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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 3/15/02

Cecil B. Demented
2000 (2000) - Artisan

review by Dan Kelly of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

The Films of John Waters on DVD

Cecil B. Demented

Film Rating: B-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/B/B-

Specs and Features

88 min, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.77:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:09:28 in chapter 20), Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary by John Waters, Comedy Central's Caned Ham: Cecil B. Demented behind-the-scenes special, cast and crew information, 2 theatrical trailers, TV spot, production notes, animated film-themed menu screens with sound, scene access (24 chapters), language: English (DD 5.1), subtitles: none, Closed Captioned

"We've all taken a vow of celibacy for celluloid. No one gets laid until we've finished our movie. We're horny, but our film comes first."

Cecil B. Demented is John Waters' pseudo-return to the style of comedy that got him noticed in the first place - gross-out comedy. If you think films like American Pie and Freddy Got Fingered are the pinnacle of cinema that will test your gag reflex, you've obviously never seen anything by the notorious John Waters. Pink Flamingoes has rightfully earned its reputation as the one of the most (if not the most) vile things to ever be shown in a movie house. It's the apex of extreme cinema, and for my gross out dollar, nothing will ever top Divine strutting out of a corner store with a freshly sliced slab of steak between her legs. Most people will likely remember her eating a pile of fresh doggie dung, but I'd rather concentrate on some of the film's finer points. While nothing in Cecil B. Demented is that excessive, it's definitely got that Waters spirit to it, and should please his most fanatical devotees.

The film's central character could easily be Waters himself. Cecil B. Demented (Stephen Dorff) is the director and prophet of a new cinema-based form of worship. He and his merry band of cinema outlaws develop a plan to save America from the black hole of Hollywood filmmaking. They'll kidnap one of its prime stars, force her to star in their film, and shove their new brand of cinema down the throats of suburban filmgoers across the country. Their target? Honey Whitlock (Melanie Griffith). She's a bitch with a capital B and is in Boston for the world premiere of her newest film, Some Kind of Happiness. Once they've got her, they immediately strip her of her beauty and give her the once over with a bottle of hair bleach and harsh makeup, complete with caked on black eye shadow. Then they take to the streets and commence with their guerrilla style filmmaking. This is where the real fun of the movie starts.

The actors drop off in the middle of a city and start filming, whether or not the city is ready for them. Waters and company use this as an opportunity to make some funny, pointed jabs at Hollywood crap ("Patch Adams doesn't deserve a director's cut. The first one was long enough!") and the public that blindly rushes to anything with enough marketing weight behind it. But their rants and raves aren't relegated solely to the mass market: they also poke fun of the porn industry and the male movie-going crowd in general who flock to anything with breasts, action, guns or any combination of the three. It's also got the usual host of Waters regulars: Ricki Lake, Mink Stole and Patty Hearst (as a mother whose son has been kidnapped by Demented's film crew).

Though I got a hefty share of good laughs from it, Cecil B. Demented seems to be at odds with itself. Waters is known for his twisted blend of laughs and the grotesque, but something seems odd with the mix this time. Usually I can appreciate the grotesque elements of his films, and how they work to make the funny scenes more comical. They just have a certain charm all their own. But here the comedic and vulgar aspects clashed with each other and each interfered with my ability to enjoy the other (though I hesitate to say I actually enjoyed watching someone screw a film projector). Waters has never shied away from poking fun at Hollywood, but this time, he's got some help from Hollywood. Griffith is the perfect choice for her role as Honey. She has a lot of fun with the role, and she's making fun of herself in a not so subtle way. Just like Honey Whitlock, her onscreen acting ability has been really hit and miss, and her career has seen more ups and downs than Madonna's... oh never mind! I don't know if Griffith is as calculatedly evil as Honey Whitlock, but I'd like to think so. The only thing funnier than an actor whose career has seen better days is a nasty actor whose career has seen better days.

Cecil B. Demented comes to DVD courtesy of Artisan entertainment, and they once again show that an independent studio can make product that can hold its own next to bigger studio fare. The 1.77:1 anamorphic print is exceptional. Color reproduction is dead on with nary a spot of color bleed to be found. Edge enhancement is minimal, and artifacting is near non-existent. Great black levels and a negligible amount of film grain combine to make for a nicely detailed picture that retains a very theatrical look.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is an unassuming mix that favors a distinct dialogue track over hyped-up music and effects. The dialogue is clean one, and is nicely complemented by the music. Surround channels are used primarily for the music score, with occasional effects bits thrown in here and there. Split channel effects are used primarily in the foreground, with little to no use of the discrete surround channels. All in all, it's not a bad mix, but I've heard better.

The extras, while not bountiful, are absolutely in keeping with the tone of the film and Waters' sense of humor. The Canned Ham special from Comedy Central is pure promotion, but it's dressed up with interviews with some of the films primary cast, including Dorff and naughty girl Alicia Witt. John Waters also talks quite a bit in the 22-minute piece about the film itself, as well as small bits about his origins as a filmmaker. Since its original objective was to get people into theatre seats, film clips devour a good portion of its running time. The clips themselves are fine, but why watch them when you've just seen the movie? The commentary by Waters is, without a doubt, one of the funniest I've heard on the DVD format. He talks at length about the film, yesterday's lunch, Melanie Griffith's foul mouth, Madonna's vegetarian habits (she apparently doesn't eat "anything that takes a shit"), Hollywood at large, or whatever crosses his mind, including this tidbit about some of his fans: "I love little Satanist kids. I think they're cute." He's never been one for political correctness or hold back his mind, and this commentary is no exception. The rest of the features are standard disc filler: two trailers (strangely, one is anamorphic, the other isn't), TV spots, lengthy production notes and cast and crew filmographies. More than anything of the other features, this disc is worth a go for the commentary alone.

If you like John Waters and you wanna laugh and get grossed out at the same time (and who doesn't?), give Cecil B. Demented a try. As they do with most of his films, I think the critics unfairly raked this one over the coals, but even the indie crowd seemed to pass it by. It's not the best of Waters' films, but I haven't laughed this hard at any of his films since Serial Mom. Waters fans will more than likely enjoy it, and anyone with a sense of humor should enjoy his DVD commentary.

Dan Kelly

The Films of John Waters on DVD

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