Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp Film #5--Cry-Baby (1990)

[What is Johnny Kitties? See Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp for all the details.] 
"You big ol' cry-baby..." Johnny Depp as Wade "Cry-Baby" Walker.
"The reason this movie plays on television all over the world is because of the great star Johnny is and what a great actor he is. I'm very thankful that we got to work together--late in my career and early in his. It seemed like the right thing to do at the right time.
Director John Waters

Most people know film director John Waters from his most popular movie, Hairspray, which went on to great success on Broadway and spawned a popular remake in 2008. Because of Hairspray's success, every studio wanted to make his next movie, Cry-Baby. "There was a bidding war!" he said. "It's never happened before or since."

The Cry-Baby Gang
A teen musical that spoofs Elvis Presley movies and the 1950s stance on juvenile delinquency, Cry-Baby follows the lives of teenagers from Baltimore society's two social groups--the Squares (the law-abiding goody two-shoes type) and the Drapes (the greaser, delinquent type). In the film, Drape gang leader Wade "Cry-Baby" Walker (Johnny Depp) falls for Square princess Allison (Amy Locane), and they struggle to cross cultural lines and bring their two worlds together.

Throughout his career, John Waters has earned the nicknames "The Pope of Trash" and "The Prince of Puke." His movies are an acquired taste, often shocking, and sometimes hard to take. But you've got to  admire a guy who is so outside of the box, casts actors from all walks of life, and never quits in getting his movies made or bringing his views to light. "I was a big admirer of John's films," Johnny said. "He was so outside the system and such a great radical of a filmmaker." 

His movies were out there! After we saw Hairspray, my sister and I sought out some of John Waters's earlier films. I don't remember their plots so much as I do their strangeness. In these movies, things were unpolished and unHollywood. I saw people I didn't know existed--people from the outskirts of society--and I wasn't sure if I wanted to know them. I remember feeling simultaneously unsettled and intrigued.

Many fans consider Cry-Baby pretty tame compared to the director's earlier works, but I always felt Cry-Baby was  an unmistakable John Waters movie. Where else are you going meet a family in which the grandmother and uncle are in a steamy, committed relationship bringing up a gang of juvenile delinquents with hearts of gold? And, don't forget the detailed lessons on French kissing this movie offers!

What I find most interesting about Cry-Baby is how much is based on real life. Growing up in Baltimore, Maryland, John Waters knew Drapes and Squares and filmed in locations that accurately portrayed 1950s Baltimore. The story was inspired by a newspaper article from that time about the murder of a 14-year-old girl. He overheard people dismiss the sensational story: "This is what happens when you're a Drapette." John Waters says he was not a Drape would have loved to be one.

A Fresh Start
For Johnny, this film was the beginning of a new life. Having escaped the constraints and unwanted attention of 21 Jump StreetCry-Baby gave him a chance to wipe the slate clean: "It was a chance to really make fun of the image that had been shoved down America's throats by the company that I worked for," he said. "Cry-Baby for me was the first time out of the gate where I was able to say, 'All right, this is what I want to do. This is the direction I want to go in.' It was the first one."

John Waters found and chose Johnny as his leading man from the racks of teen magazines that Johnny so hated. (Ironic, no?) He said that of all the stars he's worked with in his career, Johnny was the one who fit into his group the fastest and easiest--from Day 1. Johnny confirmed this notion, "For the first time in quite a while, I felt free when I went there to Baltimore. I really felt like I had been accepted into that family."

To me, Cry-Baby reflects that joy and spirit. Sure, it's extreme and over-the-top, but at its heart is a simple, universal love story. And--above all--it's fun and funny!

Stranded in Ohio
I didn't get to see Cry-Baby in the theaters when it was first released. I don't think my parents yet realized that my unwavering devotion to that guy from 21 Jump Street was not going away. (Or, maybe they were just hoping it would.) There was no convincing them to drive me 45 miles to the only little theater in the area showing his movie. Instead, I sighed at the Cry-Baby TV commercials and waited for its video release. (Don't worry--I did  finally get to see this movie on the big screen a few years ago.)

Now, I have and highly recommend the director's cut DVD. For some reason, there are several versions of this movie out there, including the one from the theaters and one that was edited for TV. Don't watch the latter; John Waters hates it. Instead, watch the director's cut, which includes a fantastic dance scene missing from the theatrical release. Uncle Belvedere (Iggy Pop) has some serious moves!

 Watching Cry-Baby for Johnny Kitties, I was surprised by how many scenes I loved that didn't include Johnny! The family atmosphere on the set he described is probably what made the cast work so perfectly. Aside from Johnny and the eclectic cast, my favorite ingredient in Cry-Baby is its '50s rockabilly soundtrack. John Waters has good taste in that area. Several songs from the this movie are on my ipod. "Cry-Baby is my favorite musical," John Waters said recently. "With Johnny Depp in his prime--You can't get better than that!"

The Kitties are with the Drapes
Cry-Baby (December 21, 2010)

This illustration depicts a mixture of two scenes, includes many of the memorable cast members, and--I hope--captures spirit of the film. I never thought I'd do a kitty drawing featuring a confederate flag, but John Waters--who felt the same way about including one in his movie--defends its use because it was historically accurate. "That was Baltimore in the '50s," he said. "It was the South."

For the Drapes, The Jukebox Jamboree is an annual musical celebration. If you watch the movie, you'll find all these dancers in the crowd. I loved that while they all danced in different styles, their bodies were glued together--as only Drapes would know how. Slow dancing here to the great song "I'm So Young" by the Students, the Mother Kitty is featured as grandmother Ramona Rickets (Susan Tyrell) dancing with B.J.'s Uncle Belvedere (Iggy Pop). The other kitties were happy to play extras on the dance floor. You'll find Comet paired with Ashes, Norman swaying with his girl, Simon with a twin partner, and Mini as Cry-Baby's little niece dancing with her brother.

Meanwhile, Cry-Baby--having rescued Allison (played by Lily) from the Squares' own annual talent show--arrives and introduces her to his world. The Cry-Baby girls come to greet her. They include Wade's pregnant sister Pepper (Ricki Lake), Hatchetface (Kim McGuire), and Wanda (Traci Lords). "Dig it, Babes," Wanda greets Allison. "You need a new look!" They offer to give Allison a Bad Girl Beauty Makeover. Here, she goes for it and Cry-Baby is all about it. Ah, young, true love. It'll be smooth sailing from here, right? See the movie and find out!

Next month, see Johnny in one of his favorite roles as Edward Scissorhands. It marks the start of a beautiful friendship....

(Aside from my drawing, all images ©Universal Studios.) 

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