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.
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