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John Waters
Tracey Ullman, Johnny Knoxville, Selma Blair, Chris Isaak, Suzanne Shepherd, Mink Stole, Patricia Hearst, Jackie Hoffman
Writing Credits:
John Waters

Threatening the very limits of common decency.

Are you ready for a movie that puts filth right where it belongs? Then get ready to laugh with A Dirty Shame - the latest raunchy riot from director John Waters. When a concussion awakens the carnal urges of Sylvia (Tracey Ullman), the people of Pinewood become pitted against each other in a battle of decency versus depravity.

Box Office:
Opening Weekend
$29.384 thousand on 1 screens.
Domestic Gross
$1.339 million.

Rated NC-17

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.10
English Dolby 2.0

Runtime: 88 min.
Price: $27.95
Release Date: 6/14/2005

• Audio Commentary with Director John Waters
• Audio Commentary with Greens Foreman Devra Kitterman, Associate Producer/Casting Director Pat Moran, Production Designer Vincent Peranio, Costume Designer Van Smith, and Prop Master Brook Yeaton
• “All the Dirt of A Dirty Shame” Documentary
• Deleted Scene
• Trailers


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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A Dirty Shame: Unrated (2004)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 10, 2005)

Do you think anyone saw 2004’s A Dirty Shame under the mistaken belief they’d find a prequel to 1994’s A Lowdown Dirty Shame? Probably not. Shame comes from oddball director John Waters and offers another of his signature strange experiences.

Shame focuses on repressed Baltimore resident Sylvia Stickles (Tracey Ullman) and her family. Sexual frustrated but oddly chipper husband Vaughn (Chris Isaak) can’t get a break from her, while daughter Caprice (Selma Blair) is on house arrest due to indecent exposure. She and her enormous implants work as an exotic dancer, a gig that garners her a devoted following such as grungy “Fat Fuck Frank” (Wes Johnson).

Sylvia reacts negatively to all the sexuality around her: octogenarians who make out on a street corner, a guy who takes out the trash sans pants, etc. When Sylvia’s car conks out after it runs out of gas, she gets hit on the head with a hockey stick that protrudes from a passing pickup truck. This causes a personality change that sex-obsessed tow truck driver Ray Ray (Johnny Knoxville) exploits. He tells her she’s now a sex addict and slips her his card - after he gives her an intense orgasm. He claims sex addicts will take over and looks forward to a day of “carnal rapture”.

While Sylvia starts to change, she goes to work at the Pinewood Park & Pay where her mother Big Ethel (Suzanne Shepherd) bemoans the increased sexuality in the area. She hosts a “Harford Road For Decency” meeting at which she and some others declare that they’ll stop the depravity all around them.

In the meantime, Sylvia’s newfound sexuality leads her to hallucinations and bizarre behavior. When she and Vaughn visit his mother (Grace Nalls) at a nursing home, she turns a dance into a sexual act with a water bottle. In a tizzy, Sylvia finds her way to Ray Ray’s garage. There she meets more of her kind and learns that Ray Ray thinks she’ll be their sexual salvation, the path to a new act. The rest of the movie deals with her situation, its complications, the battle for decency waged by Big Ethel and the search for the new sex act.

A Dirty Shame may well be the ultimate “not for everyone” film. Granted, it’s not as extreme as other Waters’ offerings like Pink Flamingos, but it comes packed with perverse concepts and visuals. That doesn’t exactly make it a flick that’ll fly with those who lack a taste for willfully, gleefully out of the mainstream material.

Actually, even those with an affection for Waters and his flicks may not come away from Shame with a sense of satisfaction. My friend thinks highly of Waters - Serial Momstands as one of Kevin’s favorites - but he didn’t care much for Shame. I didn’t get into the reasons for Kevin’s dissatisfaction, but given that he’s usually pretty easy to please, I figured this wasn’t a good sign.

