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Photograph by Greg Gorman

Lust For Life: Tracey Ullman plays a newly invigorated hot mama in John Waters' latest affront to common decency, 'A Dirty Shame."

Suburban Sodom

'A Dirty Shame': this title is certainly accurate!

By Richard von Busack

Be ashamed of yourself, John Waters! Your new movie, A Dirty Shame, makes trash look positively top-drawer! Have you forgotten that we're currently in a war with non-Christians, who might see this movie and think it reflects on the realities of American life? Don't you realize we all have to be as chaste and devout as possible, lest we scare those skittish swing-state voters? What about elderly people who might have gone to see the musical Hairspray and thought to themselves, "Why, A Dirty Shame," another comedy by that wholesome John Waters! Let's spend our hard-earned dollars on this." Imagine how they'll feel when they get an eyeful of this smutty stag film!

Mr. Waters, do you think there's something funny about 12-step programs for sex addicts, adult big-baby fanciers and so-called "bears"--obese, hairy homosexual men who deserve a sound spanking for their wrong-headed lifestyle choices? Or that there's mockery to be had at young ladies who go through surgery to restore their virginity? Or that it's fair to laugh at the plight of men and women who become nymphomaniacs because of head injuries? Tracey Ullman plays Sylvia Stickles, one such unfortunate: a dead-from-the-waist-down cashier who--after being clobbered in a traffic accident--becomes an on-fire woman in search for (gag) oral sex for her "axis of evil." In her uncertain mental state, she joins the coven of a tow-truck driver named Ray-Ray (Johnny Knoxville: an actor who destroys his clean-living image by appearing in this obscene movie). Ray-Ray's apostles spread the gospel of ultimate perversion to the rest of Baltimore.

Selma Blair, augmented with enormous (and actually convincing) fake boobs, plays Sylvia's daughter. The so-called "Ursula Udders" is a pole dancer in search of a pole. She is kept under electronic house arrest, but is sprung when her suburban neighborhood of Hartford Road becomes a tableau vivant of Krafft-Ebing. In the horrendous finale, even the innocent sycamores become the victims of tree-humpers.

After toasting the "end of irony" in Pecker, Waters dives right back into the soul-corroding wallow of irony as if it were a pristine mountain lake! A cross between the work of proscribed filmmakers Frank Tashlin and Luis Buñuel, A Dirty Shame does nothing but razz the decent people who use their genitals for the divinely inspired purpose of procreation. Despite Ullman's Buddy Hackett-style mugging, I'm sorry to say that there will be blighted souls who will laugh at Waters' new film. Others may be forced against their will into laughter by Waters' fiendish use of mind-controlling subliminals--to say nothing of his recycling of novelty records of the '50s and montages culled from relics of nudist-camp movies. It's as if Waters has been stimulated into evil by the righteousness of militant Christians, who've had enough of decadent JCPenney catalogs, that filthy TV show 7th Heaven and the radio pornography of Garrison Keillor. What a tragedy that Waters should use his undeniable talents for a nonstop shamefest! I pray for him daily.

A Dirty Shame (NC-17; 89 min.), directed and written by John Waters, photographed by Steve Gainer and starring Tracey Ullman and Johnny Knoxville, opens Friday.

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From the September 22-29, 2004 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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