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Review | John Waters’ ‘Polyester’ on Blu-Ray: ‘Hilarious, trashy and touching’

Divine madness in the renegade director’s first studio film

By Steve Brown

Words by Simon Button

After five low-budget movies with his drag queen muse Divine, John Waters’ first studio film with 1981’s Polyester was far from a mellower move into the mainstream for the master of trash.

OK, so he didn’t have Divine eating dog shit on screen and the production values were higher than the under-lit, filmed-on-the-fly likes of Multiple Maniacs and Pink Flamingos.

But it went out in cinemas in Odorama – a gimmick that saw audiences equipped with cards which they were instructed to scratch and sniff at appropriate moments in the movie.

Thus when Divine’s housewife heroine Francine Fishpaw’s overly-developed sense of smell was tantalised by pizza or assaulted by her husband’s farts viewers got a whiff too.

Resurrected for this Blu-ray release, which comes complete with a scratch-and-sniff card, Odorama was a bit of Waters mischief in a film that both lampoons and celebrates the so-called ‘women’s pictures’ made by Douglas Sirk in the 50s.

It’s hilarious and hyper, trashy yet touching and wonderfully Waters, and the 4K restoration makes its suburban pastels really pop.

Divine completely commits to Francine’s heartache and misery as she contends with a pornographer husband who is having an affair, a tearaway daughter who dreams of becoming a go-go dancer and a solvent-sniffing son who has a fetish for stamping on women’s feet.

Salvation seems to come in the strapping shape of a hunk named Todd Tomorrow, played by former heartthrob Tab Hunter in something of a casting coup more than two decades before Hunter came out as gay.

He’s very funny in it, going after full-bodied Francine like a dog on heat, but this is Divine’s film and he’s like Bette Davis meets Joan Collins on crack.

As Francine he’s a whirlwind of lust and alcoholism, a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown in a madcap rollercoaster ride of a performance.

Read our exclusive interview with John Waters here.

Rating: 4*

Polyester is out now on Blu-ray from Criterion