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A Dirty Shame

16 Nov

A Dirty Shame – directed by John Waters. Farce. The prudes against the profligates in a war of the sexing. 89 minutes. Color 2004.

★★

And so it is!

For if you are not, as I am not, familiar with the works of John Waters on film (I much admire his writings and his interviews), you would have to scratch your head in dumb wonderment as to how this galumfrey might have issued from his rare mind.

What it looks like is a beautifully paced picture with no consistency of style, which is all right, but its also shows no consistency in the quality of the performing of it.

The main thrust is camp. Or supposed camp – camp being the mockery of emotion by the person to whom it is at that moment happening. Chris Isaak as the priapan Pan does well with the style, as do Selma Blair and Johnny Knoxville.

However, Susan Shepherd and Mink Stole, as raging, raving puritans, play in a vein of positive realism, and are a little bit better at it than are the others are at camp – camp, which takes the physical finesse of a Betty Grable. So that’s two styles.

The third style is that of Tracey Ullman, who is the focal figure of this farce, but who seems to be playing in the vein of silent film gesticulation. She throws herself around. She is never as a loss for a grimace. At this she is not very good. She never seems lodged in either her prude or her profligate. She mugs like a chimpanzee but, oh, I wish she were as funny as a chimpanzee. It’s a case of an actor dancing Swan Lake on one roller skate. It’s too outlandish at bottom to be enjoyable. Your sense of humor is swallowed by your pity for the performer and terror at her failing of invention.

We do have in this piece a custard pie in the face for SAA and other sexual recovery groups. We do have everyone in town running around screwing, but no sense that anyone actually does screw. It is as though the entire film, in its desire to deride and overthrow priggishness, is more sexually repressed than the icecap. To laugh at sex addiction as a treatable condition is, after all, a sacrilege against the robust sexual health 12 Step Sexual Recovery Programs strive for.

One senses a certain monkishness in the director, no?

For the corollary of sex for everyone is sex for no one. Sex meaning in these frames the same as going to the bathroom in any toilet you find. As though sexual need were impartial. If it is, it is therefore zero.

 

 
 
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