In John Waters' Female Trouble, a fashion model becomes famous after her face is disfigured by acid, a young woman is promptly strangled by her mother for becoming a Hare Krishna, and a heterophobic woman's hand is sliced off while she's locked in a birdcage.
To film programmer Anthony Hudson, it's an inspirational work of art.
"You can look at it as just an exercise to shock the straight moviegoing public, but at the same time, they're also immensely thoughtful and so well-written," says Hudson of Waters' movies. "Even if they were all loaded up on drugs when they made these movies, there was serious intellectual thought that went into them."
Female Trouble is the first movie in Hollywood Theatre's new series Mondo Trasho, which is programmed by Hudson. The deranged 1974 epic chronicles the resplendent rise and gruesome fall of Dawn Davenport (played by the legendary Divine). After tipping a Christmas tree on top of her mother—Hudson's favorite scene in the film—Dawn becomes a thief, a prostitute and ultimately the muse of the monstrous fashion gurus Donald and Donna Dasher (David Lochary and Mary Vivian Pearce), who capitalize on Dawn's seedy, lawless existence.
Hudson, who is probably best known for the drag-clown persona Carla Rossi, first saw Female Trouble in 2007 after picking up a DVD of the film at Movie Madness.
"This giant, scary-looking drag queen—to see that person be able to lead a movie and be celebrated and become an icon for it is absolutely mind-blowing to me, and so inspirational," says Hudson. "It shifted the whole course of my life, going into drag and becoming an artist."
For Mondo Trasho, Hudson plans to screen thematically rich films that have been dismissed as trash or filth. "There are so many amazing films like Female Trouble that exist in the realm of cult and exploitation and trash that are so derided by high culture, yet are so profoundly influential for marginalized communities," Hudson says.
When you watch Female Trouble, it's not hard to see why. The story of Dawn rejecting the oppressive roles society seeks to cast her in—submissive daughter, submissive mother, submissive wife—and forging her own destiny is freeing in its own way.
But there's also a tragic strain in Female Trouble. Dawn's refusal to conform is ultimately punished, not only by the law, but by her so-called friends the Dashers.
"It's funny seeing everything that happens to Dawn. It's also grotesque and it is horrifying, especially knowing how Divine died so young," says Hudson. "I think camp and that queer sensibility of humor come from a place of the tragic."
Hudson already has plans for the future of Mondo Trasho, including an upcoming screening of the 1986 alien invasion flick TerrorVision. But the Female Trouble screening promises to be particularly special for Hudson, who grew up in a conservative Catholic household in Keizer, Ore., dreaming of being able to watch films like Waters'.
"Growing up as this weird queer kid in this little tiny shit town, I couldn't just go down to Hollywood Video and rent so many of these classics because they weren't available," Hudson says. "Coming out and coming of age on the internet, but circa AOL, I would find these lists of incredible movies that every queer person needs to see."
Now, as the programmer of both Mondo Trasho and the Hollywood's Queer Horror series, Hudson gets to screen films like Female Trouble that weren't available where Hudson grew up.
"It's sort of the stuff that you get the sense that 'I'm not supposed to be watching this.'" Hudson says. "But then if you hadn't watched it, there's so much you would be missing out on."
SEE IT: Female Trouble screens at Hollywood Theatre, 4122 NE Sandy Blvd., hollywoodtheatre.org. 9:45 pm Friday, June 8. $9.