Edith Massey played the uber fascist monster in Desperate Living
Look at this oiron movie recommendations inspired by new releases, premieres, current events, or sometimes just our own unfathomable whims. This week: with Cruella Coming to theaters and Disney +, we take a look at some of our favorite extravagant and extravagant villains from movie history.
Desperate life (1977)
Edith Massey was the apotheosis of chaotic good: a winning, lovable actor who is remembered today for a kind, disruptive and surreal on-screen character. If the legendary actor Divine rose to the top in John Waters’ 70s oeuvre, it was Massey who strengthened the weird and wild heart of his films. And when Divine was too busy headlining a Tom Eyen play in New York to appear in the third installment of Waters’ infamous’ Trash Trilogy ‘, the director turned things upside down, and the players Perpetual Support Massey and Mink Stole were able to soak up the spotlight.
At first, the film seems to belong to Peggy Gravel de Stole, whose housewife-socialite heroine epitomizes pampered Karen culture decades before the insult entered the lexicon. But even this great personality must kneel before the terrifying majesty of Queen Carlotta, the slum ruler played by Massey. She has nearly half an hour left before she makes her entrance, seated on a velvet-padded throne, carried by hunky idiots, sneering contemptuously, periodically blowing jockstraps. For anyone familiar with the characters Massey previously portrayed for Waters, it’s a shock to see her put aside the cuteness (or at least the neutral bewilderment) that was her hallmark. The queen is unique in the filmographies of the two artists.
Carlotta, in her white dress and red wig, has no shackles: an absurd fascist prone to big proclamations, surreal experiences (like the day back), and decadent delicacies (like a breakfast of pizza and marshmallows). There isn’t a single nasty behavior she doesn’t rejoice in, alienating her daughter (Mary Vivian Pearce), exploiting her henchmen for sex, and using murder and sexual assault to defeat her subjects. Carlotta is both an evil Disney queen and a Sergio Leone antagonist that Klaus Kinski would have played, and you can draw a line between Massey’s performance and other corrupt monsters like Jabba The Hutt and Donald Trump. She is all the worst tendencies of mankind given free reinot. She rules with an iron fist and an abject lack of impulse control. Waters’ vilest villains have at least some trace of motivation or related ideology; the engine that drives this shameless monster is pettiness that seems too real.
Mortville, the monarchist state chaired by Carlotta, exists like Blair Witch, somewhere in the mysteries of Maryland. Traditional authority allows it to exist without outside interference. Criminals, nudists, burnouts, and performers all live in Mortville sheltered from the law, subject only to the irrational, surreal and often predatory whims of its ruler. Carlotta’s executioners summon a strange threat, clad in fishnets, fetish clothes, and guns, and she gloats in their willingness to show up for her.
All the while, the streets are swarming with oppressed masses awaiting their day of revolution. All of Waters’ films are deeply political, but this one goes deeper and deeper. It’s a Shakespearean succession drama with a matriarchal twist. Massey’s Carlotta presides over it all, an infection to name that potentially lurks in everyone’s hearts, ready to see private areas and catch it while she can.
Availability: Desperate life is available for rental or digital purchase from Amazon, google play, Apple, Youtube, Microsoft, and DirecTV.