A Dirty Shame (2004)
By: Mr Intolerance on March 25, 2009  | 
Roadshow (Australia). Region 4, PAL. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1, English DD 2.0. English (FHI) Subtitles. 85 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: John Waters
Starring: Tracey Ullman, Johnny Knoxville, Selma Blair, Chris Isaak
Screenplay: John Waters
Country: USA
External Links
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The town of Baltimore seems to be split in two – on one hand we have the "neuters" (sad, repressed little sexual bigots), on the other the, shall we say, more sexually liberated members of the society (some of whom have quite bizarre paraphilias indeed). Sylvia Stickles (Tracey Ullman, in an outrageously over-the-top, practically career-defining, performance) starts out as an easily angered, violently repressed neuter, until a concussion from a random traffic accident witnessed by tow-truck driver and sexual healer Ray-Ray Perkins (Johnny Knoxville), who turns up to be of…ahem…service, turns her very sharply about-face.

Sylvia and her weak as water husband Vaughan (Chris Isaak) have been keeping their daughter Caprice (Selma Blair) under lock and key, in order to keep her from continuing in her chosen career of exotic dancing, which she does under the stage name Ursula Udders – it's an appropriate choice of name, let me tell you. They prefer to live their humdrum little lives working at a convenience store under the duress of Sylvia's tyrannical neuter mother Big Ethel. Sylvia's lack of understanding of any kind of sexual expression gives us one of cinema's great lines, as she yells at her daughter: "Something is wrong with your vagina!"

Cheap laugh? Sure. Funny? You bet! Even the visual gags are crudely obvious, and all the funnier for it – for instance, pay attention and you'll start seeing the trees and other plant-life, and the stones, shaped like cocks, pussies, arses and boobs (sex is everywhere people, and it's natural!). The Harford Road neighbourhood is part-neuter but becoming increasingly undermined in its rather bigoted morality, and thank the lord for it, by the more sexoid community (swingers, Bears and Cubs, gays and lesbians, Adult babies, mysophiliacs, upper-deckers, sploshers, people into frottage, chronic masturbation, plate-jobs, tromboning and blossoms – all the kinds of people that mainstream society would deem as having aberrant sexual proclivities), and it's going to be a battle to see who will win.

Ray-Ray invites Sylvia to be part of their community, waiting to discover a sex act no-one has ever performed, a day he sees as "The Day of Carnal Rapture", and Sylvia starts to get in to the "swing" of things. These double entendres are becoming difficult to avoid – I think I've internalised this film!

At the same time Big Ethel and her neuter friends are trying to hold a decency rally to raise the moral tone of Harford Road by promoting abstinence. Sylvia, post-concussion (apparently this turns you into a sex-addict, but watch that it doesn't happen again…), is seeing everything in a sexual way (with some hilarious results), and drags Vaughan back home for some "funch" (you work it out), but can't even wait until they get home to have him "go down south and whistle Dixie"/"go sneezin' in the cabbage"/"discover the oyster"/"get down there and start scarfin'" (the list of euphemisms for sex acts in this film was a real eye-opener, let me tell you, not to mention a hilariously funny one, and I've got been around the block a few times). As such, she starts to get a better understanding of her daughter, and some mother-daughter bonding eventually ensues, but not before Sylvia disgraces herself dirty dancing to the hokey-pokey in an old folk's home in front of Vaughan's mother, amongst others, her act culminating in a rather adroit display of muscular control…

Sylvia goes looking for some action, really slutting herself about, to the delight of some and the utter horror of others – I guess you really have to choose your audience, huh? When she arrives at Ray-Ray's, we get to meet some other folks who've suffered concussions and are now part of the gang, including some with paraphilias I'd never even heard of, and considering Richard Krafft-Ebing's Psychopathia Sexualis and the collected works of the Marquis de Sade sit on my shelves, I thought that was a tall order. By the end of the film I'd learnt about a whole bunch of stuff (and I stress this most strongly) that I'm not about to go out and start practising any of this. From the list I mentioned before, mysophilia was a new one on me, and as for upper-deckers, tromboning, plate jobs (I mean, I'd heard the rumours about Chuck Berry, but never believed them…), let alone "blossoms" (there were a few of these John Waters had to explain to me on the commentary track) – yeesh!. Oh, there's some weird shit out there.

A bit of a problem arises after Sylvia and Ursula go out for a night on the town, and it's time for Ray-Ray and a bunch of sex addicts to try and save the day. If you want to see what happens when the forces of good and evil meet – watch the film. When you get to the climactic scene (sorry, sorry), you won't regret it.

Must say, the performances drive this film, especially Tracey Ullman's, which is utterly spectacular. Plus, as with most Waters' films, the soundtrack is practically essential to making sense of the film, and certainly makes sense of much of the action (listen to the lyrics, people, some are subtle, some…well…). Also, as with all of Waters' films, this is a film of the liberated outsider versus the repressive norm, and that's a good thing. You really have to watch this film a number of times to get the true benefit of its smuttiness. And its goodness.

Oh, and watch out for the Hoff doing bad things to his own reputation – if anything worse could be done to it than he's already done through his own career.
Bright and vibrant, which adds to the cheery tone of the smutty comic-strip comedy on display.
The audio is available in 5.1 and 2.0 options, and both sound great = the bawdy humour come through loud and clear.
Extra Features
Director commentary, a cast commentary, a deleted scene the theatrical trailer and an entertaining featurette, "All the Dirt on A Dirty Shame". After you laugh yourself stupid watching the film, the commentary tracks do not disappoint. John Waters is always worth listening to – a very, very funny man with a wicked sense of humour, and the cast commentary also holds your interest. It's rare I can sit through a movie three times in a row – this is one of those times. Not a bad little package all up.
The Verdict
Hands down, my favourite John Waters film. If you can get through this 85 minutes of total smut and laughs without giggling inanely, you are possibly a corpse propped up on the sofa. Definitely the best Waters film since Serial Mom, it'd be a dirty shame if this film didn't sit in your collection.
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score

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