I felt like watching Pecker not only because I enjoy John Waters’ absurd movies but also because I’m developinga serious crash on photography lately, so everything related to cameras results very attractive to me.
It is true you have to be in the right mood for watching any of his movies, although I’ve been able to enjoy both Pink Flamingos all the same as Serial Mom. Pecker belongs addresses more to the second style, with more budget, very well known actors and not so absurd and disgusting as the first part of his movies.
Pecker (Edward Furlong), is a teenager whose love for the life he’s got in Baltimore is reflected in his amateurish pictures. He always carries his old second hand camera everywhere trying to catch the essence of his social surroundings, he enjoys taking pictures of her girlfriend Shelley (Christina Ricci) working in the Laundromat, his mother selling cheap clothes to homeless, his little sister’s sugar habit, or his best mate stealing at the supermarket. Everything has a photographic aspect for Pecker, capable to find beauty in common things.
He schedules an exhibition of his pics at the fast food restaurant he works at, and surprisingly a New York art dealer Rorey Wheeler (Lili Taylor) fascinated by the power of the images, buys a picture of female pubic hair and approaches Pecker for representing him in New York, assuring a wonderful and successful future as an artist.
Thus, Pecker and the closest characters in his pictures go to New York for a proper exhibition, delighting all the posh and snob critics, who fall in love with his dysfunctional family and environment.
So much publicity and media cover he receives, becoming the new sensation, when Pecker comes back home in Baltimore things aren’t the same any longer. First, people don’t want to appear in his pictures for free, also his girlfriend is jealous of his manager, his friend Matt is no longer the best thief in town, Little Chrissy is forced to take Ritalin to control sugar habit and hyperactivity, and he receives constant pressure for taking more pictures. He’s even forced to substitute his old camera for a expensive reflex, and he realizes all the magic is gone and images are shit, although Rorey insists that his work has evolved.
What Pecker desires most is to recover his life, his identity and his pictures, so he’ll have to make a huge effort to work things out.
Pecker is a simple tale of a town boy, surrounded by things nobody could even consider decent, but through his camera lens, and the way Waters describe them, seem beautiful. But how can a girl hooked on sugar be beautiful? What about a lesbian stripper club? Pecker’s mother managing a fashion shop for homeless? Shelley’s obsession for the Laundromat? Memama and her Virgin Mary? What the fuck? This is the bucolic portrait of Waters’ reality, everybody seems happy in their lives and roles, however, from an objective point of view it is too sad.
Why does Pecker succeed in NYC? Just because all those people couldn’t even figure out those things could happen, so detached from their reality they find the boy’s pictures irresistible, and he becomes the door to Baltimore reality, as if in NYC misery and filth had no place.
From a practical aspect, I was astonished by the way Pecker was taking pictures of people without their consent. As far as I know, whenever you expose any picture of anybody you must ask for permission, otherwise you’re dealing with illegal taken images, and this is what happens once he’s back from the big city. Nobody wants him to take pictures of them, of their miseries, and threaten the guy with suing. Preserving anonymity has become a kind of obsession lately, you cannot take pictures of kids without people being suspicious, sometimes you can’t portrait buildings either for copyrights…I must admit I felt jealous of the kid taking pictures of absolutely everything and everyone he felt like, allowing him to be spontaneous, without having to be careful not to offend anyone.
I’ve always had fun with the characters in Waters’ films. They are all so so overly dramatic, the way they speak and act…I don’t know how to explain it. Let’s take Memama as an example of a Waters character. To start with, the name is weird, she’s Pecker’s grandmother and apparently is a normal religious old lady, but just for the fact that she sells the best beef sandwiches in town in a small stand in front of the house, and how customers when she’s not attending them are so desperate as to say “What will I do without your sandwich?” is exaggerated, don’t you think? But the best, the best is her talking Virgin Mary, which doesn’t speak at all, but is believed by the old woman to be a miracle.
Although this is a mainstream film, there are many resemblances to the old movies, I see a subtle tribute to Pink Flamingos thanks to the characters and situations. In some of his films, Waters’ characters are outstanding in society, for several reasons, Pecker for his pictures, Divine for being an outlaw, and eventually world turns against them, so they have to manage to recover their previous position.
It’s remarkable the constant presence of some actresses throughout John Waters’ film career, Mink Stole or Patricia Hearst are always involved in his enterprises, sure there’s a bizarre story behind this loyalty.
Anyway, Pecker is just a movie for entertaining, you could analyze it from other perspectives or study it deeper and you would find constant features in John Waters’ films, his very own obsessions, you don’t have to be an Einstein to notice, what is not subject to disagreement is that Waters portraits his own world once again, a retro looking Baltimore full of freaks, and the New York artistic high society, even more excessive and poisoned. I did like it, and had a good time, enough for me.