***½/**** Image A- Sound C+ Extras A+
starring Johnny Depp, Amy Locane, Susan Tyrrell, Iggy Pop
written and directed by John Waters
by Walter Chaw Cry-Baby, John Waters's brilliant, ebullient satire of 1950s teensploitation, finds Johnny Depp and Amy Locane immaculately cast opposite one another as the ne plus ultra "He" and "She" of the Golden Age's doomed-youth pictures. One part Elvis musical calamity, one part queer camp exhibition, it's a cult classic for a reason: The second part of Waters's Hairspray nostalgia trip, Cry-Baby is a jubilant send-up of the lie of atomic-age perfection fixed broadly to the lie of modern sophistication that Waters would confront for the rest of his "legit" career. It's exactly what I imagine a David Lynch rockabilly rebel flick would be like--and indeed, when you get down to it, I don't know whether Lynch and Waters are really all that different.
Depp is Cry-Baby Walker, a duck-tailed "drape" with Elvis's snarl who sports a tattoo of an electric chair on his chest in honour of his dead, mad-bomber parents ("Shoot, I knew we were supposed to be together, Allison. I'm an orphan, too!") and is able to produce a perfect tear at will on his cheek. Locane is the "square" Allison, strands of pure silk streaming out of her ass until Cry-Baby lights a match, then: "I'm so tired of being good!" Meanwhile, a supporting cast composed of Iggy Pop, Troy Donahue, Traci Lords, a fantastic Willem Dafoe, Kim Maguire, and Mink Stole is dialled in true to the proper frequency, midway between hysterical and on fire. Cry-Baby is a hoot: quickly-paced and, for all its slapstick, actually astute about the genre it's skewering. It is on purpose what Grease was accidentally.
Lost in most conversations about Waters's post-exploitation stuff is in fact the craft, the gift for smooth magnification he brings to his productions; there are scenes in the amazingly lush Cry-Baby that look as though they were shot in three-strip Technicolor. Moments like Cry-Baby and Allison's retreat to "park" at a make-out overlook suggest pristine outtakes from Rebel Without a Cause, while a few jailbird song-and-dances (the soundtrack has almost as big, and distinct, a cult following as the flick itself) could've fallen, fully formed, off the Jailhouse Rock truck. Waters's first major-studio production, it's like Dylan going electric, a seismic rift separating the Pink Flamingos devotees from the rest. To carry the analogy, both groups have their point--but just as it's still possible to divine the ethic of Eraserhead in Mulholland Drive, Cry-Baby, if perhaps only in retrospect, is every bit as fomenting of unrest as Female Trouble. It's a satire that functions the same way the stuff it's satirizing does while simultaneously staying true to the idea of satire: smart without being stuffy and scabrous without being dour. The key to the image cages for Traci Lords and Johnny Depp alike, Cry-Baby is that rare film about rebellion that truly feels like freedom. It's Waters at his most accessible and, in truth, you can never affect any meaningful change from the outside anyway.
Released on DVD in 2005 to commemorate the film's fifteenth anniversary, Cry-Baby docks on the format in a Director's Cut letterboxed at 1.85 and enhanced for 16x9 displays. The transfer kills, baby, kills; it's not immune to grain and there are some minor issues with edge-enhancement, but I've personally never seen it this vivid nor remembered it as such. Would that the same could be said of the occasionally-hollow DD 2.0 audio (the entire introduction to the hillbilly Riviera, for instance, sounds tinny), whose volume levels fluctuate during the musical numbers. I would've loved a DD 5.1 remix if only to gauge its impact on the heavenly vocals of James Intveld and Rachel Sweet.
Waters records a feature-length yakker that is packed with wonderfully personal tidbits, demonstrating a conversance with film history that rivals (and mimics) the kind of enthusiasm for film that makes, oftentimes, a certain breed of great, kinetic filmmaker. It works for poets, painters--why not directors? Waters, along the way, offers great analysis of the place for his films and reveals a lot of the humanity and insight that marks all of his stuff as just a little warmer than you'd expect from a merciless social satirist. (Why is his cameo on "The Simpsons" one of that series' best? Same reason.) The track is invaluable, too, for Waters's trainspotting of the elided footage seamlessly reinstated for this release.
"It Came From Baltimore" (48 mins.) is a freshly-minted documentary that reunites most of the cast and crew of the film to reminisce about the shooting of the picture. Revealed are great memories of how everyone made Lords feel more comfortable by unearthing their sordid criminal pasts (Lords, acting in a film alongside Iggy Pop and Patty Hearst, suddenly found her former lifestyle somewhat mundane), and how Locane was then (at the age of 17) and is now (at the age of 32) something of a pris. She's the only one who doesn't seem like she's glad to be back and discussing the flick (even Johnny Depp musters a little energy to express what appears to be genuine gratitude towards Waters for helping him break out of his "21 Jump Street"/TIGER BEAT constraints), and many of her anecdotes are delightfully askew. I did enjoy her story of walking up to Hearst on set and asking if she'd ever been in prison.
"Deleted Scenes" (7 mins.) don't include the extended numbers inserted for the television cut of the picture (approved by Waters but not approved by Waters, if you get my meaning), but do include a little-girl contortionist who was cut with regrets, a little more of Toe-Joe and Wanda (proving that Lords is not bad at all in the right context), more with the judge outside the courthouse, a "chicken" dance that almost resulted in a real fight between the "squares" and Johnny Depp after the cameras stopped rolling, and an extended bit at the ball in which Lords's character protests her virginity that would never have passed the studio-mandated PG-13 test. As Waters relates, for a PG-13 you can say "oh, fuck" twice and "I want to fuck" never and definitely not "oh, fuck" three times. That's the sort of stuff they should put in the ratings-explanation bar on the poster. Trailers for The Big Lebowski: Special Edition, The Wedding Date, and "Northern Exposure" (the first three seasons) as well as the Focus reel round out the Universal platter. Originally published: February 7, 2007.