A joyous celebration of avoiding conventionality and embracing your inner kitsch.
Ahh, the joys of kitsch: either you are fully immersed in it, or it leaves you cold. I don’t think that there can be a halfway house when it comes to accidental bad taste, low culture and loud, Day-Glo excess, and if you have any doubts as to where The Reprobate stands on such things… well, you’re obviously new here.
Javier Polo’s The Mystery of the Pink Flamingo – part documentary, part scripted fiction – is a joyous celebration of all things kitsch, and a cry for people to through off the strait-jacket of convention, and be themselves… whatever that might be. It opens with a dream about flamingos, a vibrant, visually gorgeous opening that sets you up for what will be a riot of colour and visual style throughout. Rigo Pex, the dreamer in question, is an uptight sound engineer who spends his days in regimented isolation and anally retentive routine, collecting sounds and doing the same things at the same time each day. But he’s haunted by a dream about the flamingo, and so – encouraged by a mysterious voice in his head that acts as narrator – he sets out to examine the odd allure and all-pervasive presence of the flamingo in pop culture – the pink overlord of high camp and bad taste, the emblem of the Hawaiian shirt, the cheesy cocktail stick, the plastic lawn adornment. Just what is it about the flamingo? Why is there such a fascination with it and why does it so perfectly symbolise the kitsch and the camp, when other, more flamboyant birds do not? Just what does it represent for us?
If Polo’s film and his interviewees are to be believed, then it seems that the flamingo represents some sort of liberation from normality – the willingness to cast aside the narrow expectations of dull normality and instead embrace your own individuality, and to hell with what anyone else thinks. And so fiction becomes reality, as Pex talks to artists, filmmakers (Eduardo Casanova seems to want very much to be the new John Waters, but there are worse people to emulate, and his films are extraordinary visual experiences that we really must explore further one day) and flamenco dancers about the fascination with the flamingo and kitsch culture in general – not to mention the curious elegance of the bird that seems almost balletic in form – before heading out to the States, where he travels to Miami and Los Angeles, two places that know a fair bit about camp. In America, he meets the Pink Lady of Hollywood (whose dedication to the colour puts Jayne Mansfield to shame), British J-Pop-influenced band Kero Kero Bonito, songwriter and kitsch expert Allee Willis and – of course – John Waters. Along the way, Pex is slowly liberated, his black uniform clothing replaced with louder and louder outfits, moments of self-doubt and lingering self-awareness giving way to a style that is more his.
Of course, much of this is fiction – the interviews are authentic, but the linking narrative is a scripted story. But that hardly matters. In a way, this felt like a very shiny version of the sort of knowingly twee documentaries that British TV used to sometimes make for series like 40 Minutes or Arena – a structured reality about a kitsch subculture that neither lies nor mocks, but instead uses an enhanced narrative to make the story more involving – that’s a huge compliment, by the way. In this story, Pex – in reality, DJ Meneo, who is also known as Rigo Pex in real life – is our everyman, maybe the person that many of us might be, unwilling to escape his self-made cage. So of course, the interviews – conversational, shot face to face with an interesting proto-social distancing at work (what was then a stylistic format now a necessity) – are messages aimed more at us than him. And these are great interviews, with one constant that pulls them all together. That’s the call to be happy, to stop denying yourself pleasure and be willing to take risks. There’s a joyful positivity throughout this film (with the exception of the man from the I Hate Flamingos Facebook group, but even he seems to enjoy his hatred) and that’s a rare thing. In an interview with author Brian Antoni, Pex chokes up (an authentic moment for the person behind the character, it feels) as the whole message of individual liberation and the joy of just unashamedly enjoying low culture, kitsch, trash – whatever the hell you want to call it – is brought home.
We live in an increasingly conformist world. People sit at home, plugged into online echo chambers, eaten up with the misery of the world and their hatred of anyone who dares disagree. We all need more pink flamingos in our lives, quite honestly. More unashamed pleasure and less hand-wringing over the fact that someone, somewhere might be having a better time than you, possibly doing something that you disapprove of… that seems like a no-brainer. There can surely be nothing more depressing than going through life constantly worried about what other people think, checking what the currently popular opinions are before expressing your own and staying wrapped up in a purse-lipped puritanical misery. This film is a passionate cry for people to take unembarrassed, unguilty pleasure from whatever gives them pleasure, and if it doesn’t hurt anyone, why not?
Visually gorgeous, dreamlike, perfectly structured and genuinely kind-hearted, this is a film that is sure to put a smile on your face (unless, of course, you are so defiantly wedded to your own misery that you refuse to relax even in private) and might even change your life if you are willing to take on board the message. If you only see one film at Raindance this year, make it this one.
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