Out of the mouths of babes, filth. In a curtained corner of the Marianne Boesky show “John Waters: Beverly Hills John” screened Kiddie Flamingos, a videotaped reenactment of the director’s third feature done by—children! A table reading, strictly speaking, rather than a remake, this Pink Flamingos Jr. confronted viewers with the adorable and the damned all rolled into one dimpled package: a row of kindergarten-age kids, wearing righteous wigs piled high (plus one crucial pair of harlequin glasses), clutched their screenplays and picked their way through a bowdlerized but still demented story of revolting, unspeakable behavior and freakish love.
An easy joke? Perhaps, but that’s never stopped Waters, who long ago realized that the easiest of jokes and vulgarities can still retain their power and humor. Casting children as perverts, baby farmers, and a shit-eating drag queen is just one more indecent act, although even Waters draws the line at verbal obscenity: clocking in at 74 minutes instead of the original’s 93, this version is purged of curse words (and the movie’s wall-to-wall tunes). The kids look hilariously bored much of the time, evidently not following half of what they’re saying—with the notable exceptions of the mini-Connie (here are the harlequins, under an ox-horn swoosh of orange hair) who relishes every putdown, and the mini-Divine/Babs, who looks like a baby dude-bro gamely huffing and puffing his way along.
The frequent deficit of affect in some of the kids’ performances creates a comical sense of understatement (several seem on the verge of napping when it’s not their cue). But Pink Flamingos was never a model of expressive voicing: even when saying the most outrageous things, Waters’s original cast often spoke in a faintly concussed, singsong tone, their line readings perhaps necessarily not up to expressing the full disgust of the action. But the kids do seem to perk up a bit as they go along, and what they ultimately confirm is how much satisfaction Waters’s work takes in playacting—partly just the sheer delight derived from putting on a show.
The show here is also partly Waters self-parodically repackaging himself—as if Hollywood might consider a Waters property for a $100-million remake. (Waters did call Desperate Living “a fairy tale for fucked-up children,” and after all, Hairspray the musical already closed the circle.) But Waters’s casting finds a new outlet for the shock value of Pink Flamingos, partly due to the unpredictability of the kids’ performances, but also because we’re seeing children discover and enjoy the twists and turns of the film’s nonsense for the first time. They’re rather well behaved in fact, all things considered, and look pristine in the sinus-clearingly high-def images.
All of which might make this one of Waters’s most purely sweet-natured exercises, the centerpiece of a show that laid out quaint tastelessness like a comfort- food spread—prankishly updated paperback covers, a stroller made of porn posters silkscreened onto fabric, and photoshopped images of Jackie O, JFK, and the Grim Reaper, or of Waters (and Justin Bieber) distorted with feature-smearing plastic surgery. (There was also a cheeky diorama in memory of the late “bad-boy” artist Mike Kelley, and a series of homemade montage triptychs from assorted melodramatic stills.) Writing about Pink Flamingos for The Village Voice in 1973, Jack Smith marveled at the movie’s “built-in nausea” and its opening speech, “marked by a moronic quality that you know at any moment could erupt into filth.” With the original’s offspring, Kiddie Flamingos, the infantile appeal of base urges is again out in the open, and ready to erupt into cuteness at any moment.
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