Female Trouble


1h 32m 1975
Female Trouble

Brief Synopsis

A fictitious biography of Dawn Davenport, a headline-seeking criminal.

Film Details

Also Known As
Rotten Mind, Rotten Face
MPAA Rating
NC-17
Genre
Comedy
Release Date
1975
Distribution Company
Mainline Entertainment; New Line Cinema

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 32m
Sound
Chace Surround (2001 re-release), Mono
Color
Color

Synopsis

A fictitious biography of Dawn Davenport, a headline-seeking criminal.

Film Details

Also Known As
Rotten Mind, Rotten Face
MPAA Rating
NC-17
Genre
Comedy
Release Date
1975
Distribution Company
Mainline Entertainment; New Line Cinema

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 32m
Sound
Chace Surround (2001 re-release), Mono
Color
Color

Articles

Female Trouble


Of all the films in John Waters' "trash trilogy," Female Trouble (1974), an absurd satire about America's growing obsession with celebrity, may be his most prescient. Nearly 50 years after the film's release, Americans are even hungrier for fame. From reality television to social media, regular people take part in producing increasingly spectacular content with the desperate hope of stardom, or just notoriety. Dawn Davenport's (Divine) classic line from the film - "I'm a thief and a shitkicker and...I'd like to be famous" - captures the appetite for attention wafting from our screens and makes the film more relevant than ever.

Beginning in the 1960s, Female Trouble introduces Dawn, an "awful," "cheap" and "fat" high school girl who defiantly attacks her parents and runs away from home for not getting the "cha-cha heels" she wanted for Christmas. On the road, she gets pregnant by hitchhiker Earl Peterson (also played by Divine in macho drag) and later gives birth to a bratty daughter named Taffy (Hilary Taylor, Mink Stole). After engaging in stripping and street prostitution to make ends meet, Dawn is recruited by "morally bankrupt" beauty salon owners Donald and Donna Dasher (David Lochary and Mary Vivian Pearce) to prove that "crime and beauty are the same." They have Dawn commit crimes by promising her fame, photographing her offenses to stroke her ego and rewarding her with gifts, money and drugs. Dedicated to infamous Manson Family member Charles "Tex" Watson, who Waters visited in prison, Female Trouble is a dark comedy about the lengths an American misfit might go for her 15 minutes of fame, and it's also a critique of voyeuristic audiences that demand increasingly salacious content.

Waters pulls off his sensational plotline with his now signature irony: a camp aesthetic which exaggerates bodies, costuming, space, color, light, performance, and of course, hair. As a result, he reverses our tastes--bad is good and ugly is pretty--and subverts conventional politics as they pertain to gender, sexuality, marriage, family and class. Divine, a popular drag queen and Waters' larger than life muse, performs Dawn to these ends, even crooning the jazzy title song in character. Waters also irreverently mixes genres. The film's theme, "crime is beauty," refers to two French arthouse capstones: French writer Jean Genet and the ending of The 400 Blows (1959). Yet, both supposedly 'highbrow' allusions are rendered vaudevillian in the film. If the send up of bourgeois straight tendencies in ethos or style weren't obvious enough, characters like Ida Nelson (Edith Massey) hope her nephew Gater will "turn nelly," telling him that "the world of the heterosexual is a sick and boring life" and "queers are just better. I'd be so proud if you was a fag." Female Trouble's playful vulgarity is thus unlike the other films of the era with openly gay content: horror films or tragic melodramas, cautionary tales about creepy queers or the sorrows of being homosexual.

Despite reveling in the grotesque, Waters doesn't make fun of his characters. Shot in Waters' native Baltimore and features his raucous troupe, the Dreamlanders (Divine, David Lochary, Mink Stole, Mary Vivian Pearce, Edith Massey, and Cookie Mueller), the camera is strangely tender, particularly toward Dawn, reminding us that he is a filmmaker who roots for dissident outsiders; he mocks high art and ridicules authority. It is no wonder that Andy Warhol, David Bowie and William S. Burroughs all loved the film. Moreover, Female Trouble has paved the way for and inspired what are often labeled "Water-esque" queer comedies with a similar balance of smut and sensitivity, such as those by Jamie Babbit (But I'm a Cheerleader, 1999) and Bruce La Bruce (The Misandrists, 2017). So foundational is Female Trouble to Waters' oeuvre and to cult queer cinema that Los Angeles' NuArt Theatre called it "John Waters' Citizen Kane."

