Censorship of Pink Flamingos (1972)

All R-rated prints of John Waters’ PINK FLAMINGOS were censored.

However, it was briefly released uncut on video in the mid-1980s with an X-rating.

Pink Flamingos

aka John Waters’ Pink Flamingos

Directed by John Waters / 1972 / USA / IMDb

In February 1976, a 2688.00-meter (97:59) print of PINK FLAMINGOS was Refused Registration because of ‘indecency’.

A 2575.25-meter (93:52) ‘reconstructed version’ lost a further 8.70-meter (00:19) before being awarded an R-rating in June 1976. This brought the cuts to a total of 04:26.

In both cases, Windsor Theatres was the applicant.

Pink Flamingos (1972) - Australian admat 1
Admat – Apr. 1977

Like all smart distributors, they played up the controversy and avoided mentioning the cuts.

April 1977
ORIGINALLY BANNED! The notorious American Underground Classic PINK FLAMINGOS has now been passed by the Australian Censorship Board for RESTRICTED EXHIBITION.

These highly exploitable movies have broken all records in Adelaide, currently in release in Melbourne.

– Windsor Theatres admat
Pink Flamingos (1972) - Australian admat 2
Admat – Mar. 1978 – Sydney

Windsor Theatres also received R-ratings for MONDO TRASHO (1969), MULTIPLE MANIACS (1970), FEMALE TROUBLE (1974) and DESPERATE LIVING (1977).

Pink Flamingos (1972) - Australian admat 3
Admat – Apr. 1978

This censored print screened at repertory cinemas into the 1980s.

Pink Flamingos (1972) - Australian admat 4
Admat – Oct. 1980 – Canberra

Banned import videos

In September 1981, Video Classics had a 95-minute tape banned. Based on their previous submissions, this was likely an import of the American Wizard Video release.

June 1983 saw the refusal of an 88-minute ‘reduced version’. This was presumably the British pre-cert from Palace Video. Far from being censored, the difference in running time (95 vs. 88) was likely due to NTSC vs. PAL speeds. The applicant, Leedin Records, was located in Footscray in Melbourne.

The final video ran 93-minutes and was banned in July 1983. Howard Smith Industries presumably submitted this, and several other tapes, for viewing on their ships.

Despite the different running times, all three were Refused Registration due to sex and violence that was found to be:
Frequency: Infrequent
Explicitness/Intensity: High
Purpose: Gratuitous

They were also banned for ‘coprophagy’. This latter reason refers to the climactic scene where Divine eats dog faeces.

Violence & the X-rating

In September 1983, a 1042.15-meter (94:58) 16mm print was banned for the same reasons as the three videos.

June 1984 saw this same, 16mm print receive the newly introduced X-rating. It was awarded for sex, which was said to be:
Frequency: Infrequent
Explicitness/Intensity: High
Purpose: Gratuitous

In both cases, the applicant was Newvision Film Distributors.

For a period after its introduction, the X-rating was not just for hardcore adult titles. Uncut versions of violent films such as JUNGLE WARRIORS (1984) and ROSEMARY’S KILLER (1981) received, but were never released with, the new classification.

The guidelines were amended and the X soon became for sex films only. See the ‘X rating after resubmission’ entries in the Film Censorship Timeline for a list of other no longer suitable titles.

In early 1984, Blake Films, AZ Film Distributors and Roadshow joined forces to launch Palace Home Video. They also distributed Newvision’s PINK FLAMINGOS, FEMALE TROUBLE (1974) and DESPERATE LIVING (1977). These three John Waters titles were packaged together under the Divine Video banner.

Pink Flamingos (1972) - VHS videotape 1
VHS – Divine Video

The rear cover of each carried advertisements for the other two titles. The X-rated PINK FLAMINGOS tape ran 88:15 (PAL) and was not mentioned by name on the R-rated FEMALE TROUBLE (1974) and DESPERATE LIVING (1977).

Female Trouble (1974) - VHS videotape 1
VHS – Divine Video

Instead, it was teased as ‘Ask for the other Divine title that we can’t show you on this box!’.

Desperate Living (1977) - VHS videotape 1
VHS – Divine Video

All had a ‘Due to censorship restrictions some titles are not available in all states’ warning on the rear of the cover.

X-rated clampdown

The States legislated against the X-rating until it was eventually only available via mail order from the ACT or NT. This led to police raids and the submission of hundreds of titles to the Film Censorship Board.

