crime and fame, and Waters takes us on a journey to show the obsession with the association of crime and beauty. Even though it was 1974 I think Female Trouble is relevant now because we’ve seen how far people will go for Instagram views of just to be trending or on the news, and we eat that shit up.
But I digress about Female Trouble’s social commentary, let’s talk about how funny it is! I’ve already mentioned the dialogue being hilarious, but Divine has great comedic awareness. She goes through a lot of physical comedy in this movie while looking fabulous in drag. Edith Massey as Aunt Ida is legendary. She has some of the funniest moments in the movie as Dawn Davenport’s latex catsuit dominatrix styled nemesis. I couldn’t picture anyone else as Aunt Ida but Edith.
This Criterion copy of Female Trouble is fantastic, it truly is a pleasure to have. It’s a 4K digital restoration, supervised by John Waters with an uncompressed monaural soundtrack. There are tons of special features, to name a few there is director commentary, archival interviews with Dreamland members, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes documentary footage by Steve Yeager and a very well written critical essay by film writer Ed Halter. There’s an interview on here featuring John Waters, Divine and David Lochary that I really enjoyed because I got to see them alive talking about their work. As always, the Criterion Collection delivers with a presentation of Female Trouble that I recommend everyone have in their library. Who knows? Maybe this will be your introduction into John Waters and you fall in love like I did as a kid and we could be best friends and talk about Female Trouble.