2005 Melbourne International Film Festival : A Dirty Shame (2004)

1st August 2005

Director: John Waters
Starring: Tracey Ullman, Chris Isaak, Selma Blair, Johnny Knoxville, Suzanne Shepherd, Patty Hearst, Mink Stole, David Hasselhoff

Tagline: Obscene, disgusting & vulgar – I love it!

Silvia (Tracey Ullman) and Vaughn (Chris Isaak) are a happily married couple living in the Hartford Road district of a small town in America. Silvia is very uptight and hates sex, understandably, as her extremely over-endowed daughter Caprice (Selma Blair) is currently locked up at home due to multiple public nudity and indecency charges.

One particular morning, Silvia and Vaughn end up fighting over their daughter, who wants to go back to performing as ‘Ursula Udders’, leading to Silvia driving off in the car and Vaughn walking to work (saying hi to their strange neighbours on the way.) On her way to work, Silvia ends up getting a concussion and is rescued by Ray Ray (Johnny Knoxville), a sexual healer who tells her she is now a sex-addict – and how!

Arriving at her work we meet her mother Big Ethel (Suzanne Shepherd), who hates sex and the ‘deviants’ in the town and takes every opportunity to tell people about it.

Silvia is desperate for sex by this stage and convinces Vaughn to pop out for ‘Funch’.

During the course of the film we follow Silvia’s increasingly weird sexual escapades including a rendition of the ‘Hokey Pokey’ at the nursing home you will never forget.

The fun really begins when Silvia receives a second blow to the head and changes back to normal, leading to the whole family attending a ‘sex addicts recovery’ session which is raided by the sex addicts who are planning on taking over the town.

I haven’t seen any of John Waters films before, but I have heard about them and the controversy they have generated (Pink Flamingoes was banned in Australia), so I was really looking forward to this movie after hearing about it.

Tracey Ullman as Silvia was also another reason I wanted to see this movie as I really enjoyed her work in Tracey Takes On TV series that screened regularly on the ABC in Australia. It is a close call as to whether she is funnier as the sex addict or a ‘neuter’ as she plays them both so well.

What was really great about this movie is that even she is upstaged by some of the people in the supporting cast at times. Suzanne Shepherd’s performance as Big Ethel is gold as she is so nasty and bitter. Mink Stole is a brilliant partner with her as the equally nasty Marge the Neuter who seems to be obsessed with pubic shaving.

Just about every sexual fetish is on display here, but it is all played for laughs, which is what makes it so much fun. There are so many great lines in this movie, it is difficult to pick just one and I recommend you see it with your friends or you will drive them mad repeating quotes they know nothing about.

John Waters is deliberately setting out to challenge conventions and generate controversy here and I wouldn’t have it any other way. As with his other famous star Divine, even though some of the characters do things that seem disgusting, you do get the feeling they are real people and they are not portrayed as doing something bad as it is natural for them.

This movie also serves to demonstrate how puerile and unfunny the material in most of the Wayans and Farrelly Brothers movies really is and I could never watch those movies again without feeling disappointed after seeing this movie.

This movie was extremely well received at the festival screening I saw it at and even sold out one of its sessions. Due to it being so extreme, I don’t think it will do that well on general release, but it is destined to become a cult classic on DVD and will hopefully make more people fans of the work of this director.

It is not only Waters who should do well out of this film, David Hasselhoff’s cameo appearance will certainly give him something to talk about during interviews and raised my opinion of him considerably.

I can’t recommend this movie highly enough if you want a good laugh as it is one of the funniest movies I have seen in years and I will definitely watch it again when it comes out on DVD. See it and tell all your friends to do so.

Rating: 9/10