Sunday, March 15, 2009

Signatures: Edith Massey

Adam of Club Silencio here with another look at my favorite actresses and their distinguishing claims to fame.

She did know what she was doing. People thought she didn't. I remember when the Newsweek review came out of Polyester, it said that she either deserved the Oscar or a 24-hour nurse.

-John Waters

Unlike other actresses I've featured in "Signatures," Edith Massey's gifts were never based on her nuance or complexity. All the same she had a purity that was considerable to the impurity of her characters. In the hands of John Waters, performance is something else entirely, yet irrefutably perfect for his brand of cult comedy. Subversion is his specialty, and Edith never was a go-to glamour girl or bankable supporting lady. Snaggletoothed and eccentric, Edith was the most unassuming of comic geniuses. But give her a debutante gown, or a bra and crib, and she's happy to let her degradation deliver.

In fact Edith's delivery was always a bit like... delivery. Waters hired her as a local woman he'd known from a bar and thrift shop in Baltimore, and Edith never really strayed from that humble origin. She didn't necessarily deconstruct her dialogue by character motivation or dramatic beats, but by exaggerating her volume and experiencing memory lapse. Somehow the comedy was never lost or muddled, it was magnified - catapulted into classic status.

Waters' collaborations with Edith were very much collaborations, as he's often reminded of her unique take on life:

And Edie and I used to do this kind of date together, but we'd drive by car, and she would drive me crazy because she would say out loud every single thing she saw. We'd be driving along and she'd say, "Car, house, lawn, pretty lady, red car, telephone pole, lawn, lawn, lawn..." I said, "Edith!!" It was just... internalization was a concept she was very unfamiliar with.

For as often as Waters had her throw acid in people's faces, get married in eggs and a wheelbarrow, or gang rape then infect her family with rabies, I'm convinced we never lost sight of Edith's heart amidst the humiliation. She was more lovable for her flaws, and for her innocence in roles that were anything but. Edith has remained an unforgettable icon to outsiders and singular personalities; an unwitting movie star of the most deserving kind. She was the sort of legend befitting of cult cinema: big, bawdy and bewildering, but brilliant nonetheless.

By royal proclamation I claim today Backwards Day in honor of Edith Massey's signature splendor. She's learned to rule with dignity and remains for me a Queen of cult cinema. I love her like she loves eggs, and I miss her still.


Marshall said...

Tremendous. Something a little different than I ever thought I'd see here. A nice tribute to a strange and wonderful lady.


I have given shortshrift to the John Waters ouevre so this was a lovely sideways detour.

now who is going to celebrate backwards day?

Matt said...

I loved this so fucking much, I could *shit*.

Brian Darr said...

Backwards Day is actually a relief for me, because I'm wearing a snuggie today, and it actually looks less ridiculous now that I've reversed it.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful (and well deserved) tribute. Thank you!

Pax Romano said...

A wonderful posting on an American original.

Edith, wherever you are, we loved ya!

Mike z said...

"How dare you arouse royalty!"

Most memorable.

Nick M. said...

Thank you. Thank you so much for this. Ms. Massey's homo-loving, hetero-hating character in Female Trouble is served so well by her over-the-top performance. Just imagine these golden lines being delivered with such absurd, confused conviction:

"The world of the heterosexual is a sick and boring life."

"Fucker! Pig fucker! Hetero! Filthy hetero stink-shit!"

Oh, just go here:

Seeing_I said...

Ah, the wonderful Miss Edie. Just what is it about her that's so darn lovable?