In modern comic-book films, villains are born of strange circumstances. Maybe a crook falls into a vat of acid and emerges a super-criminal. Maybe a mad scientist is blasted with gamma rays, or a lunatic becomes a monster after being sucked into another dimension.
In the case of Dawn Davenport, the supreme queen of depravity in John Waters’ Female Trouble (Hollywood Theatre, Aug. 22-24), the origins of villainy can be traced to the simple act of fucking oneself.
In a film whose bad taste gives Waters’ breakout film, Pink Flamingos, a run for its money—a bold statement, considering that one featured a singing sphincter—drag legend Divine plays Dawn, an all-American piece of white trash who transforms into a murderous, child-beating, fish-sucking psychopath who seeks celebrity by letting “artists” photograph her committing heinous crimes.
She might have been the most hilariously monstrous creature to hit the screen in the ’70s, a whirlwind of violence and sexual depravity who mutilated rivals and, apparently, blew serial killer Richard Speck. But she wasn’t always that way: At the film’s beginning, Dawn is just a normal, bratty kid with a beehive and a tendency to throw tantrums, especially when she doesn’t get her coveted cha-cha shoes for Christmas.
It’s during a brief encounter while hitchhiking that Dawn’s transformation begins. After being picked up by a sweaty man in an Edsel (also played by Divine), the two proceed to savagely screw on a dirty mattress at the dump. It’s weird and violent, brief and disturbingly funny. The newly pregnant Dawn is never the same.
It’s unlikely Waters, in casting Divine as both teenage Dawn and her nasty lover, was going for anything other than a sight gag by showing us his muse fucking herself. But it also becomes an origin story, showing how two beings collide to make one horribly deranged beast. Their union kicks off a process of fame-obsessed degradation that eventually leaves Dawn with spiked hair, grotesque makeup and massive facial scars. She’s basically the Joker, if the Joker were into cramming fish into his orifices instead of blowing up hospitals.
also, somehow, makes you empathetic to this most horrid of characters.
She may be a deranged murderer, but, hey, the girl can’t help it.
- Pix’s Movies at Dusk appropriately presents The French Chef: Cooking Lessons With Julia Child, a film featuring the legendary TV chef who, for some reason, always reminded me of Mrs. Doubtfire, and thus now makes me very, very sad. Pix Patisserie. Dusk Wednesday, Aug. 20.
- Top Down screens Edward Scissorhands, Tim Burton’s brilliant, pastel-hued suburban fable that whisks us back to a time when a Burton-Johnny Depp collaboration meant you were going to witness something you’d never seen before, not a remake with funny hats and Helena Bonham Carter. Hotel deLuxe. 8 pm Thursday, Aug. 21.
- The NW Film Center’s Wes Anderson retrospective continues with Fantastic Mr. Fox, one of the most charming Roald Dahl adaptations put to film (suck it, Tim Burton!). Friday’s screening is preceded by the pioneering French flick The Tale of the Fox at 7 pm. NW Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium. 8:30 pm Friday, 5 pm Saturday, Aug. 22-23.
- The Goonies returns to theaters, because we live in Oregon. Academy Theater. Aug. 22-28.
- Thanks, Rain Man, for reminding us how much Kmart sucks. Laurelhurst Theater. Aug. 22-28.
- A family road-trip movie that captures the loving animosity that lurks in the hearts of siblings, Alex Ross Perry’s The Color Wheel is touching in its realistic portrayal of bickering as an expression of love. 5th Avenue Cinema. 7 and 9:30 pm Friday-Saturday, 3 pm Sunday, Aug. 22-24.
- Lest you forget how wonderfully weird 1981’s The Great Muppet Caper really is: Kermit the Frog and Fozzie Bear play identical twins. And that’s to say nothing of Charles Grodin’s swine fetish. Hollywood Theatre. Aug. 22-24.
- 1933’s King Kong may not have a three-hour running time or motion-capture technology, but there’s one thing that sets it apart from its high-profile remake: It’s good. Whitsell Auditorium. 7 pm Saturday, Aug. 23.
- Night Movies pairs up Airplane! and Spaceballs, two parodies that have aged unexpectedly well, considering their pop-culture targets. Cartopia. 9:30 pm Sunday, Aug. 24.
- The Grindhouse Film Festival presents Street Law, a 1974 Death Wish knockoff that set the bar for all subsequent Death Wish knockoffs, including Death Wish II through XXI. Hollywood Theatre. 7:30 pm Tuesday, Aug. 26.