Friday, June 24, 2011

Desperate Living

Year: 1977
Director: John Waters
Writer: John Waters
Genre: Comedy, Crime

This post was written for the Queer Film Blogathon over at Garbo Laughs!

When choosing to watch Desperate Living I had no idea what to expect. A John Waters film is always something out of the ordinary though hence my choosing it. I've seen a few of his works, but none have ever surpassed my first - Pink Flamingos. While this movie didn't pass it up in pure shock, it nearly did and in fact pushed the envelope a lot further.

The entire film is ridiculous. After a woman kills her husband with the aid of her maid (who smothers him to death by sitting on his face) the two race away from the crime scene. They run to the criminal town of Mortville where murderers, rapists, and more live together in apparent peace and harmony. It's a slum, but it's better than jail. Well, maybe not quite as there is a crazy queen who enforces inane rules upon the townsfolk for no good reason.

For the first part of the film it seems like the housewife and her maid would be the main characters, but as the story progresses they fade from the main view as others take the stage. It is a couple that replaces these two. The couple are Mole and Muffy. They've lived in Mortville for a long time and inadvertently become heroes as time passes. What's most interesting about these heroes is how unlikely they are and Mole in particular.

Muffy is an obvious sex kitten and yet only has eyes for her precious Mole. Mole, too, is only interested in Muffy and seems to take relatively good care of her. What's most interesting though is that early into the introduction of Mole's character, he plainly states "I'm a man trapped in a woman's body!". Normally, a trans character would be pushed into a supporting role not straight out into protagonist status, but here he is. Even in this case, typically his "trans" status wouldn't be played off of very much. In Desperate Living, it isn't focused upon but still sees some exposure during the film.

There's a part in the movie where Mole decides he needs to have a "sex change" to please Muffy. After getting new bottom organs, he returns home to surprise her. Muffy is horrified and comes to tell him she was so happy with his body before. But even now, she would continue to love every last bit of it just the same as before (although Mole cuts the new member off as he didn't actually desire it for himself to begin with). Muffy stitches him back up and the story continues. I find it so incredible that this would be in a film from the 70s without trying to be exploitative. Muffy and Mole's relationship is portrayed so honestly. Even though Mole isn't equipped exactly the way he expects to be, Muffy loves him no bit less. Even though the characters themselves are eccentric beyond belief, they still are portrayed very humanly in regards to their emotions.

What also interested me was how everyone else interacted with Mole. Apparently, most everyone he was friends with knew, but nobody cared a bit either way. Mole was a female-bodied he and it was readily acknowledged. The other characters treated him as male, but also never batted an eye even when discussing female things with him (ex: Mole having an abortion). Despite being criminals, the cast was pretty down to earth and open about his situation. His transgender status was never brought up in an insulting fashion where in many other instances it probably could have been.

Mole is a murder. Mole is grimy and skinny and loudmouthed. Mole's character is so many things that the focus is not his trans-ness. Even in more modern film, it seems rare where a trans character will be painted in a well-rounded fashion. If it was possible in the 70s then I'm sure it's possible now... I just need to find those "now" movies.


  1. Hm....I never heard of this movie but it does sound interesting to check out.

  2. Desperate Living is really, really weird. Like most John Waters movies people either end up loving it or hating it without much middle ground. I hope if you do check it out sometime you're in the camp that enjoys it!

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Thanks! I'm going to follow your blog. Looking forward to more reviews!

  5. Great review. Waters was always ahead of his time and his films often depicted and reflected things the mainstream wouldn't dare to touch (as I'm sure you're aware, having seen Pink Flamingos). I'm so glad somebody decided to review a Waters film for this blogathon as he's such an important guy in the field of queer cinema. Even if he's always been on the fringe, he DEFINED the fringe. Thank you so much for your excellent contribution.


  6. Also, since this is a contribution to the Queer Film Blogathon, would you mind putting a link back to my blog in your post? Thank you!

    Banners (if you'd like to use one) can be found here:

  7. Thanks for the comments :). Also, no problem, added the link right there at the top of the review.

    I also wrote up a post specifically about the Blogathon and put the banner up there! It was so hard to choose between the banners, though.


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