I purchased the new Criterion Collection Blu-ray disc of John Waters’s Odor-Rama epic Polyester more from a sense of duty than out of real interest. I was in my “collecting mode” and seeing that Criterion included an actual Odor-Rama Scratch ‘N’ Sniff card in the package sealed the deal. How could I NOT possess, for home viewing, one of the only “smell-o-vision” films ever made?
The Plot in Brief: Everything is going south for scent-obsessed suburban mother Francine Fishpaw (Divine). Her husband Elmer (David Samson) is a dim-witted lout who runs the town’s porno theater. He is not hiding the fact that he is conducting an affair with his secretary, Sandra Sullivan (Mink Stole). Francine’s disobedient daughter Lu-Lu (Mary Garlington) wants to drop out of school; her angel dust-snorting son Dexter (Ken King) is probably the notorious Baltimore Foot Stomper. Francine’s mother LaRue (Joni Ruth White) berates and steals from her every chance she gets. Francine’s only friend is former cleaning woman Cuddles Kovinsky (Edith Massey) who, after inheriting a fortune, longs to be a debutante. Can Francine’s life get any worse? Will Francine address her obvious alcoholism? Is handsome stranger Todd Tomorrow (Tab Hunter) the key to Francine’s rehabilitation?
Case in point: this morning I attended a screening of Ad Adstra (a film I very much liked and would recommend) joined by a record number of people who came late to the screening, all of them asserting their goddamn (or God-given) right to USE THE FUCKING FLASHLIGHTS ON THEIR FUCKING CELLPHONES TO FIND THEIR FUCKING RESERVED SEATS. “It’s my right to do this,” they bellowed above the IMAX-enhanced dialogue of the film. “It’s my right to be late to a movie, and it’s my right to shine A PIECE OF THE SUN into the eyes of everyone who got here on time, who by the way are trying to look into the darkest reaches of outer space! Look at me! I’M JUST LIKE A GODDAMN CHARACTER IN A GODDAMN JOHN WATERS MOVIE! STOMP ON YOUR FOOT? DON’T MIND IF I DO! This is Rambo, right?”
“The Worst… and Proud of It” will be emblazoned on the new National T-Shirt, given out free to those proud Americans who scream, “Stop asking so many fucking questions and just get in the fucking car!” to their children in Wal-Mart parking lots, or who make boisterous booty calls on their cellphones (set to “speakerphone”) in line behind me at the bank, or who “open-carry” anything anywhere for any reason. In the film, Elmer Fishpaw delights in showing smut films at his theater because they turn a profit. He loves the picket lines that often ring his house, figuring that the attendant publicity will make him even richer. From his bad hair to his serial philandering to his brutish disregard for anyone but himself, Elmer reminds me of President Donald Trump: a man consumed by self-interest who believes that money justifies anything.
In the film, Francine’s children Lu-Lu and Dexter follow their bliss by go-go dancing nonstop/dating sociopaths and huffing drugs/stomping lady-feet, respectively. They respect no authority other than their own fickle whims and desires. Last week, a young man drove an SUV through the front window of the Sears at Woodfield Mall, five minutes from my modest suburban home, and proceeded to drive, Blues Brothers-style, through the middle of the mall until crashing into a Hollister. Reportedly, other mall-goers held the driver captive until the police could get there. Police have not yet revealed the Indoor NASCAR wannabe’s motivation, but I’m guessing that when it comes out, it will sound a lot like “It seemed like a good idea to me at the time.”
But the prescience of Waters’ outrageous worldview is not the only thing Polyester has going for it. Criterion has included a treasure trove of extras on the new disc. They have ported over their laserdisc commentary track with Waters himself from 1993. Film critic Michael Musto talks with Waters in a new half-hour interview segment. There are 14 minutes of outtakes from the documentary I Am Divine as well as 20 minutes of outtakes from the film itself. My favorite extra was a brief peek of John Waters trying out the scratch-and-sniff samples to be used on the disc’s new Odor-Rama cards. Waters keeps bemoaning the fact that he no longer has any sense of smell—although I found Criterion’s newly-created cards to be much more pungent than the originals. The smell of each scratched circle was much stronger, hung in the air longer, and remained on my fingernails longer than those in 1981. By the end of the film, a mélange of grossness pervaded my family room. It wound up smelling like a skunk that works at a gas station on the wrong side of town.
She’s smart that way.