Wednesday, May 18, 2016
( 5:47 PM ) posted by Setsuled
On life's path, something offensive or obscene threatens to accost us at every step. Throughout the 30s, 40s, and 50s, under the guidance of the Hays Code, deeply moral films endeavoured to show us the way through by demonstrating how easy it was to fall prey to adultery, alcoholism, and other depravities. But none equal 1981's Polyester for daring, no work of Susan Hayward or Douglas Sirk could approach the realisation of what horrors could befall an innocent housewife as portrayed in this John Waters film. And never before had such a film featured the wonder of Odorama.
I wonder if I missed out by not having the scratch and sniff card, by not being able to experience alongside the protagonist, Francine (Divine), the roses, farts, air freshener, or skunk. But even odourless, the film is a good satire that shows an intimate acquaintance with films of the 50s. Nearly all the actors have the mannerisms down to a T. From the German scientist at the beginning to Francine's cheating husband who exclaims with absurd ecstasy to his mistress that he has condoms.
None match Divine, though, who identified as male in his personal life but was so effective at portraying this particular idea of 1950s/early 1960s woman. The hand gestures in particular impress me--it helped he had small, tapering hands, but he had that delicate hand wringing and finger pinching to perfection.
The pushy morality of such films as Rebel Without a Cause or All that Heaven Allows typically have the characters hitting misfortune for their transgressions no matter what kind of logical contortions the films needed to make--the logic of melodrama I mentioned on Monday when talking about Game of Thrones. Polyester takes this and amplifies every pay-off. When misbehaving kids drive by and swat a rabbi with a broom, they must then swat a Chinese woman in traditional clothes (accompanied by plucked strings on the soundtrack) and then a heavy black woman dressed as though she's on her way to a choir. One stereotype prompts the next like dominoes. At a picnic, Francine takes out a sandwich, looks up a moment to enjoy the beauty of nature to calm her nerves, then finds ants have immediately coated her sandwich and a skunk has appeared.
Francine's best friend, Cuddles (Edith Massey), has just come into an inheritance and is rashly taking on the airs of a society woman. She's also mentally impaired, a nice skewing of this typical plot contrivance. It both underlines the silliness of this typical story and automatically provokes some extra concern for her. It's reflective of Waters' particular brand of irony which is both funny and yet oddly sympathetic. There's a genuinely nightmarish quality to the picnic scenes and others and one is compelled to ask what this poor humanity has gotten itself into.
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