What if you not only made John Waters' proudly X-rated "Pink Flamingos" kid-friendly, but actually cast preteens in the roles of the defensively filthy Babs Johnson, the perverse Connie and Raymond Marble, and the egg-static Edie the Egg Lady?
You'd get a performance just a tad less disgusting, but not one iota less perverse. And you'd get proof positive that subversion knows no age limitations. Nor should it.
"Kiddie Flamingos," on display on a continuous video loop at the Baltimore Museum of Art through Jan. 22, cleans up Waters' perverted 1972 meisterwerk ever-so-cheekily: Instead of imprisoning pregnant young women in their basement, the Marbles do nasty things to baby dolls, and no chickens are harmed (one dies an especially gruesome death in the film, a death which no family newspaper will ever adequately describe). Happily, though, not all is lost in the "cleaned-up" version, as Babs (played by Divine in the film, a role that would define him the rest of his career) and her son, Crackers, still go on a deranged licking spree through the Marbles' home.
The basics of "Pink Flamingos" remain in place: Babs Johnson, living in a trailer with her egg-loving mother and delinquent son, Crackers, is proud to be known as the Filthiest Person Alive. But that title is coveted by the Marbles, who will stop at nothing — and nothing means nothing — to earn the title for themselves.
"Kiddie Flamingos" in not a re-make, nor even a film. It's a filmed table reading of Waters' G-rated script, with kids taking on the roles once played by Dreamland stalwarts Divine, Mink Stole, Edith Massey, Mary Vivian Pearce, David Lochary and others.
It's all done at a long table, with each of the actors dressed sort-of in costume (Jack Pitsley channels Divine's Babs while wearing a skullcap and shock of long hair, complete with penciled-in razor-sharp eyebrows, while Alice Delanoy seriously rocks a red wig and cat's-eye glasses as Stole's Connie Marble). Name cards help the viewer keep track of who's who among the characters (not that hard-core "Pink Flamingos" fans will need any help). And it's all done in a front of a sketched-in backdrop of Babs' trailer.
It's all hilariously unsettling, all the more so because the kids are allowed to be kids; it appears as through the reading was done cold — words are occasionally mispronounced, places lost, attention focused elsewhere. But the readers are all marvelous, getting into the spirit of the thing, acting out with their faces and arms, at times changing wigs or other accessories to take on different parts. Waters himself provides the off-screen stage directions.
As for the infamous movie-ending meal of doggie doo that Babs (Divine) eats? That becomes G-rated, too, but will still have audiences going "Ewww!"
Waters' kid-friendly script is about more than simply toning down the objectionable and scaling back on the curse words. It's about proving subversion does not depend solely on being offensive; rather, it celebrates going against the grain, twisting the expected in ways that consistently (and merrily) defy convention. That's always been a central tenet of Waters' work, and that flag waves proudly in "Kiddie Flamingos."