Irritable, repressed Sylvia Stickles (Tracy Ullman) is conked on the head, and the concussiontransforms her into a sexual dynamo, one of the followers of sexual healer and prophet Ray-Ray(Johnny Knoxville). The streets of Baltimore are the battleground of a culture war between theanti-sex Neuters, led by Sylvia’s mother-in-law Big Ethel, and the forces of the polymorphouslyperverse. The result is a little bit like a George Romero zombie movie, where getting headingthe bonked transf…rms you back and forth between human and zombie. Here, the Neuters are thezombies.
Once upon a time, John Waters delivered raw, taboo-busting comedy. Now there’s a bigBroadway musical based on one of his movies. How things have changed. He is very consciouslytrying to get back the vibe of Pink Flamingos and Desperate Living here, but forall the yammering about sex (and the cast, in true Waters style, declaims at the top of itscollective lungs), this is far less edgy than The Family Guy. For all that the film clearlywants to be a major salvo in the culture wars south of the 49th parallel, it is really far too innocentand toothless. Back in 1988, Kim Newman quoted Waters as saying, “I’ve shown my films atchildren’s birthday parties; they just love ‘em, like Punch and Judy shows.” He could certainlydo the same here, despite the NC-17 rating. This is a movie with the spirit and maturity of aneight-year-old, and that simply isn’t enough, not anymore.
The audio is clear, but unexciting. Surround aspects are minimal, though the occasional nicesound effect passes through. Miraculously, given the non-stop shouting going on here, the voicesnever distort.
John Waters’ films have never been noted for their impressive technique or gorgeouscolours, and A Dirty Shame is no exception, revelling in the very ordinariness of itssettings and look. Some of the colours are a bit murkier than they need to be, though, and nowand then edge enhancement becomes apparent. Barring a few soft moments, the picture isdecently sharp.
There are two commentary tracks: one by Waters, who, though engaging, is a bit too self-amused; and the other by members of the crew (the production designer, the prop master, thecasting director, and so on), who talk about the making of the film and working with Waters, butdon’t, unlike him, address specific scenes much. The 16-part documentary (82 minutes longaltogether) is very funny and interesting, and is in some ways better than the film itself, which isa shame. The deleted scene also shows up in the documentary. There are some other Waterstrailers here, and the DVD-ROM has a script-to-screen feature and an “Interactive DirtyGlossary.” The menu’s main and special features screens are animated and scored.
The mainstreaming of John Waters is now complete, in that television can now go fatherthan he does. This is a film you want to like (it’s so damn cheerful), but it all feels a bitpointless.
Special Features List
- Audio Commentaries
- Deleted Scene
- DVD-ROM Features
- Theatrical Trailers