Many scenes from John Waters’ early films were left on the cutting room floor. They were great scenes, but Waters was fanatical that his films not exceed 90 minutes. He thought that comedy could not hold an audience longer than that. So many of his scenes are lost to movie-goers of today, but maybe a film professor of the future will resurrect these lost gems.
This cut scene from Polyester (1981) occurred during the riot on Francine Fishpaw’s (Divine) front lawn. Divine, already close to mental collapse from a severe drinking problem and mental cruelty inflicted by her husband and his mistress (Mink Stole), tries to escape the chaos by fleeing out the back door.
Two Reporters, hungry for juicy photos chase her, then pin her arms behind her back while colleagues get their close-ups. It’s an unflattering portrait of the media, which would be quite out-of-character for Waters today. Hopefully Craig Ferguson will miss these shots.
George Stover, who played one of the reporters (seen on left above; the other was Steve Yeager, filmmaker of the Waters bio-doc Divine Trash), was devastated that the scene was ultimately cut. It was a good follow-up to his part as Bosley Gravel in Desperate Living. John told him that New Line made him cut the scene because it was “too noisy and the sound was bad.” According to Charles Roggero, the editor of Polyester, as well as Female Trouble and Desperate Living, John cut the scene only because he had to reduce the film’s run time to the magical 90 minute limit, and losing this funny scene would not hurt the storyline.
Both are good possibilities. John’s crowd and fight scenes usually verged on dangerous chaos. Most of the actors were untrained, and the line between reality and acting disintegrated quickly. They were mostly one-take, so we could move on and calm things down before someone was hurt.
In this scene, which featured our big star, we did not want to risk an injury. In Hairspray‘s media riot scene (Tilted Acres– cut in the Broadway Show and Travolta movie re-make– because of the negative press portrayal?) an actor was taken to the hospital when a an over-zealous reporter smashed a camera into his face. So John’s instincts about riot scenes, though he loves them dearly, proved to be accurate.
Read about Robert Maier’s fifteen years working with John Waters in the new book “Low Budget Hell: Making Underground Movies with John Waters.” Available from Amazon.com and booksellers around the world.