With the possible exception of David Cronenberg, nobody gives better DVD commentary than John Waters. Ever since his very first effort in the field, for Criterion's laserdisc of Polyester back in the last century, no other director has been able to remain consistently screen-specific while providing detailed production information and improvising filthy (and topical!) stream-of-consciousness. Unlike many directors' efforts, Waters' commentaries reward multiple listens, deploying a turn of phrase or riffing on a costuming choice like a jazz musician of the id.
The past three weeks have been bounteous for fans of Baltimore's favorite son, with his most recent film, A Dirty Shame, arriving from New Line in a stellar DVD package, and Universal presenting his 1990 bete noire Cry-Baby in a new "director's cut" which restores about six minutes and change to the film (improving it). Connoisseurs of filth know the mark of quality that Waters' presence indicates, and both discs are well worth addition to any library.
A Dirty Shame, available in separate editions (one, the film's theatrical NC-17 version, the other an R-rated "neuter" version), is the story of a liberating sexual revolution that sweeps through Baltimore following a traumatic head injury. Following an accident, Sylvia Stickles (the always game Tracey Ullman) finds herself plagued by nether regions with a mind of their own. (She proclaims her clitoris in crisis and refers to her womanly parts as an "axis of evil.") She only finds a measure of peace with her destiny as a "cunnilingus bottom" when she meets up with sexual healer Ray-Ray (Johnny Knoxville) and his band of erotic disciples. Slapstick silliness ensues, but at its heart the film is a rather subversive take on the neuter influences shaping our culture even today.
Cry-Baby, conversely, is an earnest homage both to juvenile delinquent films and teen musicals. Waters' first (and only) big studio film, made back in 1990, it served as Johnny Depp's first starring role. As Wade "Cry-Baby" Walker, Depp is a bad boy with a heart of gold, a "drape" alpha male who is scared of electricity and sheds a single tear when emotionally overwhelmed. He singsactually, lip-syncs to the voice of rockabilly singer James Intveldand dances his way into the heart of good-girl Allison (Amy Locane, whom some might remember as one of the original cast members of Melrose Place). Before long, she's swerving out of finishing school and into tear-drinking bad-girl clothes.
Cry-Baby is also famous for being the film that launched the legitimate movie career of Nora Louise Kuzma, a.k.a. Kristie Nussman (a.k.a. Traci Lords). If the Depp/Lords combo isn't enough of a hook, the film also has Waters mainstay Patricia Hearst as well as Iggy Pop, Susan Tyrrell, Joe Dallesandro, and David Nelson. Even more interesting, they all mesh together perfectly.
New Line's disc for A Dirty Shame has a grand 5.1 sound mix (unusual for Waters films), which shows off beautifully the filthy score of novelty 45s. Colors are expressive, the anamorphic transfer looks great considering the film's low budget, and the dialogue is delicious. Extras include a filthy trailer (that somehow got a Green Band from the MPAA), the customarily brilliant Waters commentary, and a feature-length documentary (82 minutes, just six minutes shorter than the actual film) that offers a comprehensive look at the movie's making, its cast and its different production departments. Better still, it includes footage from a sploshing video. It is certainly unique amongst underground fetish stuff, as all involved look like they're having a goofy good time.
Universal's Cry-Baby disc is stuffed to the gills with quality material, presenting the film in widescreen for the first time and in a new restored director's cut. The six or so minutes of additions generally pertain to MPAA roadblocks or character-enhancing tidbits, though discerning viewers will delight in being able to hear Patty Hearst say "fuck" twice (instead of just once, like before). And even though the additions tend to be small, they nonetheless make the film much more satisfying than its original version, both as narrative and as part of Waters' body of work.
Even more intriguing are the deleted scenes featured separately, detailing two abandoned musical numbers and a creepy subplot involving Mr. Toe-Joe (Alan Wendl) and his beef-and-cheesecake underground photo ring. (This scenario allows Traci Lords to fight back against pornographers from a giant plastic martini glass.) The disc also has a 47-minute documentary that reunites all the principalsincluding a soft-spoken Johnny Depp, who radiates quizzical Buddhist hotness. It's a wonder, really, to think about just how many people first encountered the world of John Waters thanks to Johnny Depp. This Cry-Baby DVD will increase that number, and that's how the world should be.