Plot: What’s it about?
Think of it as an “anti-film”. While we’re all familiar with John Waters’ movies, most notably “Cry Baby” and “Hairspray” and more recently, “Pecker”, he has yet to cease to amaze us. His films are irreverent, crude and for some reason…they seem to make a bit of sense to us as well. While he may be the only person to entirely “get” one of his movies, it’s certain that he’ll keep making more. Waters’ latest, Cecil B. Demented (a takeoff on one of the most popular director or all time, Cecil B. Demile), seems to have a target painted on the heads of any and all Hollywood studios. It’s no secret that Waters has a fascination for making fun of the mainstream, and this movie takes dead aim (sometimes literally) at the entire studio system. Waters seems proud of his movies, and this one in particular. He adds in the commentary track that he has been doing movies for some 30 years and mentions that his friends tell him that he has “ruined” one-third of all movies out there. Kidding, of course, but this being his 15th movie, he is also award that he’s no longer the “new kid on the block”. So what do you do when you’re no longer new and you have to keep thinking up ways to constantly offend people? Start at the source, what else?
We meet Honey Whitlock (Melanie Griffith) as, essentially, herself. Honey is a self-absorbed, somewhat aging, movie star who has traveled to Baltimore, Maryland for a benefit. We see Honey in two different ways: The way that she appears to the public (glossy and the “nice” movie star) and the way she really is. What she doesn’t know is that she is about to be kidnapped by a group of loyal followers to Cecil B. Demented (Stephen Dorff). Cecil seems to have an almost godlike power over this small, articulate group of movie fans. First and foremost, they all loathe the mainstream movies (early on they are seen destroying a movie theater showing “Patch Adams: The Director’s Cut”). So their challenge is to take a major movie star and put her into their movie. If this plot sounds familiar, it’s similar to “Bowfinger”, but this definitely has a sharper and darker side to it. The group manages to pull off a well-executed heist of Honey, only to find that she is less that willing to cooperate in their scheme. What is their scheme? Cecil has written a part especially for Honey, and the rest of the movie is to take place with one shot, using real people and the fear is all real as well! On a side note, the cast (crew) of the film has agreed to take a vow of celibacy until the principal shooting is complete. This joke gets rather old, rather quick, but it does have some amusing scenes, most notably inside a local porno theater, starring none other than a member of the crew, Cherish (Alicia Witt).
With Hollywood gunning down Honey Whitlock for blatant self-promotion at every turn, Honey finally starts to see what she is like and starts to hate the person that she was. She is now in full support of Cecil and the crew, even as they seem to be dying throughout the movie. Yes, dying. Like I said, this movie has a dark edge to it, and several of the crew members are killed by stray bullets. They seem to have a lot of guns in Baltimore. I can’t really say much more without giving away the ending, and let’s just say that it’s not a “Hollywood” ending, that’s for sure. It’s hard to classify a John Water’s movie. Many people despise them and some people love every last one. As for me, it’s hard to say. It almost depends on what kind of mood you were in when you watched the movie, so it can either be a terribly understated work of art, or one of the most flamboyantly obscene pieces of trash that you’ve taken in. Either way, Cecil B. Demented will leave it’s mark on you, it’s up to you to interpret it as you will.
Video: How does it look?
Cecil B. Demented is shown in it’s original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and it’s enhanced for widescreen TV’s. Artisan has been rather iffy on their presentations as of late. At first they looked like they were heading the right direction, then some of their catalog titles have been non-anamorphic and with the new version of “The Doors” coming out (again), it’s non-anamorphic as well…so it’s hard to tell when Artisan will put forth the effort and deliver a decent transfer for one of their movies. This is one of those times. Colors are muted, though it’s by Waters’ direction that this is done and not any fault of the transfer. While a very dark movie, the outfits and scenery all take on a very “80’s” feel and look. There is no evidence of compression errors or digital artifactiong, and edge enhancement is minimal. While this doesn’t qualify as a “reference” quality picture, it’s free of errors that plague most other movies, and it’s nice to see Artisan back on track.
Audio: How does it sound?
I found the Dolby Digital 5.1 track surprisingly active. Being a new movie, it has the benefit of the newer technology and better sound, and the movie uses every excuse to exploit the sound. A lot more gunfire than you would think is going on througout the movie, the soundtrack is almost constantly humming and dialogue is clean and free of any distortion. Again, this isn’t reference quality by any means, but it was a lot more than I was expecting from this sort of movie. I was plesantly surprised and I think you will be as well.
Supplements: What are the extras?
I have to admit, Artisan takes care of some of their titles, and John Waters is one of the directors who has really embraced the new DVD format. He was part of a group of Directors at last year’s VSDA convention and he mentioned this movie in particular, so I’m sure that some have been looking forward to what is actually on the disc. The most noteable feature is the full-length comentary with John Waters. Waters does some pretty good commentaries, chatting almost non-stop the entire time. He knows what his movies are like and what is thought of them, so it’s amusing to hear his take on different subjects. Also, if you’ve never heard John Waters (he did a guest spot on an episode of “The Simpsons” as “John”, a gay friend of Homer’s) talk, it is quite amusing. In addition, there is a featurette from Comedy Central’s “Canned Ham”, which is a behind the scenes look at the making of this movie. Now I know that Comedy Central has done more of these, yet this is the only time that I can recall this feature on a DVD, so kudos for getting this on there. The rest is your standard disc which include some cast and crew bios, production notes and a few theatical trailers. All in all, fans of this movie should have nothing to complain about, as this disc does deliver when it comes to extras. The only question is, are you a fan of the movie?