John Waters had the last laugh.
In 1973, Variety labeled “Pink Flamingos,” the director’s gleeful send-up of bad taste, “one of the most vile, stupid and repulsive films ever made.”
In a blistering notice, the trade publication went on to suggest that while it hated what Waters was offering up, it was hip to its appeal (“Pink Flamingos” had by this point already become an underground cinema sensation, netting a massive $500,000 in rentals by the time Variety weighed in).
“Midnight unreelings of the poorly lensed 16 mm picture, populated by nightcrawling ephemerids and camp following sophisticates confer a special status on the audience. Shrill laughter and knowing hoots greet its excesses and “inness,” now pantingly sought by large segments of the hip masses, is achieved.”
What a difference a few decades makes. This week, we’ve declared that “Pink Flamingos” is one of the 100 greatest movies ever made (the 92nd greatest, to be exact). In reassessing the cult hit’s place in the cinematic pantheon, we now state, “John Waters’ ultimate midnight movie is, in fact, one of the funniest, most audacious and scandalously compelling films ever made. That’s because every moment in it is touched with a gleeful outlaw rageaholic danger too weirdly joyous to be faked.”
To be fair, the Variety critic wasn’t the only one who got wrong when it came to “Pink Flamingos” and its merits. And Waters’ low-budget comedy isn’t for the squeamish. This is a film that revels in its own transgressive power, depicting incestuous sex, a couple peddling heroin to kids and a climax involving Divine and some dog poop. For Roger Ebert, that meant that “Pink Flamingos” didn’t even merit a star rating.
“Stars simply seem not to apply,” Ebert wrote when the film was re-released in 1997. “It should be considered not as a film but as a fact, or perhaps as an object.”