Cecil B. Demented

Release Date: Aug 26th, 2000

Cast :

Stephen Dorff .... Cecil B. Demented
Melanie Griffith .... Honey Whitlock
Adrian Grenier .... Lyle
Alicia Witt .... Cherish
Larry Gilliard Jr. .... Lewis
Maggie Gyllenhaal .... Raven
Jack Noseworthy .... Rodney

Director: John Waters 

Buckle up Hollywood, and prepare to skewered by warped funhouse style magnifying glass of John Waters.  Cecil B. Demented is Waters satirical, no holds barred social commentary on all that is wrong with Hollywood, and the legion of brainless complacent drones of audience members that it has created.  I have stand up and champion the effort and idea, since I have been a proponent and critic of the repetitive politically correct movie machine for as long as I’ve been giving my opinion on movies.  However his message gets a tad overdone in the repetitious nature in which it is delivered.  He has succeeded in championing the passion of the independent filmmaker, turning this into a much darker, rebellious version of American Movie.  This is one for anybody who has ever been frustrated by the predictability, emotional manipulation and regurgitation of the typical Hollywood faire. 

”Because the hook, brings you back” – Blues Traveller

A movie’s opening scene can set the stage for what is to come, by dually succeeding in grabbing the audiences attention, and luring the audience down the path towards the message that the film makers are trying to convey.  Waters starts this one off with a literal bang.  The opening credits come across on marquees and billboards, advertising everything from multiplexes playing only Star Trek and Star Wars, to the Pauly Shore (a favorite victim of mine) film festival.  We are then introduced to Honey Whitlock, a stereotypical Hollywood starlet, loved by fans, her agent and everyone involved in her films, or so it seems.  In the false fašade of Hollywood, fame can be fleeting and false at the same time, and Whitlock’s house of cards may be crumbling around her.  She’s in Baltimore (Waters hometown) to open her latest film, a sappy effort called Some Kind of Happiness.  As the opening approaches, it appears that all is not as it seems.  The theaters employees are planning a rebellion against all that is wrong with Hollywood, spouting phrases like “Hey hey, MPAA how many movies did you censor today”.  They kidnap Whitlock, and led by their “prophet against profit” and ultimate auteur Cecil B. Demented, this band of cinematic terrorists set out to make the ultimate anti-Hollywood movie. A guerilla-style story called Raving Beauty.  Whitlock’s protestations turn to compliance when she sees the true face of her fans, and the true passion behind Demented’s vision.  Utilizing the extreme version of Bowfinger’s idea, Demented constantly flies in the face of his detractors by filming in real time, using people as his extras.  He uses a multiplex showing Patch Adams: The Directors Cut, a great joke, and wonderfully executed, along with a meeting of the Maryland Film Commission and the set of Gump Again, the sequel to Forrest Gump starring Kevin Nealon.  The scenes have their moments, including memorable scenes involving a battle with parents involving Jujyfruits and a Night of the Living Dead spoof at a porno theater.  The content and dialogue gets a bit repetitive, using different words to effective convey the same message, but the effect is never lost, only slightly dulled.

“Power to the people who punish bad cinema” – Steven Dorff as Cecil B Demented

Dorff’s cast of rebels, known as Sprocket Holes, are truly an eclectic bunch.  Some are developed and delved into, while others are thrown seemingly for shock value, or just to fill out the cast.  Each is individual in their tendencies; with their own tattoo of a heroic film maker (from Otto Preminger and Sam Peckinpah to Spike Lee and David Lynch) they each display character tendencies and are briefly explained as to why they are a part of Dorff’s bunch.  One is a Satan worshipper, another is a disenchanted, but still impassioned porno star, while others include a drug addict (who used to have several addictions, but now only has one, drugs) and a youngster who is brainwashed into believing his parents are inhibiting his growth (ironically, his mother is played by Waters regular Patricia Hearst).  These characters are interesting, but exist mainly as the minions of the energetic and driven Demented, played with a deliciously wicked energy by Dorff.  His scene involving each of his cohort’s tattoos, and why they have them, perfectly displays this.  Griffith, as with all of the other cast members, seems to be having a blast, while satirizing her own Hollywood image in the process.  She gets to vamp and ham it up, and seems to revel in Waters story, even when it does become a bit excessive. 

“We are beyond the critics reach”

John Waters was making shocking films, when the Farrelly brothers were still having prepubescent fantasies.  Pink Flamingos, Lust in The Dust and Cry Baby are examples of how Waters didn’t just walk the line of conservative acceptability, but rather coolly and obliviously sauntered across it.  With Demented he taps into a subject that has been screaming to be done, and hits right on the mark.  He is the original independent director, flying in the face of the mainstream to make his point and get his message across.  This time around, he makes his boldest commentary yet, almost autobiographically recreating his image in most of Hollywood’s eyes.   Waters is both the right, and wrong person to make this commentary on Hollywood.  He is probably the only director with enough guts to say and do some of the things he does onscreen (basically, attacking directors, studio heads, theater owners, the proverbial hands that feed him) He can do this without fear of repercussion or expulsion because he’s already looked at as a gonzo, outside the lines film maker.  So he really doesn’t have anything to lose.  On the flip side, his over the top style is at times too much.  His mockery of charitable organizations, utilization of a rodent in shudderingly improper manner, and over emphasizing of a repressed incestuous memory, all take away from the sting that this film could have had.  He shows he does know his subject matter and history, borrowing Demented’s branding of his disciples from the movie The Cheat, by the main characters namesake.

Ultimately, Cecil B. Demented gives Hollywood exactly what it deserves, by successfully skewering the longstanding tendency to play to the audience, instead of staying completely true to the filmmaker’s vision.  Waters style dilutes his message slightly, and his ending, while definitely not typically Hollywood, still seems to lose a bit of the steam that the movie opened with.  The film industry has been ripe for the pickings for a long while.  Robert Altman’s The Player ripped the door open, and now Waters looks through that doorway, and recounts it in his own twisted style.  This is one for true movie fans, and those who appreciate and support the making of independent, non-traditional cinema.  Just remember who the director is, and leave your inhibitions and moral conscience at the door.   I, for one, am proud to stand, hold out my arm and scream the character’s mantra Demented Forever ($$$ out of $$$$)

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