Wednesday, August 16, 2000

Cecil B. Demented

Posted By on Wed, Aug 16, 2000 at 12:00 AM

Few people care more about pure cinema — not weekend grosses or Sundance buzz — than Cecil B. DeMented (Stephen Dorff), the leader of a gang of Baltimore film revolutionaries called the Sprocket Holes. He’s the latest criminal mastermind from the fecund imagination of writer-director John Waters, but unlike Dawn Davenport in Female Trouble, Cecil wants more than a pair of cha-cha heels: He demands nothing less than the total annihilation of the film industry as we know it.

Disguised as the Stepford ushers, the Sprocket Holes execute the daring kidnapping of Honey Whitlock (Melanie Griffith) from a Baltimore movie premiere. The star of countless bad commercial films, Honey must now do penance by starring in Cecil’s ultimate underground movie, which will demonstrate to Hollywood the error of its ways.

In Cecil B. DeMented, John Waters reintroduces the hopped-up sexual deviants of his earlier films, but this time he gives them a mission. Cecil has surrounded himself with a ragtag band of lost souls, each bearing a tattoo of his or her favorite director (from Otto Preminger and Sam Peckinpah to William Castle and Rainer Werner Fassbinder), and all of them prepared to make his film by any means necessary.

It’s a clever concept which Waters uses to skewer not just the movie industry — the porn film starring Cherish (Alicia Witt) is a marvel of sinnuendo — but the kind of revolutionary mind-set where stilted rhetoric replaces real dialogue. Yet this satire works because Waters has an obvious affection for both filmmaking and the carnally inclined crew willing to lay down their lives to achieve DeMented’s dubious vision.

Cecil B. DeMented is ultimately about the difference between bad taste and bad cinema, a subject Waters is ideally suited to explore. He also exposes the deep-seated fantasies of everyone from ushers (taking up arms and re-educating an audience of philistines) to directors (having everyone on the set follow their commands).

When his onscreen surrogate yells, "There are no creative differences on a Cecil B. DeMented film!" you can almost see John Waters smiling and saying, "Oh, if only it were true."

Opens Friday exclusively at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main, Royal Oak). Call 248-542-0180.

Serena Donadoni writes about film and culture for Metro Times. E-mail letters@metrotimes.com.

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