© 1969 Dreamland

Mondo Trasho (1969)

Released in 1969, John Waters’ Mondo Trasho, is the anti-thesis both to the hippie movement and the “New Hollywood” renaissance that was changing the face of a American film at the time. While Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda were out in Monument Valley filming scenes of motorcycles roaring down wide-open desert roads, John Waters was filming Divine shoplift in a claustrophobic Baltimore thrift shop in grainy black and white 16mm. The movie opens with a non sequiter shot of a man in an executioner’s mask clumsily chopping the heads of chickens. The main story revolves around a blonde bombshell who is molested by a foot fetishist while she fantasizes about being Cinderella. She is later run over by a criminal in a Cadillac convertible who was distracted by wondering what a hitchhiker she passed would like like naked. She scrapes the near-dead bombshell off the pavement, anb the two have a series of misadventures around town, until the bombsell goes under the scalpel of the demented Dr. Coathanger, who amputates her feet and replaces them with giant chicken claws. The whole things winds up, quite literally, in the insane asylum. In his memoirs Shock Value, Waters writes that he and his friends hated hippies and only wanted to make a movie to shock them.

Since it was filmed in black and white with synchronized sound added later, Mondo Trasho is sometimes referred to as an “experimental film,” although I prefer Waters’ own designation of it as a “gutter film.”  Aside from how it fits into the cultural climate and popular cinema of its time, Mondo Trasho is a really fun film. The first scenes of Divine, in a platinum blonde wig, riding around Baltimore in a 1959 El Dorado Cadillac convertible to the strains of a crackly record of Little Richard’s “The Girl Can’t Help It” is one of the most exciting sequences ever committed to film.

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