It's 'Serial' with toast as British critics hail Waters, torch D.C. ballet troupe

June 11, 1994|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,London Bureau of The Sun

LONDON -- Baltimore-Washington cultural life came under critical scrutiny here this week as John Waters' "Serial Mom" opened at a half-dozen movie theaters and the Washington Ballet played Sadler's Wells.

Mr. Waters got generally good reviews for continuing his celebration of wayward Baltimoreans as the slightly weary "Pope of Trash."

The Washington Ballet was just trashed.

The Big Issue, the journal of London's homeless street people, gave "Serial Mom" four stars, which no doubt means it's a whole lot better than sleeping rough in a doorway on The Strand.

Xan Brooks, Big Issue's reviewer, said "Serial Mom" was Mr. Waters' "best yet -- a shrewd send-up of serial killing and back to basics values, the twin obsessions of Western culture."

Big Issue ran its review with an interview and profile of Mr. Waters, whom, it said, "has clearly drawn on his own experience as a young boy at a Catholic school in Lutherville (yes, really), Baltimore."

Christopher Tookey, the film critic for the Daily Mail, said, "In these cinematic dog days, ["Serial Mom"] comes as a welcome breath of pestilential air."

Mr. Tookey called the movie Mr. Waters' "best and funniest film to date."

A couple of the critics allowed as how Mr. Waters has lost a step as he heads for middle age.

"Ever since Baltimore's prince of bad taste moved closer to the mainstream with 'Hairspray,' the gusto and low budget cheek has gradually drained from his films," said the critic for The PTC Times, Geoff Brown.

"But he still gives us plenty of chuckles," Mr. Brown wrote. "And this satire on suburbia and the media circus surrounding mass murderers is vastly preferable to the crass stupidity of the last 'Naked Gun.' "

Even The Big Issue longed for the good old days of "the late, great drag artist Divine" and a "now legendary" scene in "Pink Flamingos."

But Mr. Tookey, of the Daily Mail, said that as Mr. Waters has grown older, "his barbs have taken on a new underlying seriousness."

"Once a byword for decadence," the Mail man said, "there are moments now when he satirizes, better than any other filmmaker, the decadence of America."

All of which sounds as if London critics take Mr. Waters a whole lot more seriously than they do under the dryers at Le Triolet on Eastern Avenue. But then again, "Serial Mom" was screened as the grand finale at the Cannes Film Festival, which no doubt means something.

Adam Mars-Jones of The Independent noted a certain compromising of Mr. Waters' right to proclaim himself a cinematic chronicler of his home city, Baltimore.

" 'Serial Mom' turns it into Anytown, USA, a place with no distinguishing characteristics," said the Independent critic.

That's about what the dance critics said of the Washington Ballet: no distinguishing characteristics. Their reviews were a kind of serial murder.

"A capitol embarrassment," said the succinct headline over The Guardian's review. "Washington Ballet? In London? Why? Could it have anything to do with their high profile patron, one Hillary Clinton."

"Few ballet companies have come into Sadler's Wells with less advance publicity," wrote Mary Clarke, "and few, if truth be told, deserved less."

Ms. Clarke's review was one of the more kind.

On the pink pages of the Financial Times, Clement Crisp wrote: "What I saw at its London debut on Tuesday night was a small ensemble, whose women have a decent academic style, trapped in ballets which leave no cliche unexplored and are an invitation to immediate flight from the theater."

No one liked the male dancers. Mr. Crisp described one work: "Six girls -- and drift. Three men are in attendance, lifting and being earnest, like well-mannered furniture movers. It lasts forever."

All in all, it was capital punishment.

In The Times, John Percival administered the coup de grace: "As their opening programme wore drearily on, I could sense people around me at Sadler's Wells growing steadily gloomier . . . a miserable evening all together."

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