Friday, June 7, 2013

Cry-Baby (1990)

WHO: Johnny Depp in the title role.

WHAT: Cry-Baby was the first film directed by John Waters after the tragic death of his actor fetiche Divine in 1988. For the lead in his exaggerated 1950s musical (a "rockabilly opera", if you will) he cast a 26-year-old heartthrob who'd made little impact in his few feature films so far, and was itching to break out of his role on television's 21 Jump Street. Waters included him and another big screen newcomer Amy Locane in one of the most eclectic casts in an American film made in my lifetime: Polly Bergen, Susan Tyrell, Iggy Pop, Ricki Lake, Willem Dafoe and Traci Lords  make for quite a colorful assortment of characters. As Waters later said:
Traci played a sexpot--which is always the best way to rid yourself of an image, by playing it and making fun of it. That's what Johnny Depp did, too. He was on Jump Street, and he hated playing a teen idol, so I said, "Stick with us; we'll kill that." And we did -- in the right way, you know?
This weekend Depp turns 50, already outliving Divine by eight years. And while his role selections in the decades since Cry-Baby have, for the most part, kept a refreshing element of strangeness in Hollywood films of varying kinds and qualities, including everything from collaborations as his own actor fetiche for Tim Burton, to an experimental Western by Jim Jarmusch, to big franchise-y blockbusters, I've always wanted him to make another movie with Waters. It's been almost ten years since the latter directed a film, and I'm not sure if he's even planning or hoping to make another one, but if he did, how great would it be if he reunited with the most bankable of the many actors whose film careers he helped launch?

WHERE/WHEN: Tonight only at 11:59 PM at the Castro Theatre
WHY: Cry-Baby screens as part of a Depp-tributing triple-bill hosted by Jesse Hawthorne Ficks, who has been bringing cult classics and overlooked films to Frisco theatres for just about all of my cinephile life. I first saw him introduce films like Too Many Ways To Be #1 and Dead Or Alive at the 4-Star Theatre in 2001, back when that venue used to show unusual East Asian films far more frequently than it does today. I've followed Ficks's programming from the 4-Star to the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and the Castro, where he programs just-about-monthly threefers with themes like Man-Children, Grunge Love, and Swords and Sorcery, under the brand name MiDNiTES FOR MANiACS.

One of my favorite discoveries though Ficks has been Peter Bogdanovich's At Long Last Love, one of the great and neglected musicals of the 1970s, which screened in 2007 and then again with Bogdanovich in person in 2008. I was disappointed to read Bogdanovich's recent article on that film, which erases the Castro screening which he attended (I saw him watching the film from the back row; perhaps he didn't stay for all of it and I didn't notice because I was too engrossed, however).

Unfortunately I haven't been able to attend Ficks's shows since last December, when he sandwiched the final Waters-Divine collaboration Hairspray between the Kirsten Dunst cheer squad movie Bring It On and Jean-Claude Van Damme in Kickboxer. Weird grouping? Yes. But thrilling to see in 35mm with adoring audiences just as confused as you are by the probably unprecedented juxtaposing of these three films, which somehow made sense by the end of the night. But then maybe that's because it was after 2:30 AM, as Ficks squeezed a showing of 35mm trailers for almost every single Van Damme film ever released to cinemas in between the second and third films of the night. I'm not normally much of a trailer fan, but seeing that was a highlight of my film-going year.

Tonight's theme is more obvious, and the film selections and the trailers presented should please fans of Depp and other 1980s-1990s heartthrobs like Leonardo Di Caprio, who co-stars in What's Eating Gilbert Grape (which goes on at 9:30) and Aidan Quinn, who plays one of the title characters in Benny and Joon (which I haven't seen; it plays at 7:30).

Upcoming MiDNiTES screenings include a July 5th Castro show called "MAKE MUSiC KOOL THiNGS": Josie and the Pussycats with Velvet Goldmine and Wild In The Streets (I've only seen the Todd Haynes film in the middle so I'm very tempted to go to this one), and the Frisco Bay premiere of a week-long Roxie booking of the new Paul Schrader movie The Canyons on August 9th.

HOW: All 35mm prints tonight, as per usual for MiDNiTES FOR MANiACS.


  1. Brian: I'm a fan of Jesse's programming as well. I enjoyed Benny & Joon which was sweet, I know at one point either before or after he made this Depp was a frequent patron at Hollywood's Silent Movie theatre (now operating under another name)on Fairfax Avenue, Anyway in this one he imitates the dance of the rolls from The Gold Rush and there are several homages to Keaton. Jesse usually gets a good turnout, I know there were at least 100 at my 7:30 show because I and patron #102 won prizes,in my case a John C Reilly fright mask!

  2. Well 102 is not such a great turnout for a 1400 seat venue (which Jesse has absolutely packed on occasion, for instance when Edgar Wright came to screen three of his films in person) but presumably that's just a minimum number.

    I would like to visit the Cinefamily (former Silent Movie Theater) someday- particularly when they're showing silent films, which they still do once in a while.