Considered by many fans to be John Waters’ best film, Female Trouble receives the deluxe treatment from the Criterion Collection, presented here on a dual-layer disc in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1. The new 4K restoration, conducted by Criterion, comes from a new scan of the 16mm A/B original and is presented here in 1080p/24hz high-definition.
Criterion’s notes humourously note that most of Waters’ earlier works have been stored in his attic the last 40 years (like Multiple Maniacs), but Female Trouble is one of the few to have been stored in a state-of-the-art temperature controlled vault, in this case by Warner Bros. and this certainly explains in part the spectacular condition the source materials appear to be in here. The film looks astoundingly clean, no significant scratches or marks appearing at any point during the film. The image is also sharp and crisp, every little detail of the film’s many tawdry settings and costumes popping through like never before (Divine’s outfits are most striking in this area). One of the more impressive aspects of this presentation is the handling of the grain. It’s a very grainy looking film but the encode renders it perfectly, remaining clean and natural throughout. Also impressive are the film’s colours. There are times where the colours appear a bit dull or washed but there are others where they are for more vibrant and lovely, mainly with reds and oranges. Black levels are also fairly strong, though I think lighting conditions limit a few darker exterior shots, making them look a bit muddy.
All said, though, this looks remarkable, especially when one considers the very rough and raw nature of the film itself. It feels like it shouldn’t look this good yet it does. Pair it with a similarly remarkable encode and you have about as perfect an image as you could expect for the film. 9/10
All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
Criterion puts together an unbelievably fun edition for the film, John Waters’ audio commentary, recorded for the Warner/New Line DVD from 2004, hilariously starting things off. The track ends up being more of a journey down memory lane for Waters, the filmmaker recalling his group of friends and cohorts (most of whom are, sadly, dead by 2004), passing on stories about them and the hiccups they ran into along the way (one of them involving the accidental flooding of the beauty salon they were allowed to film in). But through all of this he also covers where he puts the film in his filmography and how he has carried on things he learned (or did) from this film into his future works, and then talks fondly about working with Divine and of course every other member of the cast and crew. Waters, as usual, shows off his quick wit and keeps the tracking moving at a wonderful pace. But it’s when Waters laughs, whether it’s at the absurdity of the film or just from his recollections from that period, the track becomes just an absolute joy. It’s such a fun track, entertaining all on its own, and it is one I could see myself revisiting.
The remaining supplements are all new, starting with trims and cut scenes, a 15-minute compilation of behind-the-scenes footage, alternate takes, and deleted scenes. The footage has been in Waters’ attic for 40 years (and is in fantastic condition) and appears to come from original negatives and what was more than likely a black-and-white work print (Waters mentions elsewhere how cheap they were, working with cheaper black and white film stock when working out the edit for the film). A lot of the material just seems to be alternate takes or footage in between takes (you get a number of takes of the guy with the glass eye losing said eye) but there are a handful of deleted scenes on top of this, including a fairly lengthy one when Divine’s Dawn comes home to confront her parents after being expelled from school. We also get to see footage of Divine trying to make himself throw up in one scene, something Waters talks about (through laughs) in the commentary track. Though it doesn’t represent all of the material (more of it has been spread out through the other supplements and even then I’m sure it's not all of it) it should prove a real treasure trove for fans.
Also new for this edition is a 23-minute interview between Waters and critic Dennis Lim, covering Waters’ influences and more technical details surrounding the making of Female Trouble, at least in comparison to the commentary track. It’s here where Waters talks a bit more about the art films that influenced him and the desire he had to make his earlier work look and sound more like big Hollywood productions (he wasn’t going for any sort of realism). But most interestingly this is the first film where Waters started cutting stuff out and getting more advanced in his editing. He was forced to cut one short bit out (which is included here from the work print) but most of the other edits were ones he did by choice, and he finds the film one of his cleaner and better paced ones. But while this is probably a more technical and (maybe) academic feature there is no need to worry: it’s still hilarious, Waters showing his usual wit and sharing some great stories (like when he showed Divine, who hated “art cinema,” Hour of the Wolf while high). A wonderful interview, both participants having a great amount of fun.
Next is a section devoted to the “Dreamlanders,” Waters’ motley crew of performers. The best piece found here is a new interview between Waters and Hilary Taylor, who played 9-year old Taffy in the film. Taylor’s mother was friends with Pat Moran (who appeared in many Waters’ early films) so she grew up around that environment and that’s how she ended up getting the role. I’m sure many would expect that environment to not be at all a very nurturing or healthy environment for a child but she recalls the period fondly and she felt protected by everybody while she was working on the film and, as Waters likes to point out, she turned out almost boringly normal (she’s even a social worker!) It’s all good fun and quite funny (the contrast between their respective personalities also lends to this but Taylor is very good humoured about her role in the film and has no shame in it of course), and as a bonus to fans of the film you’ll also find a few quick deleted scenes around her character thrown in here.
The rest of the material under this “Dreamlanders” section all comes from archival material. There is 8-minutes’ worth of footage featuring production designer Pat Moran, actor Mary Vivian Pearce, and costume designer Val Smith, filmed in 1974. Moran and Smith are the more upbeat of the three, talking more fondly about working with Waters and on these films. Pearce, though, isn’t fond of the working conditions, and seems more interested in the fame that can come with acting. But despite any grievances she may have working on these low-budget features she admits it is still far better than her previous job, which was at a fish factory. High praise indeed. There is also an over-4-minute audio interview with Val Smith talking about Divine and the creation of that character through the costumes.
On-set footage pulls more from Waters’ well of material from his attic, with the focus here put squarely on behind-the-scene footage, narrated by Waters himself (again it’s quite funny). This is then followed by Crime and Beauty, 18-minutes worth of unused interview footage from Jeremy Schwartz’s 2013 documentary I Am Divine, featuring interviews with Waters, actors Susan Lowe, Mink Stole, George Figgs, Mary Vivian Pearce, production designer Vincent Peranio, and production manager Pat Moran. The topics focus primarily on Divine and the work on Female Trouble. It has some fun material, though I most liked one comment on why Waters and his crew made the films that they did: they just didn’t have the money to make “nice” movies.
The disc then closes with Lady Divine, a 1975 interview that aired on public access television in Manhattan, featuring Waters, Divine, Mink Stole, and David Lochary. The interviewer isn’t terribly good (he seems convinced Divine was nominated for an Oscar for Female Trouble, which wasn’t the case and Divine seems a bit confused by this) and the questions leave a bit to be desired but this is totally worth it just to see this group together outside of their films. There are some good laughs in here, yet it’s a bit disappointing to find everyone here being serious, even Waters not seeming to show his usual wit. It’s also odd to see Divine, entirely in costume, being far more serious than usual but I think this ends up adding one other benefit: Divine ends up talking a bit more about his personal life, including his school years, and I think this is the only time I’ve ever seen him talk about personal subjects (though granted, I haven’t seen many interviews with Divine). A bit of a mixed bag for sure but still something worthwhile for fans.
Closing off the release is a decent sized booklet (not an insert) loaded with pictures along with a new essay on the film by Ed Halter, giving the film an academic angle it’s otherwise missing. All told this is one of the more fun releases I’ve gone through recently. I laughed a lot going through the material and I can only assume fans of the film will be thrilled with what Waters and Criterion have thrown together. 9/10