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Producing Female Trouble

Producing <em>Female Trouble</em>

A t Criterion, we love collaborating with filmmakers on our editions, and sometimes in the process we’re lucky enough to uncover rare material that audiences have never seen before. A particularly thrilling recent collaboration was with the Pope of Trash himself, John Waters, who has been releasing movies with us since the laserdisc era. For our new edition of Female Trouble, his gloriously grotesque 1974 spin on the Hollywood melodrama, the director worked closely with Criterion producer Susan Arosteguy and gave her access to behind-the-scenes footage and outtakes that had been lying for years in his attic, which was put to good use in the supplemental features on the release. With New York’s IFC Center hosting a weeklong run of our new 4K restoration of Female Trouble, which premiered at the Provincetown International Film Festival earlier this summer, we chatted with Arosteguy about the process of reviving this cult classic.  —Hillary Weston

We first started working with John Waters in the nineties. How did that come about, and what was the experience like?

Criterion first collaborated with him on two laserdiscs: Polyester, in 1993, and Pink Flamingos, in 1997. At that time we licensed those films from New Line Cinema and John did the commentaries. And on Polyester, we went back and found the original company in Mexico that manufactured the Odoroma cards that were given to audiences during the film’s theatrical run, and they still had the original recipes for the smells. One of the first things I did—even before I started at Criterion, when I was just visiting a friend who worked here one summer—was put stickers on all of the cards. And they all basically smelled like gasoline, which made it even more hilarious.

But it was years and years before we would get to work on another film of his. He approached us to do the theatrical release of Multiple Maniacs with Janus Films in 2016, and that’s when we started collaborating with him again, probably even more closely than we did on the laserdiscs, since we do so many more original supplements now. The film was in bad condition because it had been in John’s attic in Baltimore for a very long time. So the restoration itself was very intense. But John was excited to see it restored and cleaned up. He likes to say that it now looks like “a bad John Cassavetes film.”

What condition was Female Trouble in?

Female Trouble was a little bit different, because we licensed the film from Warner Bros., so it actually had been vaulted and cared for and was in pretty good condition. But we still did our normal dirt and scratch removal and restoration, using the original 16 mm camera negative. John encouraged us to “do what you guys do, take out the scratches, take out the dirt . . .” He came in and supervised the color correction with our restoration supervisor, Lee Kline, which was probably one of the most entertaining sessions for Lee. One of the stories John told him was that Edith Massey, who plays Aunt Ida in the film, had always complained about her iconic strappy patent-leather dress while they were shooting, but years later she made one for her punk-rock singing act!

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