by Rachel Brame –
This film’s tagline says it all: “He never realized how far 35 millimeters would take him”. Throughout all its camp, this is a movie about taking pictures. Pecker captured a time of innocence, right on the cusp of modern innovations in technology. Originally released in 1998, it’s a slightly dated turn of the century gem with no evidence of cell phones anywhere. Getting film developed from a store was still a thing when this movie came out. Everybody’s Ansel Addams on Instagram these days, so things are a little different.
By far, this is my favorite John Waters movie of all time! Two reasons: I completely identify with its play on the east coast art scene and my friend from high school’s brother had a walk-on bit in it. Is it a Baltimore lovefest? Absolutely, but what Water’s movie isn’t? As a city, her lipstick is always on, and she’s always his best supporting character wrapped in kitsch. It features a young Edward Furlong, Christina Ricci, and Lili Taylor. Would any other director cast themselves in a cameo bit posing as an anonymous pervert calling a local laundromat? “Come on, be a good little girl and put your vagina up to the phone!” Pecker’s girlfriend Shelley (Ricci) to mystery caller: “Shove it, fuckwad!” Go Shelley; she always keeps it 100%! Mink Stole takes on the role of everyone’s nightmare civic worker; her reoccurring appearances in Water’s film’s go back decades and each one is memorably unique. Patty Hearst makes a fabulous appearance too! Also, if you’ve seen The Wire, you may love Pecker even more since at least two familiar faces appear in this film before it their epic roles on HBO began.
I’m telling you now, if Memama doesn’t make you crack a smile you’re made of stone. STONE!!! She is hands-down the funniest character dreamed up in this cast. She’s a hoot with her very bad but quirky ventriloquism blurting out “Full of grace! Full of grace!” everywhere with her hand up the skirt of a Mother Mary dummy. She gets offended though when Pecker’s sister Tina, who proudly works at a popular gay bar, calls EVERYBODY Mary. Pecker is also why loud n’ proud Tea Party people felt cockblocked from labeling themselves as ‘Tea-baggers’. If you are not familiar with this expression already, it’s quite explicitly demonstrated in this movie; Tina swats at any patron who tries to engage in her bar. Once it was publicly pointed out how Mr. Waters so eloquently brought this into the spotlight however, things got much quieter on the re-branding front1.
What’s truly contagious is Pecker’s drive and enthusiasm for his medium. His girlfriend keeps him grounded though, and while she’s often frustrated in trying to understand his artistic side she eventually comes around. Who Pecker is at heart is not only a constantly inspired creative soul, but also a hopeless romantic. “I love you Shelley! I love you more than Kodak”! Its main message: Do your own thing, indulge in what you love, but always stay grounded. From wise words of Shelley, “Don’t become an asshole. I beg of you, do not become an asshole”. This film is not only worth if for its brashness, but for its tacky fashion sense, personality, and overall charm. Go see it!!! May you laugh hysterically; I guarantee it’ll leave a long-lasting impression.
- Rachel Maddow, The Rachel Maddow Show, Television, directed by Steve Benen (2009; New York: MSNBC, 2009.), video.