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A Dirty Raspberry

John Waters and Alan J. WendlTracey Ullman, Selma Blair, et al.

I curated my own double-feature this weekend, checking out two movies about sexual revolution (more or less): The Raspberry Reich, the latest rump romp from Bruce La Bruce, and then A Dirty Shame, the latest farce fest from John Waters. I didn't intend a themed afternoon, but part of the way into Raspberry Reich it was clearly going to be one, since most of the movie was a tedious rehash of stuff that John Waters has done more successfully (and certainly with better jokes) in the past. It was also a self-described "agit-porn" movie, so it wasn't much of a leap to consider its kinship to a Waters movie about sexual deviance upsetting a quiet neighborhood in Baltimore.

The Raspberry Reich is the tale of a group of aspiring German revolutionaries aping the gimmicks of the Baader-Meinhoff Gang, and they happen to screw each other a lot and quote a lot of radical propaganda along the way. I wanted to stab pencils in my eyes most of the time. No, I take that back: it would have been pleasant enough to watch the gay sex and the punk/camp art direction if I could be spared the wooden dialogue, the pedantry, and the terrible sound quality. I always want to like Bruce LaBruce movies more than I do because I get what he's doing (and I like subversion and gay porn), but his movies always strike me as being so blunt, with so little energy. Yeah, there's some good camp, but it falls flat. It's interesting to watch pornography and philosophy collide, but not when it has to rely on the comic timing or acting chops of porn stars. "Gay is not enough," as the saying goes, and neither is punk. It still has to come together somehow, and hopefully do something a little more interesting.

John Waters has handled the clichés of revolution before (and more adroitly) in Cecil B. Demented (and even flirted with it in Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble), and even though his humor can be pretty blunt — sight gags and one-liners — he and his casts always revel in the material. Everyone always has fun and plays their parts to the hilt, and often that zeal makes for better performances than traditional acting skills might. His films are like a celebrity roast, somehow managing to spoof and celebrate at the same time. They're famous for being shocking, but shock always fades over time, and even the earlier, cruder ones still work because they're smart enough to hint at more than they show. They lampoon both sides of any argument (with more than a touch of sympathy for the underdog), but pretty much leave it to you to figure out who the real freaks are, who goes further over the top in defense of what they believe.

And A Dirty Shame does it again. Sorry, Bruce, it's not so shocking to show sex in this day and age, especially if you have a jaded audience. What's pretty outré, though, is to take a subject as highly charged as sex and make merciless fun of it. It's a movie that’s relentlessly showing, cataloguing, and laughing at every perversion it can think of, and taking the erotic charge out of all of it. It's not salacious in any way — it's just having fun with how much we sexualize everything around us, regardless of whether we think all that sex is bad or good. And it's having a lot of fun with that. The revolutionary part of all this is that it's daring a jaded audience to take itself less seriously. Do what you want — and as much as you possibly can — but you're not necessarily any more outrageous than the guy down the street. The revolutionary idea, of a kind that always lurks around and under all the jokes and the gags and the camp in John Waters' universe, is that we're all kinda freaky, and that’s good. We can all be sexy, as long as we believe we are. Your perversion isn't bad, but your interference with someone else's perversion is. Why shouldn't we laugh ourselves into epiphany? It's probably more effective than trying to badger or seduce us into one. Enjoy the ride, and let the dangerous ideas creep up on you later when you least expect it.

Tedious hostage sceneTedious masturbation scene
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