Sunday, October 4, 2015

Burning Bush

All movies, all the time, that was today.

After this morning's flick, I had a late afternoon meeting about the new Bijou Film Center project. As a devoted fan of movies shown in public settings, I'd been asked to join the group that's steering the effort to create a small repertory arthouse theater in Richmond.

At Anchor Studios, a handsome, high-ceilinged space with massive gold-trimmed columns in the arts district, I admired the artsy clutter - the piles of old 45s (Curtis Mayfield, Little Stevie Wonder, the Delphonics), the 7-Up rack intended to house green-bottled soda but instead a storage place for art supplies, a sewing machine and dress mannequin, before the brainstorming session began.

I'm new to this group, although I'd been asked to join some time back. It's just that meetings usually fall on Sundays, a day I almost always have plans. Over PBR and snacks, we discussed the next screening, how to get people excited about it and, by the end, whether Neil Young was the most important member of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young or not.

From that cultural debate I went on to Strange Matter for more film, albeit of a slightly trashier vein. With John Waters coming to town in a few weeks, the screening of his oeuvre was beginning tonight, and truly, where better than at a gritty venue like SM?

Truth be told, I was a little bummed when I walked in because usually when Movie Club Richmond shows a film there, the front row is lined with old recliners. Not so tonight, it was nothing but the usual sturdy tables and chairs, so I made do with a front row table.

The bartender tried to regale me with the pasta special with vegan meatballs (vegballs?) but all I wanted was a cheeseburger with carrot/radish/apple slaw to accompany 1981's "Polyester," which I wasn't entirely sure I'd seen before.

"Pink Flamingos"? Living in Maryland, so naturally I saw it when it opened. "Female Trouble"? I think so. "Hairspray" and "Serial Mom"? Definitely.

So I definitely knew Divine, the cross-dressing male actor who pretty much defined Waters' early films. Just wasn't certain about "Polyester."

Part of the movie's place in cinematic history is that it used "Odorama" cards to enhance the experience. Wouldn't you just know that the Movie Club contingent had brought a sole Odorama card for us to experience the smells of the movie?

To my great regret, it was sniffed by one person, passed on to another and the rest of us never saw it. Not that I don't know what a rose or passing gas smell like, but it's been too long since I scratched and sniffed.

The movie even began with a fake scientist explaining smell and how the nose works - "You may experience some odors that are repulsive" - in case we weren't sure. Numbers flashed onscreen throughout, alerting the cardholder which number to sniff.

1980 was stamped all over this classic with relics such as Gaines burgers dog food (the ones that looked like hamburgers), aerosol deodorants and blue refrigerators with crocheted happy face ornaments on them, proof this wasn't long after the smiley face "have a nice day" era.

Slutty daughter (who aspires to be a go-go girl at the Flaming Cave Lounge when she's not reading "Farrah's World") wears skintight satin Lycra pants and Dad (whose secretary and mistress sports Bo Derek-like braids) yells at punk-looking son, "Why don't you let that hair grow? You look like a fruit!"

That's right, 1980, when we scolded teenaged boys for not growing their hair long and shows like "Family Ties" portrayed ex-hippie parents having to put up with Republican spawn. The times, they were a-changin'.

Of course, that's all besides the typical John Waters' staples: alcoholism, divorce, abortion, masturbation, fetishes, you know, the usual occupations of suburban Baltimore.

When son Dexter returns rehabilitated after a stint in jail, he's upset at his mother's alcoholism since Dad's departure. "Are you still drinking? Mom, you could stop it. I got off the angel dust."

And when she does dry out and finds love with a handsome, Corvette driving stranger, he's the kind who romantically tells her, "Let me kiss away your DTs, honey." A girl (or even a girdle and bra-wearing man like Divine) couldn't ask for a much better boyfriend.

You see, children? It's not hard to be normal.

That lasts for about a hot minute in "Polyester." In a John Waters movie, you always know that normalcy is illusory. See one of his films young enough and you stop seeking it altogether.

Not sure, but I think that may have also been the overarching theme of "Farrah's World."

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