Sunday, February 11, 2007

Lovefest '07: #3. "You're Insane! My Own Mother is Insane!"

Edith Massey, Divine and Mink Stole in Female Trouble (1974)

The most perfectly equipped actors ever to wrap their mouths around John Waters' dialogue are Edith Massey, Divine, and maybe most of all, Mink Stole. They're the natural voices of his characters, the voices Waters must hear in his head as he's writing. Classic Waters is all wall-to-wall scenes of people screaming at each other, and these three beauties each take unique approaches to the challenge: Divine's sneering bellow, Stole's bitchy whine, and Massey's singular way of proudly announcing each line with her cracked cadence, as if she's just heard it for the first time. This mighty triumvirate of comediennes comes together to rip each other apart in this triumphant scene in Female Trouble.

For those behind on the score: Stole is 14-year-old Taffy, who has just returned home after attempting to reunite with her absent father, only to have him attempt rape, and succeed in vomiting on her. Massey is villainess Ida Nelson, currently imprisoned in a bird cage, and militant fag hag ex-aunt-in-law to Divine's Dawn Davenport, a white trash criminal fashion icon on the make. Whew! Though the scene is just three performers sniping at each other, Waters' overstuffed, absurdist plotting and the actors' lung-busting, headache-loud delivery turn it into a rising symphony of shouting matches. It becomes an illustration of the infinite variations on the reasons and ways people can yell.

Stole starts out alone on the floor, wailing and moaning about her trauma, then passes the baton to Massey, who bitches about her hand having been cut off. "I got you a hook, didn't I? Mother would kill me as it is!", Taffy cries indignantly. Ida rasps back "I'll thank you for this fuckin hook after I rip her eyes out with it!" This is charity and gratitude in the Waters universe. Dawn Davenport thunders in, chews out her daughter and mortal enemy just for existing, then taunts them pretty much equally over her own inability to feed them properly, and when she's done picks chunks of the scenery out of her incisors. Dawn's relationship with Taffy is a highlight, for though the child is a hideous brat, she's legitimately complaining about child abuse; Dawn's hatred for her daughter has little to do with the kid's behavior. She just can't stand giving a moment's thought to anyone but herself. "You're a pain, too, Taffy! A pain in my big fat asshole!" she yells.

It is hard to imagine anyone could top this world-class putdown, but, well, it happens. Dawn eventually has to gag the squawking Ida with duct tape, and Massey steals the scene with her immortal (improvised?) final, desperate cry of contempt: "Fucker! Pig fucker! Filthy hetero-stink-shit!!"

But in this bitchfest battle of wills, Taffy wins, when she announces she's going to join the Hare Krishnas. It is the ultimate affront, in Female Trouble's world of glamour, and ego-tripping. There's nothing in Waters that so perfectly encapsulates the great American rite of passage that is adolescent rebellion at all costs, as Taffy demolishing her mortified mother with her manic, sing-song declaration "You can't kill love, mother! You can't kill Krishna! Because Krishna is consciousness!" It's too much even for Dawn Davenport. Even for Divine. God bless the child.

No comments: