Cecil B. Demented

With Melanie Griffith, Stephen Dorff
By John Waters

My Rating:

A campy revolution, distinctly Waters.

Bitable Bytes:
"[Waters'] actors deliver!"
"That one is twisted!"
"A fun romp!"

What to do while watching:
Feel the subbacultcha.

What to eat while watching:

John Waters is far too set in his ways to adapt any subtlety now. Since the days of Girl Trouble and Pink Flamingos­that pinnacle of indie-film iconoclasm­he's had his actors deliver the most heavy-handed of lines to make sure nobody misses the point. Devine declares "I am the filthiest person in the world!" in a film about Devine being the filthiest person in the world. (This takes place long before The Filthy Critic made the scene, please note.) Yes, Waters has no trouble backing up action with dialogue, but where the actions of his characters leave nothing to doubt, the lines leave no ambiguity.

Cecil B. Demented is true to form. In this case the point, as reiterated by the characters' straight lines, is that independent film is causing a revolution in the entertainment industry, violently subverting mainstream cinema and all it stands for. In nearly all of Waters' films, normalcy, the enemy, is broad-brushed in it's most beige and boring colors. As a flamboyant queer, we could expect no less from him.

The story is far fetched, but not for Waters who has created movies about people who eat actual dog feces in an effort to live their lives trying to be as disgusting as humanely possible. However, in relation to Pecker, a charming, simpler story (though still with broad-brushed characters and dialogue), this is a return to his earlier weirdness. Pecker was about a small-town photographer who inadvertently made a splash in New York but had no interest in fame amid hipster intellectuals. Cecil B. Demented is about a megalo-maniacal indie film director (Stephen Dorff) who mixes terrorism into his directing technique for a reality-based surreality. His life and his film are one, and that one is twisted.

Having culled a rag-tag band of indie-film sympathizers (pardon the cliché, but remember that this is all about stereotype), Demented adds a star to his cast: the empty-souled Honey Whitlock (Melanie Griffith), mainstream starlet, kidnapping her from a gratingly vapid awards show. It's a slapstick pie in the face to Hollywood, the "normal" enemy. Waters treats the industry to a reflection of its most shoddy and shallow aspects including the awards show, the two-faced critics, the yappy-dog television reporters snipping bitterly at the heels of the film industry, etc.

Back at Demented's hideout, Honey and we are the captive audience to the Mickey Mouse Club Roll Call of Film Freaks. The leading man, the supporting actress, the sound woman, the make-up man, the producer, etc., etc., all introduce themselves and their drugged out, sadistic, masochistic, ambisexual personas. Each has a tattoo of the name of a different underground filmmaker.

The Demented hideout, by the way, rocks. It's meant to have been created with flotsam and jetsam, and it does indeed have the sense of random assemblage a propos; however, it has a style that would make any gay interior designer applaud, and it far outstrips the hipness of 99% of all interior movie spaces. I mean, Demented's bunk is set up on a camera boom, rising and lowering at will. And it's done all in furs-like Barbarella's spaceship. Hot damn.

The crew is all a bunch of hotties too-not supermodel gorgeous, but twiggy, weird, passionate, fiery-eyed youths-which I, personally, consider a much greater turn-on that the highly typical cover model face. Or maybe my sympathies were that strongly swayed from the mainstream by Water's brainwash. And no, there are no Devine impersonators in the bunch. The strangest, perhaps, is the butchy woman with the wispy but very apparent beard. I also like that the hair dresser is a super-angry guy. He's angry because he's so frustrated over being not-homo-sexual hairdresser.

And there are a few genuine hotties there too, made hotter by the fact that Demented keeps his crew celibate so that all of their sexual angst gets sublimated into the creativity of filmmaking. They shoot daring location shots in which they destroy mall cinemas and bust up motion picture conglomerate luncheons--all led by their star in captivity. Honey gradually sweetens on the whole scene, grasping the fickleness and hollowness of her prior affiliations in film. She gets more and more turned on by the rush of terrorist art, and eventually manages to participate fully in the final scene, wherein people die and Demented goes out in a blaze of glory-all for his film.

It's a fun romp, certainly not serious. Waters' messages tend to work by saying something so loudly that if any part of your psyche agrees with him, you will feel it resonate. It's like putting a person in front of a stack of loudspeakers and blaring the message: "You like Sweet Potatoes" at them. Unless they are deathly allergic to sweet potatoes, they will clearly agree. So too Waters hammers the point that mainstream cinema sucks, and he builds sympathetic, sexy characters to help us agree. And finally, you can't help but say that he's right at least to a degree. I myself agreed wholeheartedly with the point from the get-go, although I don't think terrorism solves anything even if it is fun to watch when fictionalized. This film is at least as entertaining as The Filthy Critic for a similar message.

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