In May 1986, the Victoria Police received an X-rating for an 88-minute tape of PINK FLAMINGOS. It was awarded for sex, which was said to be:
Frequency: Infrequent
Explicitness/Intensity: High
Purpose: Gratuitous

This reconfirmed the June 1984 decision and was presumably a copy of the Palace Home Video release.

Banned by the OFLC

In April 1997, PINK FLAMINGOS was rereleased in America in a 25th Anniversary Edition. The increased running time was due to the addition of deleted scenes introduced by John Waters.

It was picked up for release in Australia by Roadshow but was refused in October by the OFLC. In this case, an X-rating was no longer available due to the tightening of the guidelines in the intervening eleven years.

October 13, 1997
The managing director of Roadshow Film Distributors, Mr Ian Sands, confirmed that the midnight-movie special had been rejected. Ahead of a full censors’ report due today, Mr Sands could not say which scenes of blatant, graphic, enthusiastic tastelessness would have to go. But he expects that “we won’t have to do much to get it through”.

Ms Andree Wright, deputy director of the OFLC, explained that “when it comes to sexual matters, the current R guidelines say: `Sexual activity may be realistically simulated.’ The general rule is simulation, yes; the real thing, no. “

Well, in the case of this film, there is a scene where it is undoubtedly the real thing.

“Depictions along those lines are usually accommodated in the X category.”

– Not To Everyone’s Taste, Film Still Turns Heads Red

The 107-minute print was censored to 105-minutes and awarded an R (Adult themes, Sexual references) on October 27.

October 2, 1998
The 25th anniversary version of the 1974 [1972] low budget trash classic, JOHN WATERS’ PINK FLAMINGOS was classified RC by the Board who noted it to be

“a deliberately provocative and confronting film which sets out to challenge society’s conventions on good taste an appropriate behaviour.”

The Board also commented that:

“the treatment however is highly theatrical with the low budget approach to production, acting and narrative and the use of caricature, coupled with a cheerful musical soundtrack, resulting in a offbeat black comedy which is likely to elicit different levels of appreciation in different viewers. While the Board recognises that some 23 years on, the film has a dated feel and may not be as shocking to audiences as when it was first released, the Board nonetheless is unanimously of the view that some of the content does still offend against standards generally accepted by reasonable adults to the extent that it should be classified RC”

The Board unanimously noted a scene which included “close up real depictions of actual fellatio…which unambiguously contravene R classification guidelines.” Some Board members also considered the “incestuous nature the encounter to be offensive” while others were of the view that the presentation of the “mother-son’ relationship is so patently ridiculous that his aspect cannot be taken seriously.” In addition some of the Board considered two scenes containing depictions of sexual violence- one with “overtones of voyeurism” and the second “presented within a theme of kidnapping and forced insemination”, to be “conceptually abhorrent and sufficiently detailed and exploitative to warrant RC.” Some members further thought that one of these scenes dealt “cruelly with an animal in a gratuitous, exploitative and offensive manner”, which in itself warranted ‘RC’.

A revised version of the film was unanimously classified R with consumer advice “Adult themes, sexual references”, with the Board commenting that “the adult themes can be accommodated at the R level in a film of merit”, and that the sexual references “require an adult perspective”. In the Board’s view the film can be accommodated at the R level as it does not offend against standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults to the extent that the film should be classified ‘RC.’

– Classification Review Board
– Annual Report, 1997 to 1998

It is possible to speculate what was cut by breaking down the report.

The ‘actual fellatio’ refers to Divine going down on Crackers (Danny Mills). Presumably, this would now be okay. In 2000, the ROMANCE (1999) decision set a precedent that allowed some depictions of ‘actual sex’ in the R-rating.

The ‘incestuous nature’ of the scene refers to Divine being the mother of Crackers.

The sexual violence featuring ‘kidnapping and forced insemination’ refers to Channing (Channing Wilroy) masturbating and then artificially inseminating a prisoner.

The sexual violence with ‘overtones of voyeurism’ refers to Cookie (Cookie Mueller) being raped by Crackers while Cotton (Mary Vivian Pearce) looks through the window. This scene also features animal cruelty as Crackers thrusts a live chicken between himself and Cookie.

Presumably, Divine’s dog shit eating was now okay as it goes unmentioned. This was cited as one of the reasons for the refusals in 1981 and 1983.

Unofficial VHS

Roadshow failed to issue the 25th Anniversary Edition on video. In the early 2000s, the gap was filled by a VHS on a ‘no name’ label. This release was unofficial, so was obviously not submitted for classification. The R18+ (High level violence, High level sex scenes, Strong coarse language) on the cover is therefore fake.

