Polyester is a 1981 comedy film directed, produced, and written by John Waters, and starring Divine, Tab Hunter, Edith Massey, and Mink Stole. It was filmed in Waters’ native Baltimore, Maryland, and features a gimmick called “Odorama”, whereby viewers could smell what they saw on screen through scratch and sniff cards.
The film is a satirical look at suburban life involving divorce, abortion, adultery, alcoholism, foot fetishism, and the Religious Right.
John Waters’ usual troupe of actors, the Dreamlanders, played minor roles in Polyester compared to Waters’ previous films Desperate Living, Female Trouble, and Pink Flamingos, which starred several Dreamlanders in major roles. Only two Dreamlanders, Divine and Edith Massey, received top billing in this film. Dreamlander perennials Mink Stole, Mary Vivian Pearce, Cookie Mueller, Sharon Niesp, Marina Melin, Susan Lowe, and Jean Hill played small roles in Polyester. While their parts are integral to the plot, they are much smaller compared to their earlier roles.
Polyester was the first Waters film to skirt the mainstream, even garnering an R rating (his previous films were all unrated or rated X). The film was set in a middle-class suburb of Baltimore instead of its slums and bohemian neighborhoods (the setting of Waters’ earlier films).
Polyester was a send-up of “women’s pictures”, an exploitative genre of film that was popular from the 1950 – 60s and typically featured bored, unfulfilled, or otherwise troubled women, usually middle-aged suburban housewives, finding release or escape through the arrival of a handsome younger man. “Women’s pictures” were typically hackneyed B-movies, but Waters specifically styled Polyester after the work of the director Douglas Sirk, making use of similar lighting and editing techniques, even using film equipment and movie-making techniques from Sirk’s era.
Odors, especially Francine’s particularly keen sense of smell, play an important role in the film. To highlight this, Waters designed Odorama, a “scratch-and-sniff” gimmick inspired by the work of William Castle and the 1960 film Scent of Mystery, which featured a device called Smell-O-Vision. Special cards with spots numbered 1 through 10 were distributed to audience members before the show, in the manner of 3D glasses. When a number flashed on the screen, viewers were to scratch and sniff the appropriate spot. Smells included the scent of flowers, pizza, glue, gas, grass, and feces. For the first DVD release of the film the smell of glue was changed due to, as Waters states, “political correctness”. The gimmick was advertised with the tag “It’ll blow your nose!”
After being prompted to scratch and sniff the bouquet of flowers, a quick swap was made substituting old ratty sneakers, resulting in a joke on the audience.
The ten smells were, 1. Roses, 2. Flatulence, 3. Model Airplane Glue, 4. Pizza, 5. Gasoline, 6. Skunk, 7. Natural Gas, 8. New Car Smell, 9. Dirty Shoes, and 10. Air Freshener.
A video release omits the numbers flashing onscreen as well as the opening introduction explaining Odorama. This version, created by Lorimar-Telepictures, was shown on cable TV in the United States.
In 1999 the Independent Film Channel released reproduction Odorama cards for John Waters film festivals.
In the commentary track on the film’s 2004 DVD release, Waters expressed his delight at having the film’s audiences actually “pay to smell shit”.
Language(s):English + English Commentary
Subtitles:English vob sub and srt