Lords be a lady tonight…

WandaCry-Baby (1990) is the first John Waters flick I ever saw, having taped it off the TV back in my student days… and while Cecil B. DeMented has a special place in my heart, the soundtrack isn’t quite as much fun, so it will always come (a very close) second. I know there are many of his fans who prefer the rougher-edges and stomach-churning provocation of his earlier, messier work… but I’m all in favour of his post-Hairspray swerve towards the mainstream. I think his later work still leaves quite an acidic aftertaste… there’s just a little more sugar in there, to help the dog poop and mace go down.

For those who don’t know, the film is a 50s teen musical pastiche, which follows a group of rock-a-billy delinquents named the “Drapes”, and their rivalry with the pastel-wearing, close-harmony singing “Squares”. The Drapes are led by the eponymous ‘Cry-Baby’ (Johnny Depp), a ridiculously pretty “bad boy” who sets his sights on ‘Allison’ (Amy Locane), a comely Square with the voice of an angel (or, more accurately, Rachel Sweet). Naturally their nascent courtship leads to all sorts of tension and conflict, resulting in possibly the most terrifying scene in cinema history… SPOILERS: Once the Squares manage to get ‘Cry-Baby’ thrown into jail (where he bunks with some back-up singing black fellas), they stage an insufferably smug bunnyhop through the centre of town, to celebrate their victory in the most whitebread, WASP-y way possible. It’s like something out of Walt Disney’s wet-dreams… [shudder]

Traci Lords as 'Wanda' in "Cry-Baby"Now, I don’t deny that Locane is a looker… but for my money she can’t hold a candle to Traci Lords, who plays a sultry Drape girl named ‘Wanda’. Not that she needed much gussying up, but full credit has to go to the hair, make-up and costume mavens who crafted her character’s look, which was burned into my brain like an atomic explosion the instant I saw her on screen. She is, in a word, iconic. Of course, say the name “Traci Lords” to most people, and teen musicals aren’t the first genre of movie they’re likely to associate her with. Back then, I wasn’t aware of the notoriety and cultural baggage that followed women like Lords and Patty Hearst around… to me they were just players in the Waters ensemble. I still haven’t seen any of her porn, and nor do I have any particular desire to… I prefer to think of her as a cute, funny actress in a film that I love, and ignore all the other ickiness. Sometimes even the most experienced actors have trouble passing off Waters’s heavily stylised dialogue as natural speech, but Lords doesn’t stumble once… even when she’s snarling archaic slang at a foreign exchange student, who’s decked out in full folk-costume! It never seemed like “stunt casting” to me, because she gives such a sexy, sassy and assured performance.

About Dee CrowSeer

A comic book writer with an interest in feminism, philosophy, and affirmative action. He/him.
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