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Laramie Movie Scope:
Cecil B. Demented

John Waters strikes back at mainstream Hollywood

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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October 2, 2000 -- "John Waters' new film "Cecil B. Demented" was screened in town on September 15, the last show at the old Wyo Theatre before it closed. It was shown as part of the Gladys Crane Mountain Plains Film festival. The near-capacity crowd was a fitting way to usher out the grand old theater.

"Demented" opens with a shot of a movie theater marquee displaying nothing but "Star Wars" and "Star Trek" movies. The movie also takes aim at "Forrest Gump," a film that writer-director Waters said he hates. There seems to be a little bit of Waters in the hero of the movie, mad movie director Cecil B. Demented (played very well by Stephen Dorff of "Blade"), who kidnaps a Hollywood starlet to headline his film.

Waters has fun in the film with the "Stockholm Syndrome" whereby the kidnapped star Honey Whitlock (Melanie Griffith) begins to believe in Demented's crazy project which includes filming violent attacks on movie theaters and film executives. One of the more famous victims of the syndrome, Patty Hearst, appears in the film as the mother of one of Demented's film crew, Fidget. In a scene filled with irony, she tries to persuade him to give himself up.

Demented's filmed attacks on theaters and other symbols of the film establishment are reminiscent of the reality-based programming foretold in "Network." The theme is also similar to Waters' own assault on the film industry and the rating system with his early films, especially "Pink Flamingoes." Speaking to a film festival audience, Waters seemed a bit sad that he is now considered part of the film establishment. Perhaps Waters would like to be regarded like the outrageous Cecil B. Demented.

At first, Whitlock is forced to act in the film, but gradually, she begins to accept her role and begins to believe in Demented's genius as a director. She becomes willing to do anything to make the film. Whitlock becomes more forceful and more self-assured, completing a transformation from a passive victim of the studio system to a powerful outlaw film star. The theme of sexual repression is also evident again, as it is in "Pink Flamingoes."

Waters' screenplay is filled with Hollywood in-jokes. The script is very clever and filled with satirical barbs. One character is depressed because he can't be fashionably gay. It was one of the funniest films I have seen this year. While the visual style is nowhere near as interesting as the dialogue, there are some arresting elements in it, especially some of the set design, makeup and wardrobe touches. The content is more important than the form. The soundtrack is very good, with some excellent rap numbers featuring Lewis (Larry Gilliard Jr. of "The Waterboy") and the shotgun wielding Chardonnay (Zenzele Uzoma). One of the songs is the funny "No budget." The climax, in more ways than one, atop a drive-in movie theater projection building, is full of outrageous stuff.

Dorff is plenty intense as the psychotic Demented and Griffith is quite good as Honey Whitlock. Kevin Nealon does a nice bit starring as himself in the title role of a Forrest Gump sequel. One of Waters' regulars, Mink Stole, appears as Mrs. Mallory. The rest of Demented's crew is also quite effective, including the rappers. Aside from the suggested homoerotic acts and all the violence, this is not your typical black comedy. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2000 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)