For the first act of Shame, I thought Kevin was off the wall. The film launches with all guns blazing and presents a litany of absurdly amusing perversity. Sex is everywhere, and in a delightfully nutty way. For instance, we watch a “family” of “bears” - fat, hairy homosexual men - who playfully growl at Sylvia and we hear weird novelty songs like “Sore Pussy”. The sexless “neuters” also get funny lines like “What’s good about a morning with dildos in it?” and “I’m Viagravated and I’m not gonna take it anymore”.

Unfortunately, the film can’t even remotely maintain this energy. The scene in which Sylvia gets it on with a water bottle roughly connotes the demarcation line, as the film goes downhill from there. Gradually, it gets less and less entertaining. I won’t say that the film includes no funny material after the bottle scene, but the laughs come much more sporadically as the flick turns more and more idiotic.

I get the feeling Waters had a seed of an idea but didn’t know how to make it bloom. The movie’s anarchic sexual energy carries it for a while, and that’s why it works so nicely for a while. Unfortunately, when Waters tries to relate more to the thin characters and the silly plot, we find out how little substance there is. Matters get tedious and lack much inspiration.

I suppose Waters tries to make some political point with the material. In these sexually-repressive times, the “neuters” come across like stereotypical Republicans who attempt to force their morals on others. I get the feeling many conservatives see the world as just as sexual and threatening as the flick’s Harford Road.

Don’t expect Shame to fully explore societal or political implications, however, as Waters mostly uses the story as an excuse to discuss every form of perversion imaginable. The flick acts as a virtual encyclopedia of weirdness. It goes into almost every oddball fetish out there and will serve as an education for most.

Too bad A Dirty Shame becomes so dull after its first act. The flick shoots out of the blocks at a terrific pace and offers a genuinely hilarious initial half hour or so. Unfortunately, it rapidly deteriorates after that and wears out its welcome the longer it runs.

Bizarre coincidence: just three days before I watched Shame, I screened the extended cut of Gone in Sixty Seconds. There a character mentions the pleasures of masturbating with a hand that fell asleep. The same concept arises here. What are the chances I’d watch two movies in three days that discuss the same unusual technique?

The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio B/ Bonus A-

A Dirty Shame appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Despite some occasional problems, Shame usually fared well.

Sharpness mostly looked good. Edge enhancement was a sporadic issue, and those haloes caused weaker delineation than normal at times. For the most part, however, the film presented generally solid definition and accuracy. No jagged edges or shimmering caused issues, and print flaws were minor. The occasional speck cropped up but that was it.

Colors presented a highlight of the transfer. Shame packed in a varied palette with bright hues, and they all came across with terrific vivacity and vividness. Blacks were similarly deep and dense, while low-light shots appeared smooth and concise. The edge enhancement was the main problem, and its impact on the transfer meant the flick ended up with a “B”.

I didn’t find many highs or lows in the competent Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of A Dirty Shame. Not much came of the soundfield. The focus stayed on the forward spectrum, mostly due to the presence of music. Shame featured almost constant score and songs, and these offered nice stereo delineation. Outside of some concussion scenes and a few exaggerated sexual elements, the effects concentrated on ambience. They seemed reasonably well located and meshed together nicely, but they didn’t have a lot to do. Surrounds stuck with reinforcement and little else, though they fleshed out the spectrum.

Audio quality seemed satisfying. Speech suffered from no edginess, as the lines were natural and crisp. As noted, effects were fairly minor, but they appeared full and accurate, and they kicked in some bass when appropriate. Music played the biggest role, and those elements sounded rich and well defined with good range. I couldn’t say the soundtrack challenged my system, but it did what it needed to do.

New Line packs in a lot of extras for this DVD. We get two audio commentaries, the first of which comes from director John Waters. He provides a running, screen-specific piece that resembles his movie: it starts out on fire but peters out as it progresses.

Actually, it’s unfair to say that the commentary truly mirrors the movie, as it never falls as flat as the flick. Waters tells us a lot about the cast and the film’s inspirations. He relates many stories about the different ideas in the film and where they came from, and he fills us in with details related to the actors and other participants. We find many fun anecdotes as the animated Waters chats up a storm.

