Desperate Living in 35mm

John Waters · 1977
90min · 35mm
  • Saturday, Apr 22, 2023, 7:00pm
  • Sunday, Apr 23, 2023, 4:00pm
  • Tuesday, Apr 25, 2023, 9:00pm
  • Thursday, Apr 27, 2023, 9:00pm

Celebrate John Waters' 77th birthday and the Grand Illusion's 19th anniversary as a volunteer-run establishment with a 35mm screening of this wholly original trash art comedy epic from The Sultan of Sleaze, The King of Filth, The Duke of Dirt, The Prince of Puke, The Baron of Bad Taste...

Things get rocky at the Gravel household when paranoid Peggy Gravel (Mink Stole) and her murderous maid Grizelda (Jean Hill) kill Peggy's husband. They escape from the law, only to wind up in the crazy town of Mortville, where Queen Carlotta (Edith Massey) presides over a sleazy collection of misfits, including the vivacious Muffy St. Jacques (Liz Renay). When the Queen disinherits her daughter, Princess Coo-Coo (Mary Vivian Pearce), and decides she wants to infect the town with rabies, the citizens of Mortville decide that it's time for a few changes!

Waters’ first feature made without Divine or David Lochary—the latter passed away the year of the film’s release—is a catalogue of horrors shot on 16mm that veers between comedy and disgust, or, as Waters himself described it, “a fairy tale for fucked-up children.”

Part of our 16mm Centennial Celebration Series!

“Unlike the Sirkian melodrama of Polyester or the period nostalgia of Hairspray, the political satire in Desperate Living is relentless and confrontational. I’ve now watched the film, joyously, at least a dozen times, but only recently did it dawn on me how disturbingly prescient it happens to be. It imagines an America that in 1977, during the early Carter years, must have seemed like preposterous parody but today [in January 2020] appears merely descriptive. Like a gaudy, gold-­plated revolver, Desperate Living points to our current political situation with unsettling aim.” Alex Halberstadt, New York Times

“I dare anyone not to take John Waters seriously after Desperate Living. He remains the visionary of camp and the den mother of the bizarre… This film is a triumphant example of the most vital bad taste in America.” Village Voice

“You could look far and wide to find a more pointlessly ugly movie than John Waters’s Desperate Living, but why would you bother?” Janet Maslin