Think of this as the John Waters version of Grease, with everything that that entails. The setting is the fifties, and kids are divided between the Squares (so clean-cut and conformist they make Ward Cleaver look like Marlon Brando) and the black-leather-clad Drapes. The leader of the Drapes is Cry-Baby Walker (Johnny Depp), and his posse includes the likes of Ricki Lake (BEFORE she became a talk-show host) and Traci Lords (AFTER… well, after). Square Amy Locane is drawn to Depp an… his world, much to the horror of her cohorts.
Waters’ love letter to the seamier side of 50s pop culture is complete with everything from rock numbers to an unbelievably greasy girlie-mag photographer. There is also the stunt casting we’ve come to expect from Waters: apart from Lords (Lake doesn’t count, since her career began with Waters), we have Iggy Pop and Patty Hearst. And the cast, as ever in a Waters film, performs at the top of their lungs, which results in a certain monotony of intensity. Somehow, it’s all cheerfully innocent too. Among the restored scenes in this director’s cut is a bit with the inevitable Mink Stole selling cigarettes to the high school kids.
The music is very lively, that 50s rock soundtrack sounding just fine in 2.0. There is no buzz on the dialogue, which is something of a miracle given how much shouting is going on. The surround is very active, but is a little bit too much so, with some sound effects emerging from the rear when they have no business there.
There is some very minor grain, but nowhere near enough to detract from the viewing experience. The colours are great, with very strong contrasts, and a delightfully unnatural intensity (the reds are too red, the greens too green). Flesh tones and blacks are also excellent.
John Waters’ commentary, if a little self-pleased, is enormously entertaining, and in some ways is better than the movie itself. “It Came From Baltimore” is a new making-of documentary, and the new interviews add heft to the project. Finally, there are 7 minutes of deleted scenes (two of which showing Lords at the mercy of the aforementioned photographer). The menu is basic.
Not, I think, Waters’ best work (I would hand that honour to Serial Mom), but still very much its own peculiar and notable thing.
Special Features List
- Director’s Commentary
- “It Came From Baltimore” Documentary
- Deleted Scenes