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'Polyester' Smells Wonderful on Disc


It's time to rifle Mom's closet, drag out her favorite pair of spandex toreadors, don Dad's chartreuse leisure suit, scrunch down on Gram's favorite plastic-covered overstuffed velveteen orange sofa and see how low laser discs can go. Or better yet, how high John Waters can rise.

If everyone's favorite trash director doesn't watch out, he'll give bad taste a good name, just by having hooked up with the Criterion Collection, the Rolls-Royce of laser discs, to produce a captivating look at his 1981 "Polyester," complete with two analog audio tracks, a sharp wide-screen transfer, archival video material and your own copy of the movies' "first and last" Odorama scratch-and-sniff card ($55).

"Bad taste is universal," the cult director explains about his first real mainstream hit. So here you are, authentic, full-fledged Odorama card in hand, listening to the kind of audio track that you wish high-purpose, serious directors will make explaining their contribution to the fine art of cinema. And what do you get?


This cult director sounding just like any real director having a grand time explaining just what he and Divine and Tab Hunter & Co. were doing in Baltimore unleashing a subterranean view of suburbia on the world.

" 'Polyester' is suburban hell," Waters explains. And watching it again, you certainly believe it. Except now, visions of demented dads, salacious teens and an odd assortment of bizarre friends and neighbors can be seen weekly, if not daily, on this same small-scaled screen. What are "Married . . . With Children," "Roseanne," "Hard Copy" and the Menendez brothers, after all, if not variations on a Waters' theme?

But Waters was there first, and his "futile attempt at mainstream entertainment," his first R-rated film, with Hunter singing Deborah Harry lyrics on the soundtrack, doesn't seem quite so outrageous anymore.

His more-than off-center view of the world never came about haphazardly. "Everything was worked out," he explains. "We don't really improvise much . . . it would throw everything off." And improvising would cost too much. Funds were so tight that his production manager had to live in the rented house in which the film was shot.

Now, looking back on the film, scene by scene, "all I can see is stuff I wish I could change," he laments. Nonetheless, "Thinking it up and just doing it is the most fun for me."

Watching his view of hell ("I love visions of hell, especially visions of emotional hell") as the 300-pound Divine turned suburban housewife copes with a rather stinking life remains ripe. Especially if you scratch for the proper Odoramics--pizza, new Corvette Leatherette, skunks, flatulence--when the movie cues you.

Waters does warn that exhibitors who hung onto the unopened cards too long couldn't be blamed for thinking skunks, or worse, had taken up permanent residence in their warehouses.

Alas, Waters bemoans, "the golden age of trash is over because there are no more taboos." What's left is hearing and seeing how it all came about, with the bonus of Waters on yet another audio track reading from "Shock Value" (on out-of-print recordings) and catching "Waters' world" on archival video footage.

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