Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Cecil B. Demented


It’s been another exhausting day down at the studio working on my Virtually Vicki infomercial. We finished the Lesterene brand make-up tap number, including the finale where the chorus boys all do a specialty buck and wing on oversized faux mother-of-pearl powder compacts. We then moved on to the wig segment. This involves shooting Maxine, the human cannonball, out of a cannon and through a wind tunnel while wearing various House O'Hair wigs; meanwhile I stand in front, giving a dramatic speech in dactylic hexameter, on their quality, durability and style. Everything was going fine until we got to the Auburn War Eagle model. Try as we might, we could not get the darned thing to stay on her head during her flight. I think it had something to do with the aerodynamics of the pompadour. We finally had to krazy glue it to her scalp, which led to the problems at the end of the take when make-up realized they had not packed any solvent for de-bonding. Despite this small hitch, we are still on schedule.

Isaac Mizrahi has finished my new Sink For Your Supper dress - scarlet silk with a large gold tiger embroidered down one side and with a jeweled headpiece (negating the need for wig or turban) and bindhi. As we were never able to scrub all the smoke stains off of my motorized iceberg after that slight accident in Utah, Joseph has decided to have it repainted fire engine red to match my dress. The ultimate effect will be thrilling under the spotlight, especially as the pyrotechnics have been contracted out to a new firm that promises not to use any small children. My only concern is that the new color scheme may confuse some of the concertgoers into thinking I am riding a large Gouda cheese. I'm sure we can write a small program note on the symbolism of fire and ice and how they so often come together in maritime disaster. Perhaps a small, tasteful monologue on the burning of the Morro Castle or the General Slocum might be in order.

As I have been so busy at the studio, I thought I should take inspiration from a film showing the grueling, hard work necessary to create spectacular results on the screen, even in an infomercial. Therefore, I dropped John Waters' Cecil B. Demented into the home theater for a quick peek. Waters, who was actually known as 'Cecil B. Demented’ to friends and associates in his younger days, is an iconoclastic maker of nasty satirical comedies, mainly set in his native Baltimore. Early in his career, working with no budget, and using friends and neighbors as most of the cast and crew, he created trash classics such as Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble , often using the three hundred pound drag queen, Divine, as his leading lady. Starting in the late 80s with Hairspray, the worst thing that could have happened to Waters happened. He started to become mainstream successful and many of his last few movies pull their punches - they all contain priceless moments or performances, but they just don't have the same bite as his earlier work.

Cecil B. Demented has Waters very obviously biting the Hollywood hand that feeds him. It stars Melanie Griffths as Honey Whitlock, a star in the Meg Ryan/Sandra Bullock/Julia Roberts mode who makes rotten big studio romantic comedies. While the public persona is America's Sweetheart, the private one is hell on wheels. She comes to Baltimore for a benefit premiere of her latest turkey. Meanwhile, lunatic indie movie director, Cecil B. Demented (Stephen Dorff) and his gang of gonzo renegades, infiltrates the premiere as the ushers, drivers, concessionaires etc. The gang includes such recognizable faces as Alicia Witt as porn star Cherish and Jack Noseworthy as a hairdresser, but the majority are young actors and actresses you've never heard of who have varying degrees of talent. The gang stages a terrorist raid on the premiere, kidnaps Honey Whitlock, changes her appearance, and forces her to star in Cecil's new opus about the need for cinema terrorism to counter the dreck the studios dish out year after year. Demented, the man, lives by a code that sounds suspiciously like Lars Von Trier's Dogme 95 rules for cinema and he and his gang have devoted themselves to the film works of visionary directors - each bears a tattoo with a different name from Sam Fuller to Kenneth Anger to William Castle.

The plot meanders from one gonzo raid to another. Some of the sequences are well staged. Some are a mess. Most of them have got a couple of good laughs and all of them take jabs at bad cinema, bad sequels, and all the other business as usual in Hollywood; things that we film critics rant about year after year after year. The attacks on movie making are spot on, and, as long as Waters stays within that framework, he gets off some good salvos. Waters gets tripped up when he has to do scenes that move the story from one terrorist activity to the next. Exposition has never been his strong suit.

The biggest problem with the film, however, is bad casting. It takes a very, very good actress to convincingly play a bad one and Melanie Griffiths is just not it. She's game and she obviously had a lot of fun sending up her leading lady image but she's not good enough. What a movie it could have been with a talented comedienne in the role - someone like Emma Thompson. Stephen Dorff, whom I have never cared for, is simply too one note. He starts out as fever pitch ranting lunatic and he has nowhere to take the character as the film progresses. By the time we get to the grand finale (which mixes elements of TargetsManhunter Pippin and Doris Day sex comedies together in a surreal gumbo), we no longer care about what he has to say.

Most of the minor roles are filled with earnest young faces (the gang) who are given quirks, but no real characters to play. Waters has included too many of them so it takes us half an hour to be able to sort out who is who, and by that time, the pace and mayhem are moving so fast that none gets enough screen time to establish themselves as anything other than the occasional bad taste joke. Other roles are taken by members of the Waters stable of unusual talent including Mink Stole (as a society harridan), Ricki Lake (as Honey's personal assistant) and Patty Hearst (as one of the terrorist's mother). I'm sure Waters (and probably Hearst herself) were cackling with glee at the idea of her appearing in a film about a woman who is kidnapped and falls in with her kidnappers.

I don't wish to spoil all the surprises that Waters has in store so shan't reveal which particular schlock movies he takes on. The film literate will have a field day, however, picking up the references and noting just what he has on various theater marquees or posters in the background. Kevin Nealon appears, as himself, impersonating a well-beloved Oscar winning actor's prize character, and it's a great moment. As Kevin says when the terrorists attack "I only take the roles I'm offered!"

With better casting and a bit more attention to construction, it would have been a better movie, but fans of Waters will find pleasure as he's up to all his old tricks.

Bearded lady. Child asphyxiation. Unconsummated romances. Black chick with big hair named 'Chardonnay'. Flaming polyester wig. Gratuitous oyster slurping. Porn theater patron zombies. Repainted panel trucks. Passolini marquee. Gratuitous granny barf. Popcorn shooting.

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