John Waters’ Polyester gets a new Blu-ray edition from The Criterion Collection (who previously released the film on LaserDisc), presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on a dual-layer disc. The new 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation comes from a new 4K restoration scanned from the 35mm original camera negatives.
Unlike the previous films of Waters’ that Criterion has released (Multiple Maniacs and Female Trouble), Polyester is more of a “studio film” with a bigger budget, which allowed Waters access to more high-end equipment, allowing him to shoot in 35mm (with Steadicam shots!), and the film has more of a polish, at least in comparison to his previous works. Because of this boost the film does come off looking substantially better in comparison to the previous films Criterion released, allowing for more detail and finer looking film grain, with the digital presentation cleanly rendering it. Colours lean a little cooler but saturation is good, and black levels are pretty deep without crushing out detail.
I noticed a couple of minor specs but the film is in incredible shape, thoroughly cleaned up; like the other Waters films it’s almost wrong how clean the film ends up looking (I always feel his early films should really look worn-out, with that grindhouse-like look). In all it’s an incredible looking image, yet again far exceeding any expectations I may have had. 9/10
All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
Criterion previously released the film on LaserDisc back in the early 90s and for this edition they port over some of that material while also adding a lot of new stuff, with Waters being a generous participant in the process.
John Waters’ commentary from that LaserDisc first opens things up rather wonderfully. Waters’ commentaries are always wonderful, just great fun and full of terrific details, and this early one may be one of his better ones. It’s wonderful and funny when he talks about the production, bringing up the various influences behind it (the William Castle influence on the Odorama cards, what inspired certain aspects of the film) and dealing with a much bigger budget, which meant keeping himself in check (the studio wanted an R-rated film, not an X-rated one). But the track is at its best when he takes things down a more personal path, or Waters talks about his body of work up to that point and the filmmakers that had an impact on him (he loves the work of Ingmar Bergman and Herschell Gordon Lewis). He also addresses some regrets he has over the film, particularly the structure of the last act, though I’m quite amused at the idea he feels the plot is a bit too rushed. It’s a wonderful track and other than his mentioning of his “new” film at the time, Serial Mom, it hasn’t dated at all (though of course he says things that I’m sure some will raise an eye at).
Criterion then packs on a lot of video material, opening with Water’s ”No Smoking in this Theater” PSA, a hilarious 46-second clip featuring Waters rubbing in how the audience is not allowed to smoke in the theater (which he thinks is ridiculous) while taking a deep drag on his cigarette. Following that is a brand new 38-minute interview between John Waters and Michael Musto talking about the film and Waters’ work. The two cover some of the same material mentioned in the commentary track, though Waters expands on a few things (like dealing with the neighbours at their shooting location). Waters also talks quite a bit more about the film’s stars, before talking about some of his later work and their legacy (like the musical inspired by Hairspray). As usual, Waters is incredibly engaging and funny, making the interview a must.
Criterion then digs up about 20-minutes’ worth of deleted scenes and alternate takes, which have been sitting in Waters’ attic for decades (with some audio missing in a handful of scenes). The material is mostly around the family (including a short bit where the son shaves his eyebrows, mentioned in the commentary and previous interview) but there are a few scenes that add a bit to the plot, like Francine’s mother explaining how she needs more money.
Sniffing Out “Polyester” is about 13-minutes worth of outtakes from the 2013 documentary I Am Divine, all focusing around Polyester. The footage features actors Tab Hunter, Mary Garlington and Mink Stole, critic Dennis Dermody, casting director Pat Moran and her daughter Greer Yeaton, art director Vincent Peranio, and Hunter’s partner, Allan Glaser. The film’s direct participants share their experiences on the film but it’s Hunter who probably gets the most time, going over his non-existent career at the time, how he was warned not to do the film by people, and just how glad he is that he actually did do it, just loving the experience. Since Criterion was unable to get new interviews with any of the participants outside of Waters (with Hunter having passed away not too long ago) this is a great little compromise.
Criterion also pulls a collection of archival material around Waters and “the world” (which centered around Waters’ apartment called “Dreamland”) they lived in, all put together for Criterion’s LaserDisc edition and presented here as Dreamland Memories. The feature consists mostly of photos and home movie footage (including footage of Edith Massey’s store) with audio interviews featuring Waters, Hunter, Moran, Peranio, and costume designer Van Smith played over top of the footage. It’s a wonderful reminisce of the time, which spills over into the making of Polyester (which Waters feels is Divine’s Mildred Pierce). I haven’t seen the feature as it appears on the LaserDisc, but this has obviously been updated with higher resolution photos and uses clips from the restorations for the films covered. It runs about 20-minutes.
Criterion then packs on more material “from the archives,” starting with 1981’s People are Talking, a 4-minute segment from WJZ-TV Baltimore covering the making of Polyester, showing footage from the location of the Fishpaw residence, followed by an interview with Waters conducted in the editing room (where Waters is interrupted by a phone call that turns out to be a wrong number).
Waters then appears in another 1981 video, John Waters in Charm City (7-minutes), which features Waters driving around his Baltimore neighbourhood, Fells Point, along with Divine showing up for an interview, one of the few I recall seeing him out of character. Waters also visits Massey’s local shop, which also appears in the next segment from 1978, Edith: Queen of Fells Point (6-minutes). This one ends up being all about Massey, featuring a discussion with her about her acting, Waters even popping up to recall how they first met. The archival material then closes with an interview between Waters, Divine and Tom Snyder (7-minutes), where Snyder pretty much first asks why they would make a film like Pink Flamingos before they talk about Polyester and its Odorama card.
The Odorama card takes center stage in the next new feature, Odorama with John, a 4-minute segment featuring Waters going over the odor samples Criterion has created for him, some intended for use for this edition of the film and others they just wanted to throw at him (like broccoli). Waters isn’t entirely impressed with each one (he questions the fart smell, which he says smells too “high class,” as though the person eats a lot of vegetables) but it’s funny watching him try to figure out what each smell is and how far off he can be (in fairness he explains his sense of smell isn’t what it should be).
The disc closes with the film’s original theatrical trailer. Criterion includes a poster insert, featuring the cover art on one side and then a wonderfully in-depth essay by Elena Gorfinkel. Criterion also recreates the original Odorama scratch-n-sniff cards, mimicking in look the original ones released for its debut (these were changed when the film received a wider release),the odors numbered from 1 to 10. The idea is that you scratch and sniff the appropriate sample from the card when its number flashes during the film. The first is a generic tease, a rose, giving you a false sense of security. A few of the other smells are not bad but there are at least three genuinely terrible scents on this card, which I won’t spoil, with #2 and #4 easily being the worst. This is a great addition but unfortunately Criterion did not put the card in plastic wrap, so when you first open the case don’t be shocked if you’re welcomed with a somewhat unpleasant odor inside.
Criterion has been pretty good at loading on the special features for their releases of John Waters’ films yet somehow, they still haven’t run out of material. It’s all fun and surprisingly in-depth. 9/10