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Blu-ray Review

Blu-ray Review: Multiple Maniacs (Dir. John Waters, 1970)

He is regarded as The Pope of Trash and now John Waters’ third feature film, unavailable for decades, has been “restored, remastered and re-vomited” by premium label The Criterion Collection, following a limited release in arthouse theatres.

Multiple Maniacs stars Waters’ merry band of misfits, including David Lochary, Mink Stole, Mary Vivian Pearce, and Edith Massey. Those who would appear in most of his subsequent films, and led by the Queen: Miss Lady Divine, who we first see lying naked on a chaise longue, her Rubenesque derrière framed and in close-up. She leads the sideshow of “freaks” within Lady Divine’s Cavalcade of Perversion, a travelling band of “real, actual filth”. There’s a naked human pyramid, bra fetishist, a women giving oral pleasure to a bicycle saddle, a Jonesing addict, “actual queers kissing” and a bonafide puke-eater. Of course this is all a ruse, a front to house psychotic kidnappers and murderers. The brains (and beauty) of the outfit is Lady Divine. She’s the leader, the matriarch, think Ma Barker by way of a transgressive Elizabeth Taylor, who will do right by her people if they do right by her. Woe betide anybody who, for example, cheats or betrays.

Shot on 16mm and made with a $5000 budget – via a loan by Waters’ father – Multiple Maniacs is deliberately offensive and grotesque. It has an avant garde sensibility, with low contrast grainy black and white film stock, which makes the sprawling chaos, horrible camerawork and zoom abuse more bearable. For all its gleeful delinquent subversion, it actually has a lot of charm. Sure, it glorifies carnage and wears its anti-establishment, anti-bourgeois respectability, and sacrilegious, cannabilistic heart on its sleeve but it does so with such veracity, it’s admirable. Disgusting and atrocious, it may be but it’s also hilarious.

Hippy values take a few knocks, there’s a definite anti-war vibe to the denouement but it celebrates art via the Warhol and Lichtenstein pictures on an interior wall, its Czech New Wave style, and even surrealism – it’s hard not to think of Dalí when Lobstora rears its rapey pincers. Nothing is sacred. Least of all Catholicism. There is religious iconography dotted amongst the mise-en-scène, and The Stations of the Cross is even recreated as Divine receives a seemingly never-ending “rosary job” from Mink Stole, in a Church pew. All to the strain of He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.

Waters and his maniacs deliver on the blackest of comedies. All dialogue is frantic, emphatic and, at times, stilted and a little repetitive but that’s the Waters way. He and his friends, some from childhood, some dropouts from NYU created a filmmaking family which celebrated difference, embraced outsiders and misfits, and forged an artistic front for freaks. Divine was the heartbeat; loud, brash, crude, angry and trashy. She didn’t give two flying kitten heels what people thought of her, she knew she was beautiful.

In the words of the great auteur himself (oh, he’d hate that): “To understand bad taste one must have very good taste. Good bad taste can be creatively nauseating but must, at the same time, appeal to the especially twisted sense of humour, which is anything but universal.” Multiple Maniacs is a transgressive, blasphemous, and iconic piece of celluloid. It won’t be for everyone, but for those of us with a wicked sense of humour and good bad taste, it will be a religious experience.

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Review

Review: Calvary (Dir. John Michael McDonagh, 2014)

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In the name of the Father.

Forgiveness is a tricky business especially when religion is thrown into the mix. For Father James Lavelle (Brendan Gleeson) everyday duties amid his often troubled, sometimes inexplicable, parishioners, take a sinister turn when, during confession, one of them tells the Priest that he will be murdered within the week. Father Lavalle is instructed to put his affairs in order because killing a Priest, and on a Sunday, “That’ll be a good one.” Given John Michael McDonagh’s last cinematic outing, you would be forgiven for expecting a punchline; The Guard was blackly comic, even laugh-out-loud chucklesome, and here – reunited again with leading man, Gleeson – one would expect much of the same. There are comic moments, however, the tone of Calvary is much darker; still amusing but angry.

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This tragically woven satire has much to say about a country; fractured as it is amid financial ruin and governed, in part, by a disjointed religious institution as well as commenting on the themes of life, death, and faith – what is to be saved and what is to be damned. Using topical issues which have dogged the Catholic Church for decades, this is a who-will-do-it as opposed to a who-dunnit which unfolds like a subversive Western, rural Ireland an unlikely, yet perfect substitute for America’s Wild West with Gleeson as the ‘good’ hero attempting to save the deeply flawed town from themselves and, in doing so, himself from the lone gunman. Among the cast of characters there is the quirky atheist doctor (Aiden Gillen), the supercilious, smarmy banker (Dylan Moran), the cynical, religiously lapsed pub licensee (Pat Shortt), the imprisoned serial killer (Domhnall Gleeson), the cuckolded butcher (Chris O’Dowd), and even a village idiot (Killian Scott); all of whom Father Lavalle tries to steer onto the path of righteousness or dissuade from the life-choices they insist on pursuing, in addition to comforting his own self-destructive daughter (Kelly Reilly), before his day of reckoning. These people are deeply flawed, fallible, clearly as bad as each other and by-and-large vile products of the world they live in.

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It is a film that re-envisions the Stations of the Cross albeit through a Parish Priest in County Sligo and while it is not quite perfect – the script meanders a little – Calvary is wonderful; original, modest, and bleakly dramatic with an outstanding performance by Brendan Gleeson who can convey so much with so very little; a big-bear of a gentle man who wears the cassock and clerical collar with aplomb – it is satsifying to see a decent Priest depicted, it feels like it has been far too long The film’s denouement is dramatic, grand, even operatic in scale, some may argue that it is misjudged but, gut-wrenching as it is, there is no other way it could have ended. With its biting satire, surprising comedy and sheer contemptible anger, Calvary delivers a body-blow that resonates long after the credits roll.

Out on DVD, Blu-ray and available via VoD on 11th August 2014