For the premiere of John Waters’ film Multiple Maniacs (1970), at Baltimore’s Universalist Unitarian Church, a rag tag bunch of bikers, speed freaks and people on LSD comprised the audience.
The film’s content, which includes a raping lobster, rosary beads used for sex, and the consumption of a two-day old cow’s heart, was so shocking that the Maryland Board of Censors took Waters to court. Unfortunately for the board, the judge overturned the case, though reluctantly. In an interview with The Village Voice, Waters recounts the judge’s reaction, “He said, 'My eyes were insulted for 90 minutes, but it's not illegal’.”
Almost 50 years after its release, a restored version of Waters’s picture will return to cinemas to offend and disgust a new generation. It is re-released by Janus Films, a distribution company, set up in the 1950s, famous for introducing art house films by the likes of Ingmar Bergman, Michelangelo Antonioni and Akira Kurosawa to the US – many of which Waters would watch as a youth in Baltimore.
Multiple Maniacs was produced on a shoestring budget of $5000 and shot in Baltimore. Waters cast his friends, many of which from the Dreamlanders acting troupe – a team of gay and drag actors from downtown. Included in the troupe, is Water's’ close friend Divine; a recurring, fabber-than-fab character that features in his later films Pink Flamingos, Hairspray and Polyester.
Waters reputation for poor taste and over the top trash was finally recognised after the release of his next film, 1972’s Pink Flamingos. The black comedy features nudity, Divine eating real dog faeces, masturbation and incest. Upon its release, Variety called it “one of the most vile, stupid and repulsive films ever made”.
Viewing this restored version of Multiple Maniacs is thus like opening a time-capsule and looking into Waters’s colourful and disturbing sense of humour, just before the fame and notoriety.