Blu-ray Review: Polyester | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Friday, February 28th, 2020  


Studio: Criterion

Sep 27, 2019 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

“You know about abundant women/

Well, this girl only aims to please/

Outside there's a load of noisy neighbors/

Upstairs there's a polyester squeeze.”

Released in 1981, Polyester was director John Waters’ first flirtation with mainstream audiences—which isn’t to say it’s in any way your typical Hollywood film, of course. With an ensemble a serial foot-stomper, remorseless pornographer, and an abortion-loving teen, Polyester crossed boundaries yet feels rather well-behaved for Waters, at least compared to the more intentionally provocative trashiness that came before it.  

Divine stars as Francine Fishpaw, a downtrodden, suburban housewife whose husband owns a pornographic theater that attracts a steady stream of protestors onto their front law each morning. When her husband leaves her for his secretary, her life suddenly spirals out-of-control: her daughter runs off with a good-for-nothing, her son is arrested for assaulting random women’s feet, and Francine becomes an instant alcoholic. Enter a handsome mystery man who just might

Centering on a middle-class, middle-aged woman on the edge of a nervous breakdown, Polyester is John Waters playing Douglas Sirk, with Divine in the role that perhaps would have gone to Jane Wyman. It’s really a great showcase for Divine, who plays a sympathetic woman who’s a far cry from the over-the-top monsters he played in prior films. It’s Divine’s utter dedication to the material that grounds a film that would otherwise be totally unhinged by any mainstream standard: for as weird as it was, Polyester was the perfect gateway film into Waters’ oeuvre for anyone not yet ready to watch Divine eat hot dog shit in Pink Flamingos.

Granted an incredible $300,000 budget – around five times what he’d spent on any prior movie – Waters channeled a portion of that financing into a tremendously weird gimmick: Odorama. New to the Criterion Collection, Polyester includes what has to be the strangest bonus feature found in any of the label’s esteemed releases. The Odorama card is a collection of ten scratch-and-sniff scents. When prompted by a flashing number in the corner of the screen, viewers are meant to scratch the corresponding spot with a fingernail and then hold the card to their nose. This being a John Waters movie, they’re naturally treated to the smells of a fart, dirty sneakers, a skunk, and the like. The scents are generally revolting, but they were an intended part of the Polyester experience. Given that some home video releases have left the Odorama card out, it’s appreciated that Criterion included it here. It’s also a reason to pick up the physical release of the film, as you obviously can’t sniff any streaming version.

For those interested in extra features that don’t reek of body odor, the disc includes two new interviews with Waters and a new program involving many of his longtime collaborators, around twenty minutes of deleted scenes and outtakes, a recycled audio commentary and a slew of archival interviews. It’s an easy recommendation for Waters fans, especially to those looking for an easy way to bring the non-Waters fans in their life over to their side.



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