The most shocking thing about John Waters' Multiple Maniacs is not the puke eater. It's not the scene where Mink Stole penetrates Divine's ass with the cross dangling from her rosary in the middle of a church. It's not the fact that she does so sans lube, nor that Divine, giving her most glamorously Great Value take on Liz Taylor, fantasizes about Jesus being nailed to the cross while receiving her "rosaryjob." It's not the multiple shootings, multiple stabbings, multiple rape scenes—one of which involves a 12-foot lobster—or even the multiple mentions of Ronald Reagan's name. The most shocking thing about Multiple Maniacs is that, 46 years after its super-limited release, it still manages to shock.
I'd never seen 1970's Multiple Maniacs before hitting up New York City's IFC Center Tuesday night, where a brand-new Janus Films restoration of the 16mm black-and-white picture is currently screening until Aug. 18. But I, like tons of other queer and deviant-adjacent people, definitely had a John Waters "period" in my younger days. Back in the summer of 2007, I dropped a chunk of graduation money on a seven-DVD box set of the Baltimore trash icon's greatest hits, and, from Divine's devil in a red-tulle fishtail demanding that we "Kill everyone now!" in Pink Flamingos to Edith Massey's reverse-Moral Majority platform that "The world of heterosexual is a sick and boring life!" from Female Trouble, I was hooked. Less than a year after watching Flavor Flav solve the great mystery of who pooped on his rent-a-mansion's floor and mere months away before mercilessly forwarding the 2 Girls 1 Cup URL to any and every person I'd just met at college, I stood on the cusp of 19, primed and ready to receive Waters' particular brand of trash through every orifice with vom bucket at the ready.
Nine years and one season of Bridalplasty later, I can admit that the shocks found in Multiple Maniacs didn't slam my gag reflex quite as hard as they would have a decade earlier. But the scandalous nature of the film, which the director himself has described as a "celluloid atrocity," still oozes through every inch of the screen. Take the aforementioned "rosaryjob" scene: While, yes, you don't often see an actress simulate (?) sticking a cross up a drag queen's ass on the big screen, we've all seen far more outrageous shit on the internet. But as the eyes wander beyond Divine's oversaturated, full white moon, you notice how detailed the church set they're fucking on is. Then you begin to ask yourself how John Waters and the rest of the Dreamlanders could have possibly constructed a convincing recreation of a Catholic church on a budget of lint and burger buns. Then it hits you: This is no set. This is a very real, very sacred place of worship where Mink Stole is penetrating her scene partner—and decades before Maryland's sodomy laws were repealed, to boot.
"You have to realize when [Multiple Maniacs] was made," Rose, a fellow IFC moviegoer, told me after the screening had ended. "That's really important."
Rose, a boisterously warm woman on the younger side of John Waters' generation whose absolute favorite film of the director's is 1974's Female Trouble (same), said that this wasn't her first time watching Multiple Maniacs. In fact, the pulpy, low-budget trash-terpiece was one of many she saw "back in the day" at a midnight showing held at one of her local New York movie theaters. Our cultural understandings of decency and perversion have shifted a lot over the past half-century—arguably all peaking with the Great Celebreality Crash of '09—but Rose insisted that even the most tawdry gags in Multiple Maniacs hold up after 46 years. Even the infamous lobster scene, she added, between laughs.
It has been 12 years since John Waters released his last film, the Tracey Ullman-starring A Dirty Shame, and it's unlikely that he will make another, at least for the time being. In a recent interview with Gawker's Rich Juzwiak, the director said that he'll probably stick to his more lucrative ventures in theater and publishing for the foreseeable future as none of his recent movies—probably not since his mainstream crossover hit, Hairspray, in 1988, which coincidentally was Divine's last picture before she died—have made him any money.
As if in anticipation of the nostalgia fetishists—you know, the ones who whine for another Desperate Living but won't throw down when a Pecker or Cecil B. Demented arrives at a theater near them—Waters added: "I have 16 movies out. You know where to find them. They're not hard to see… If I never make another one, I have spoken." If Rose's undying enthusiasm is any indication, those filthy, filthy words will keep ringing out loud and clear for years to come.
Bad at filling out bios seeks same.