© 1981 New Line Cinema

Polyester (1981)

I have been returning to a lot of John Waters films this years, and since Polyester is one of my favorites, I thought why not watch it again. Divine has long been one of my favorite actors, and this is definitely the most varied role she took, having to go from a good Christian housewife, to an alcoholic housewife, to a single mother of troubled women, to a single woman in the dating pool. I think Divine’s overwhelming appearance and the outrageously degenerate acts he performed in John Waters’ early films made it too easy for people to overlook what a good actor he was.

Waters of course does his part in creating the perfect vehicle for showcasing Divine’s talents. Polyester is a perfect, very funny satire of ‘50s “women’s films”, the color-saturated melodramas of Douglas Sirk, teen films, Peyton Place and just about every other aspect of ‘50s American culture that influenced Waters. Waters has always delighted in making audiences laugh at things they probably shouldn’t, and I crack up every time I see the montage of Francine Fishpaw barfing in her purse inside a fancy department store and snapping it shut, or the montage of her decline into alcoholism accompanied by demented circus music.

The gimmick Waters invented to market the film, Odorama, scratch-and-sniff cards with the scents of roses, farts, gasoline and pizza, was a stroke of genius inspired by his childhood hero William Castle, who had corny gimmicks to go along with every film. But I have always thought that Polyester works perfectly well as a satire without this gimmick. A while back I found some reproduction cards made by the Independent Film Channel and finally got to have the full Polyester experience.  The cards I got were probably a bit too old and the odors had started to blend into each other. The number which is meant to smell like gasoline reminded me of strawberries for some reason. Oh, well, the cards were probably not that great even when the film was first released.

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“Religion is great if you can sell it, no good if you give it away.”
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from The Miracle Woman