This review is the result of serendipity, of synchronicity, of being in just the right place at just the right time!
I was in my Uber to Oddfellows West Hall on East Pine to catch Ben DeLaCreme’s show Inferno-A-Go-Go (a truly excellent performance – read my review of that show HERE) when we passed this lovely old building with an old school marquee. As we were driving by, I saw some of the most electrifying alliteration I had ever encountered: Midnight – Multiple Maniacs.
Multiple Maniacs is one of John Waters’ earliest films – it was his second feature-length film and Mink Stole referred to it as their “first talkie” as it was the first film by Dreamland Pictures with synchronous sound. But more on her later. The film features so many familiar faces for fans of John Waters’ movies – Edith Massey, Mink Stole, David Lochary, Cookie Mueller, Mary Vivian Pierce, and of course Divine – but hasn’t really been seen since it’s original theatrical release except in impossible-to-find bootleg copies that have been circulating among the most intrepid of fans for years. It was the film that preceded the infamous cult classic Pink Flamingos and many of the ideas that are percolating in this film are more coherently realized in Female Trouble.
I recently did a Divine-themed Midnight Movie event myself down at the Fire Hall Theatre: we watched the documentary I Am Divine followed by Female Trouble. What I love about the old Dreamland Pictures movies is how great the cast works together – even if the dialogue is terrible or the action drags on for too long, the group is clearly a cohesive unit and you can really get a feel for their chemistry. And you also get a feel for the chemistry behind the films: psychedelic drugs. Another great Mink Stole quote (or more like a paraphrase, since I didn’t have a notebook with me): “We didn’t take drugs to obliterate ourselves. We took drugs to expand our creativity. And I’m glad we did it. I’m glad I was part of the psychedelic generation.”
Yes, let’s talk about Mink Stole. When I drove by and saw the Marquee on my way to the 9 pm show of Inferno-A-Go-Go, my interest was piqued. But I got out of that show just before 10:30 and I wasn’t sure what to do to entertain myself until the midnight show started. I began walking back down Pine, figuring I would check out any info I could find on the movie, grab a couple of slices at Hot Mama’s Pizza, and decide if I really wanted to stay up that late (remember, dear World of Champagne Readers, that a midnight movie in Seattle feels like a 2 am movie to my tired, old, not-yet-adjusted-to-Pacific-time body). When I got to the doors of the Egyptian, I saw that they didn’t open the doors until 11:30, so I had just over an hour to entertain myself, and I probably would have had some pizza and gone back to the hotel if I hadn’t seen this:
That clinched it for me! Mink Stole, live and in person? I can hang out on the streets of Capital Hill for an extra hour if it means getting to see this John Waters classic introduced by Mink Stole. I headed down to Hot Mama’s and had two slices, a pepperoni and their noted “green” pizza with pesto and cheese. I played around on my phone at a small metal table outside, probably overstaying my welcome as my food was long gone by the time I actually picked up to leave, but no one said anything. I walked back up East Pine and got my ticket, planting myself firmly in the second row.
Before the main event, there was a quick performance by “the youngest drag superstar,” Rainbow GoreCake. She did a strange mix that was perfect for the occasion, starting with lines from Whatever Happened to Baby Jane and transitioning into “The Girl Can’t Help It.” Her lip sync was alright and her movements somewhat stilted, and the whole number was clearly just a setup to the “big finish” (which involved a cartwheel into the splits), but it was a nice little confection to whet the whistle for the fabulousness of Mink Stole.
And as if Mink Stole wasn’t enough, to introduce her and conduct a pre-show interview they had none other than the fabulous drag icon Peaches Christ (out of drag, unfortunately – though he’s damn cute!). The two have worked together before, and Mink Stole appeared in his film All About Evil, so they had a nice easy chemistry and great banter that felt like old friends having a chat. Mink Stole talked about what it was like making the film, gave some great anecdotes about John Waters and Divine and what it’s been like to have been a part of all of Waters’ feature films. She also took a moment to give her thoughts on the upcoming election:
“This is for all of the millennials, and I think it’s really important. Vote. You have to vote. You have to take part, and if you think that just because Bernie Sanders didn’t win the nomination that it isn’t your responsibility to support Hillary Clinton, fuck you. Because I’ve lived through Nixon, I lived through Reagan, and I lived through both of the Bushes. You need to vote.”
It was an odd moment plopped right in, but I think it fit well. Because as much as Waters’ films are trashy and shocking (and deliriously good fun), they do have a certain politics to them: filth, certainly, but also freedom. And if ever there was an election where two candidates more clearly represented opposing views on freedom and exploration and respect for basic humanity, it’s this one.
After the brief conversation, the film got underway. It was all in black and white (Pink Flamingos was the first Dreamland movie to be shot in full color) and started off right away with David Lochary inviting a line of uptight squares into Lady Divine’s Cavalcade of Perversion, a “free” sideshow of armpit lickers, kissing homosexuals, and other degenerates that always ends with Lady Divine entering brandishing a gun and robbing the assembled crowd. In this latest show, Lady Divine goes a step further and kills one of the squares, and a rift develops between Lady Divine and her paramour Mr. David.
The rest of the film involves Divine and David finding new lovers and simultaneously plotting to kill one another. Divine’s new playmate is Mink Stole who plays a rather stylish lesbian who likes giving “rosary jobs,” penetrating horny parishioners while reciting the 12 stations of the cross. Mink Stole told a great story about how they convinced a priest to allow them to film in the sanctuary of his church and filmed some of the tamer scenes before a cast member distracted him with some political talk so they could go all out with the infamous scene. Unless he went out and saw the film, he never knew exactly what they were up to.
Near the end, in a more surreal moment that is never explained, Lady Divine is raped by the monstrous Lobstora, which is exactly what it sounds like – a giant lobster. After this she goes on a rampage, frothing at the mouth, until she’s shot down by a number of armed police. This final rampage is where the movie most closely resembles Female Trouble, where the premise is that crime makes one beautiful (and of course, Divine wants to be the most beautiful woman in the world!).
The print is gorgeously restored by the Criterion collection and though it’s a bit rambling and it could have ended in at least 5 places before the final “The End” card appears on screen, Multiple Maniacs is an important step in the evolution of John Waters’ aesthetic of filth, and its worth the time to check it out. The film was just restored in 2016, and though I wasn’t able to find DVDs or Blu-Rays available on Amazon, it’s possible that it’s making some theatrical stops before it gets released to the general public. And if it does become a part of the Criterion Collection, it will be a well-deserved honor for a filmmaker who finds inspiration in the deepest depravity that humanity has to offer and makes it compelling and strangely joyous.
Tags: All About Evil, Ben De La Creme, Ben Dela Creme, Ben DeLaCreme, BenDeLaCreme, Champagne Dreams Productions, Cookie Mueller, David Lochary, Divine, drag art, drag king, drag performance, drag queen, drag show, drag troupe, Dreamland Pictures, Dreamland Productions, Edith Massey, Female Trouble, Fire Hall Theater, Fire Hall Theatre, Firehall Theater, Firehall Theatre, Inferno A Go Go, Janessa, Janessa J, Janessa J Champagne, Janessa Jaye, Janessa Jaye Champagne, John Water, Midnight Movie, Mink Stole, Miss Jaye, Multiple Maniacs, Peaches Christ, Pink Flamingos, Seattle International Film Festival, SIFF, The Egyptian, The Egyptian Theater, The Egyptian Theatre, World of Champagne