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John Waters Collection #2: Polyester/ Desperate Living

4.5 out of 5 stars 137 customer reviews

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(Sep 04, 2001)
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Editorial Reviews

Director John Waters broke new boundaries of bad taste with his hilariously trashy tale of suburban misadventure Polyester. His favorite leading lady, transvestite Divine, plays Francine Fishpaw, a dissatisfied suburban housefrau who longs for a little romance in her life because her husband and children drive her crazy. Salvation arrives in the form of Tod Tomorrow (Tab Hunter), a drive-in owner who sweeps Francine off her feet (a mean task, given Divine's girth). But he's not all he's cracked up to be.

Everyone in Desperate Living's Mortville has some horrible secret to hide. The mentally unstable Peggy Gravel (Mink Stole, in a superb display of overacting) and her 300-pound-plus maid Grizelda must take it on the lam after Grizelda smothers Peggy's husband under her elephantine buttocks. They find themselves in Mortville, a shanty fiefdom ruled by the grotesque Queen Carlotta (the incomparable Edith Massey). The evil queen delights in tormenting her subjects, but Peggy and Grizelda soon team up with a pair of lesbian outcasts, and a rebellion is in the air. Notable for the absence of Waters regular Divine, this movie pushes the rest of the cast to their over-the-top best. Nasty, shabby, gross, and hilarious, this is John Waters at his best.

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Liz Renay, Mink Stole, Susan Lowe, Edith Massey, Mary Vivian Pearce
  • Directors: John Waters
  • Writers: John Waters
  • Producers: John Waters, David Spencer, James McKenzie, Robert Maier, Robert Shaye
  • Format: Closed-captioned, Color, Full Screen, Letterboxed, Widescreen, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0)
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated:
  • Studio: New Line Home Video
  • DVD Release Date: September 4, 2001
  • Run Time: 177 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (137 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00005LQ0T
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #85,020 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "John Waters Collection #2: Polyester/ Desperate Living" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: VHS Tape
"This is Odorama!" declares Dr. Quackenshaw (Rick Breitenfeld) sounding like Dr. Strangelove at the start of John Waters' hilarious film POLYESTER. Ignore this proclamation since it only applies to the retro gimmick Waters used to lure people to the film during its original theatrical run. Scratch-and-sniff cards with various scents identified with the numbers 1-10 were given out to members of the audience so that they could interact with the film. Now, unless you own one of those souvinir cards, the numbers that flash on the bottom right corner of the screen during the film won't do much for you, but POLYESTER is still another wildly original film from a man who embraces the white trash culture of America.
There are few better openers than the one Waters created for POLYESTER. Following the prologue, which explains the magic of Odorama, the camera takes us on a tour of Francine Fishpaw (Divine)'s house accompanied by a hilarious theme song sung by Tab Hunter (written by Blondie's Chris Stein and Deborah Harry). Up the camera goes into Francine's room, showing her in her oversized undergarments as she trims her nostril hair, shaves her armpits, and puts on her dress. She goes on a scale which reads 310 lbs and she angrily kicks the scale away. Francine's husband Elmer (David Samson) owns a porn theatre and outside of the couple's house, picketers voice their disgust with a hilarious chant: "2,4,6,8, X-rated movies we all hate. 1,2,5,9, G-rated movies are mighty fine." Francine, a devout Christian, is humiliated. Elmer is ecstatic: "All that free publicity! I can't wait to see the 11 o'clock news!
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Format: DVD
Two more of John Waters cinematic attrocities have finally been released on DVD. If you only know Waters through his more recent titles Hairspray, Serial Mom, and Cry-Baby, you may be surprised at what lurks on these discs.
The first film is Desperate Living. I must tell you I am a long-time Waters fan, and have seen all his film from Mondo Trasho on (including The Diane Linkletter Story), but sadly, this is my least favorite of his films. It's not necessarily bad (for a John Waters movie, that is); it just is not as funny or as happy as his other films. Neither Divine (who was unavailable) nor David Lockery (who was dead) appeared in Desperate Living, and Waters seemed lost without them. This movie is about a town called Mortville, where criminals are allowed to live instead of going to prison. Edith Massey, in her best film role, plays evil Queen Carlotta, who relishes in humiliating her subjects and having her sexual needs met by her "goons". Mink Stole is also in top form here, thanks to the meaty role of an hysterical housewife, who, together with her maid Grizelda, murder her husband and escape to Mortville. Another Waters regular, Mary Vivian Pearce, plays Princess Coo-Coo who, against Queen Carlotta's wishes, falls in love with the garbage collector at the Mortville nudist colony. There are also a female-to-male sex-change operation, a bowl of dog food used as a murder weapon, and female "glory holes" which must be seen to be believed.
Polyester, on the other hand, is a great film. Although Hairspray was Waters breakthrough to mainstream filmmaking, you can tell he was on his way with Polyester. Divine is back, this time playing a victimized housewife with a philandering husband and two dilinquent children.
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Format: DVD
This package, the second part of a dvd trilogy, is a must for Waters' fans. As usual, his commentary tracks are very funny and even hold up to repeated listenings. The sound isn't spectacular -- Desperate Living is mono and Polyester Dolby Surround -- but I'm sure this is due to limitations in the source material. Until "Hairspray", John Waters was a very low budget director. "Polyester", his most mainstream film at the time of its release, still only cost about $300,000 to produce. But some of his earliest films are his best, and I put "Polyester" in that camp. The script is very funny and all of the performers give outstanding, if idiosyncratic, performances. There certainly has never been and probably will never be another performer like Edith Massey. And, yes, the dvd does come with an "Odorama" card!
I have always been less thrilled with "Desperate Living." I enjoyed it more this time around, but I still find it less consistently funny than Waters' best films. The first 15 minutes or so are hysterical; Mink Stole screams some of the funniest lines Waters has ever written. But once the scene shifts to Mortville, the script is uneven and, at times, even boring.
Apart from the commentaries (the commentary track on "Desperate Living" also includes "star" Liz Renay), there aren't many extras -- just a few trailers. I hope that when the "Pink Flamingos"/
"Female Trouble" set comes out that the FT disc either includes deleted scenes or features the longer version that I have seen in the theater but not on home video.
Also of note: if one buys all three 3-packs, one can send away for a "bonus" John Waters dvd ... -- certificate in package, also requires original yellow tabs from all three dvd sets.
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