For the first half an hour or so, at least, before Waters starts to run out of steam. During the film’s final hour, he tends to offer slightly generic praise, and more dead air materializes. Waters still manages to toss out many good tales and remarks, but they come with less frequency. Despite the slow deterioration of the track, it manages to provide enough good material to merit a listen. If nothing else, listen to the excellent first 30 minutes or so.

For the second track, we hear from greens foreman Devra Kitterman, associate producer/Casting Director Pat Moran, production designer Vincent Peranio, costume designer Van Smith, and prop master Brook Yeaton. Kitterman and Yeaton sit together for one session, while the other three chat as a group for the other parts. This definitely isn’t a screen-specific piece; the participants don’t watch the film as they speak. This makes the conversation lively but somewhat disjointed.

Although the commentators don’t watch the movie, they usually stay on task because a moderator prompts them; he asks questions that generally correlate to the scenes we see. They talk about their initial impressions of the script and get into the particulars of various sequences. We learn about shooting the concussion scenes, props, sets and visual design, locations, casting and characters, working in Baltimore, costumes, foliage and general notes about the flick and its participants.

I feared this track might be dull due to the technical nature of the commentators’ work. Seriously - a greens foreman? However, it turned out to be quite lively and engaging. Some of the folks have been with Waters forever, so they offer that perspective, and they cover a variety of useful issues in an honest and upfront manner. A truly crotchety old broad, Moran got on my nerves at time due to her attitude, but I still liked this informative discussion.

Next comes an 82-minute and eight-second documentary called All the Dirt of A Dirty Shame. It presents shots from the set and interviews. We hear from Waters, Moran, Peranio, Smith, Kitterman, Yeaton, archival film advisor Frank Henenlotter, Holiday House owner Frank Hughes, Holiday House regulars Jay Travers and Mark Lynch, prosthetics designer Tony Gardner, music consultant Larry Benicewicz, and actors Tracey Ullman, Johnny Knoxville, Selma Blair, Mink Stole, Jean Hill, Wes Johnson, James Ransone, Michael Gabel, Channing Wilroy, Susan Rome, Alan J. Wendl, Jonas Grey, David A. Dunham, Dave Moretti, Jeffrey Auerbach, Jewel Orem, Jackie Hoffman, and Suzanne Shepherd.

The program covers the evolution of Waters career and his collaborators, making a return to Waters’ “trashy ways”, brain injury humor and the depiction of sex, research and fetishes, casting, preparation and shooting, the use of old sex exploitation films, Waters’ relationship with Baltimore, locations and landscaping, prosthetic breasts, the atmosphere on the set, musical choices, ratings issues, and the snake in Knoxville’s pants.

If I had a choose a negative about “Dirt”, it’d be due to repetition. We hear some of the same topics - we get the story of Shepherd’s reluctance to do the flick for the third time - and we even find some of the exact quotes heard elsewhere, as most of the Moran/Peranio/Smith stuff shows up in their commentary as well. Nonetheless, the program moves briskly and covers quite a lot not heard in the commentaries. We get different topics and perspectives, most of which are entertaining. It’s a pretty solid program.

One Deleted Scene goes for a mere 20 seconds. Really more of an outtake, this shows a bit from the film’s finale. A snake comes out of Ray Ray’s crotch and as a goof, Knoxville sucks on it. Since this already appears in “Dirt”, it seems like a waste of time here.

In addition to the trailer for A Dirty Shame, “More from New Line” includes a few ads. It presents clips for Waters’ Pecker, Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble, and Polyester.

After a very funny first 20 minutes, A Dirty Shame gradually gets worse and worse until it hits its lame third act. Almost nothing entertaining occurs in that span as the movie plods toward its tepid close. The DVD offers inconsistently but usually positive picture along with pretty good audio and a nice collection of extras. I admire John Waters for creating such a sexually explicit movie in today’s political climate, but A Dirty Shame simply runs out of steam too quickly.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.75 Stars Number of Votes: 8
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