It is so easy nowadays to call a movie independent. Yet, once upon a time (in a magical land called… BALTIMORE!), there was a group of losers, loners, and lovers who truly were independent, both in film and spirit(s). Truthfully, the director, John Waters, was actually arrested for “Conspiracy to Commit Indecent Exposure” while making this film and proved what it really took to push the boundaries in the late 60s and early 70s. They say a filmmaker should put their blood, sweat, and tears into a movie, and you can guarantee the “Pope of Trash” put more fluids than these into one of his first feature films, Multiple Maniacs, a movie that has everything in it from hairspray beehives to a lobster having… er, intimate relations with the infamous muse Divine!
Waters’ approach in life was to make films outside of the sandboxes of normalcy. In a time period where rebellion was encouraged, Waters found his community in the bohemian culture of Baltimore and began to make short films before eventually moving on to feature lengths like Multiple Manics and Pink Flamingoes. Today, Waters is heralded as a cinema Auteur of spray chemicals with attendances for his one-man shows outselling the total box office of all of his earlier works combined! In a world where Waters is accepted, it still fascinates how these cinematic crabcakes can shell-shock, demonstrating pushing people’s uncomfortable buttons is timeless craftsmanship. The casting of Divine as Waters lead was serendipitous as this was the beginning of several features where Divine lived up to their name! Made on weekends and during off-hours (when the production team wasn’t having a good time) for a mere $5000, the film was as underground as you could get, showing the film in (open-minded) churches and basement art houses throughout the country.
The plot for the film is hard to pinpoint, not because of a lack of coherent story, but more for the style of colossal hodgepodges (artistically) put together. The film is more edits of scenes mixed with a throughline. It was actually Water’s aspiration to make a soap opera or a movie the likes of Liz Taylor’s Boom! Lady Divine (played by Divine) is the owner of “The Proprietors of Perversion,” where she lures patrons into the show and robs them, until one day the roles are reversed and Lady Divine must come to terms with her behavior. Don’t expect a fairy tale ending where everyone claps for Tinkerbell. In Dreamland world, Tinkerbell will come back to life, slap on some greasy make-up, and slit your throat!
Shot in gorgeous black and white and coming in a very rough (and tough) ninety-six minutes, you can find Multiple Maniacs on streaming services like Tubi and (believe it or not) HBO Max, but recently there was a Blu-ray Criterion Collection edition, filled with interviews and retrospectives which can be streamed in beautiful 4K on the Criterion Channel. So cruise in your pink Cadillac to the local drive-in, deep fry some lobster tails, and get ready to go nuts with some (simply) divine magic!