John Waters Loves Ann-Margret

Maybe it’s the tropical sun, maybe it’s all the meds I’m on for a toothache, maybe my mind is still reeling from the way that Christina Aguilera word-salad’d the National Anthem, setting right-wing bloggers aflame. Whatever it is, I’ve got Ann-Margret on the brain. She was on TCM last night, down where I’m hiding out from Manhattan cold, in some black-and-white 60s nightmare whose title I never caught. I stayed up late to watch every frame. Then, this morning, doing my morning trawl to bring you the latest in strange cultural news, I come across this item from an anonymous blog for which I cannot, being technologically challenged at the moment, furnish the link. Anyway, to commemorate Ann-Margret’s 70th birthday in April, there was a special showing of one of her movies, hosted by the King of Trash himself: To wit: ‘There was a line all the way down Second Street off Second Avenue in Manhattan last night; film fans were waiting in the cold to see John Waters present one of his favorite movies, the Ann-Margret vehicle Kitten with a Whip (1964), as a special event to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the venerable Anthology Film Archives. Waters was charmingly introduced by the mighty founder of Anthology, Jonas Mekas, who did a kind of Bela Lugosi in Glen or Glenda (1952) spiel: “I showed John’s first big movie…here!” Mekas said, in his halting Lithuanian accent. “It was Pink…Flamingos! And it was…disgusting! But you knew…you must watch…this disgusting…film!” At just the right moment, Mekas cut off his musings and introduced Waters himself to the packed house; nattily attired in a suit with a yellow scarf, Waters gushed about the merits of Kitten with a Whip, which he first saw as a teenager with his longtime star and friend Divine.

‘I used to have all kinds of movie posters up in my houses, but now there’s only one movie poster, for Kitten with a Whip,” he said, and then showed us the novelization of the film and other memorabilia. Waters positioned Kitten with a Whip with a movie made that same year, Lady in a Cage, a far more arduous and nasty picture where stately Olivia de Havilland is trapped in her private elevator and tortured by a group of thugs headed by a young James Caan, who wears perhaps the tightest jeans in film history. These two movies are exploitation items which are also trying to say something about The Sickness of Our Society, but Kitten with a Whip takes itself far less seriously than Lady in a Cage, and that’s all to the good. Waters also placed Kitten with a Whip in relation to the strange Carroll Baker picture Something Wild (1962), where a Sexpot Emotes, and he puzzled over Kitten with a Whip’s intentions. “Many people have called it a camp classic,” Waters said, “but I think it’s a failed art film.” Wrapping up, Waters said that there was a moment early on in Kitten with a Whip when Ann-Margret was as beautiful as she ever was on screen, and he promised to shout, “Now!” from the back of the house when this happened.

Damn, I wish I’d been there.

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