By Rebecca Kumar
Female Trouble

Female Trouble

Of all the films in John Waters' "trash trilogy," Female Trouble (1974), an absurd satire about America's growing obsession with celebrity, may be his most prescient. Nearly 50 years after the film's release, Americans are even hungrier for fame. From reality television to social media, regular people take part in producing increasingly spectacular content with the desperate hope of stardom, or just notoriety. Dawn Davenport's (Divine) classic line from the film - "I'm a thief and a shitkicker and...I'd like to be famous" - captures the appetite for attention wafting from our screens and makes the film more relevant than ever. Beginning in the 1960s, Female Trouble introduces Dawn, an "awful," "cheap" and "fat" high school girl who defiantly attacks her parents and runs away from home for not getting the "cha-cha heels" she wanted for Christmas. On the road, she gets pregnant by hitchhiker Earl Peterson (also played by Divine in macho drag) and later gives birth to a bratty daughter named Taffy (Hilary Taylor, Mink Stole). After engaging in stripping and street prostitution to make ends meet, Dawn is recruited by "morally bankrupt" beauty salon owners Donald and Donna Dasher (David Lochary and Mary Vivian Pearce) to prove that "crime and beauty are the same." They have Dawn commit crimes by promising her fame, photographing her offenses to stroke her ego and rewarding her with gifts, money and drugs. Dedicated to infamous Manson Family member Charles "Tex" Watson, who Waters visited in prison, Female Trouble is a dark comedy about the lengths an American misfit might go for her 15 minutes of fame, and it's also a critique of voyeuristic audiences that demand increasingly salacious content. Waters pulls off his sensational plotline with his now signature irony: a camp aesthetic which exaggerates bodies, costuming, space, color, light, performance, and of course, hair. As a result, he reverses our tastes--bad is good and ugly is pretty--and subverts conventional politics as they pertain to gender, sexuality, marriage, family and class. Divine, a popular drag queen and Waters' larger than life muse, performs Dawn to these ends, even crooning the jazzy title song in character. Waters also irreverently mixes genres. The film's theme, "crime is beauty," refers to two French arthouse capstones: French writer Jean Genet and the ending of The 400 Blows (1959). Yet, both supposedly 'highbrow' allusions are rendered vaudevillian in the film. If the send up of bourgeois straight tendencies in ethos or style weren't obvious enough, characters like Ida Nelson (Edith Massey) hope her nephew Gater will "turn nelly," telling him that "the world of the heterosexual is a sick and boring life" and "queers are just better. I'd be so proud if you was a fag." Female Trouble's playful vulgarity is thus unlike the other films of the era with openly gay content: horror films or tragic melodramas, cautionary tales about creepy queers or the sorrows of being homosexual. Despite reveling in the grotesque, Waters doesn't make fun of his characters. Shot in Waters' native Baltimore and features his raucous troupe, the Dreamlanders (Divine, David Lochary, Mink Stole, Mary Vivian Pearce, Edith Massey, and Cookie Mueller), the camera is strangely tender, particularly toward Dawn, reminding us that he is a filmmaker who roots for dissident outsiders; he mocks high art and ridicules authority. It is no wonder that Andy Warhol, David Bowie and William S. Burroughs all loved the film. Moreover, Female Trouble has paved the way for and inspired what are often labeled "Water-esque" queer comedies with a similar balance of smut and sensitivity, such as those by Jamie Babbit (But I'm a Cheerleader, 1999) and Bruce La Bruce (The Misandrists, 2017). So foundational is Female Trouble to Waters' oeuvre and to cult queer cinema that Los Angeles' NuArt Theatre called it "John Waters' Citizen Kane." By Rebecca Kumar

Quotes

I'm getting a hard-on! Beauty always gives me a hard-on!
- Wink
Point it the other way Wink. You know how I feel about that thing. That thing hanging there like an obscene pickle. Spare me your anatomy.
- Donna Dasher
The world of the heterosexual is a sick and boring life.
- Aunt Ida
If they're smart, they're queer, and if they're stupid, they're straight!
- Aunt Ida
Queers are just better. I'd be so proud if you was a fag.
- Aunt Ida
I wouldn't suck your lousy dick if I was suffocating and there was oxygen in your balls!
- Taffy

Trivia

A scene was filmed in which Concetta (Cookie Mueller) burst into the courtroom in an attempt to rescue Dawn Davenport (Divine). According to John Waters, the scene was "technically bad" (visible boom mic, light poles, etc.) and not included in any released version.

Dawn Davenport's stage performance is based upon an act performed by Divine at San Francisco's Palace Theatre. Divine would wheel a shopping cart full of mackerel on stage and hurl them into the audience while claiming responsibility for various high-profile crimes.

A model helicopter made by Tex Watson is visible in the opening sequence.

Many of the principle actors' and crews' parents played the jurors in the final courtroom scene, including the mother and brother of David Lochary and the mother of set designer Vincent Peranio.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1975

Released in United States August 1991

Released in United States March 1995

Released in United States July 1996

Released in United States August 1997

Released in United States October 1999

Shown at Angelika Theater in New York City (Midsummer Madness: The Films of John Waters) August 21-27, 1991.

Shown at New York Underground Film Festival (John Waters Tribute) March 22-26, 1995.

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1975

Released in United States August 1991 (Shown at Angelika Theater in New York City (Midsummer Madness: The Films of John Waters) August 21-27, 1991.)

Shown at Chicago Underground Film Festival (Lifetime Achievement) August 13-17, 1997.

Shown at Philadelphia International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival July 11-21, 1996.

Released in United States August 1997 (Shown at Chicago Underground Film Festival (Lifetime Achievement) August 13-17, 1997.)

Released in United States March 1995 (Shown at New York Underground Film Festival (John Waters Tribute) March 22-26, 1995.)

Shown at Hamptons International Film Festival October 20-24, 1999.

Released in United States October 1999 (Shown at Hamptons International Film Festival October 20-24, 1999.)

Released in United States July 1996 (Shown at Philadelphia International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival July 11-21, 1996.)