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VHS – No Name label

Mitch reports.
The actual runtime of the movie (excluding copyright warnings and the extras at the end) is 93-minutes. The runtime of the film itself and the extras (deleted scenes introduced by John Waters plus the original trailer) is 108 minutes.

Banned VHS for sale

On 4 November 2002, Tony Pitman from Freedom International held an anti-censorship protest outside the Surry Hills offices of the OFLC.

With a sign around his neck that read, ‘Buy your BANNED VIDEOS here!’ he offered for sale seven VHS tapes. These were PINK FLAMINGOS, BAISE-MOI (2000), HUSTLER WHITE (1996), I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (1978), SALÒ, OR THE 120 DAYS OF SODOM (1975) and two X-rated titles.

November 2002
…people from several radio stations turned up; they took turns interviewing Tony before the actual sale commenced.

Then he opened his tray of videos for sale and started handing out flyers to the few passers by. These included workers coming in and out of the building, among whom there must have been a fair few OFLC employees, but none of them said anything.

…all [videos were] Refused Classification and hence banned in Australia – and two X-rated videos – illegal to sell or screen except in the Australian Capital Territory (but sold openly in adult shops across Sydney). All of them found buyers…

In the absence of television cameras, Tony opted out of calling the police and being arrested. Given he was facing a potential fine of $7000, that seemed sensible to me.

This was obviously not a major event, but there should be a few stories on radio about it, which will help to raise awareness of the issue.

– Australian Film Censorship Protest
article @ danny.oz.au

Australian TV screening

In 2014, PINK FLAMINGOS premiered on the World Movies pay-TV channel.

March 17, 2014
Due to popular demand, World Movies is bringing you another week of unforgettable films that changed the film industry forever. More Films That Shocked The World starts tonight at 9.30 pm and is set to push the boundaries of controversial cinema further than ever before.

From an outrageously twisted cult-classic to a violent look at a real-life serial killer, these are the films that have shocked, outraged and been banned around the world.

Before the week kicks off, let’s take a look at why these films were so scandalous.

Monday 17 March 9.30pm
PINK FLAMINGOS (USA) – Australian Television Premiere

– The stories behind the scandalous ‘More Films That Shocked The World’
– World Movies

After promoting it on social media, they were questioned about what print would be shown.

March 14, 2014
Greg Murphy
Assume there will also be a couple of cuts to PINK FLAMINGOS as well. Great to see it is finally getting a TV release.

World Movies
Hi Greg Murphy We’re glad to hear you’re looking forward to PINK FLAMINGOS. Some very minor modifications have been made to the film to ensure it can achieve a R18+ rating, allowing it to be shown on Australian TV. WM

– facebook.com/theworldmovieschannel.au [dead link]

Several months later, it was programmed again as part of a ‘John Waters Presents’ season.

July 21, 2014
He has been described as the Pope of Trash, The Prince of Puke and The Duke of Dirt. Now, over one boundary-pushing week, acclaimed and denounced director John Waters presents his most hideous and hilarious films that will make you scream with delight and revulsion.

John Waters Presents: Films of Bad Taste is a week-long celebration of John Waters’ debauched movie career. This outrageous collection of his most memorable movies features introductions from Mr Waters himself (filmed in his Baltimore home), with personal insights and anecdotes from his long and insanely illustrious career.

Monday 11th August – Friday 15th August 9.30pm

– John Waters Presents: Films of Bad Taste
– worldmovies.com.au [dead link]

This time, World Movies said it would be uncensored.

A post on their Facebook page also claimed that the March screening had also, been complete. If this was the case, then it is unclear why they had said there would be ‘minor modifications’.

August 3, 2014
Alex Dermer
I wonder if PINK FLAMINGOS will play uncut?

Paul Bradbury
PINK FLAMINGOS played uncut last time it was on.

August 4, 2014
World Movies
Alex Dermer and Paul Bradbury- yes, PINK FLAMINGOS will play uncut. WM

– facebook.com/theworldmovieschannel.au [dead link]

PINK FLAMINGOS went on to screen on August 13 and 16.

50th Anniversary in Australia

In August 2022, PINK FLAMINGOS played at Sydney’s Ritz Cinema as part of their ’85 films in 85 days’ series. A running time of 93-minutes was listed.

It was followed in November by a confirmed uncut screening at the 32nd Melbourne Queer Film Festival.

Pink Flamingos (1972) - Advertisement 1
Program – MQFF (2022)

Their program, with Divine centre stage on the cover, included ‘Sexually explicit material and animal cruelty’ content advice.