Lauren Looks Back: "Cry-Baby" – a Loving Tribute to Those 1950s Juvenile Delinquents
John Waters, the God of filth, has made some of the more memorable movies to come out of the world of cinema. From the smash hit Hairspray, to the cult classic Female Trouble, he's straddled the delicate line between camp and filth, making each one of his films an absolute delight. In the case of 1990's big-budget (for a Waters film) Cry-Baby, Waters has come into his own. This loving tribute to those corny 1950's teen movies is about Wade "Cry-Baby" Walker (Johnny Depp)– a "drape" (rebel) with a minor cause, and Allison Vernon-Williams (Amy Locane), a square who's looking to branch out. Their unique Romeo and Juliet type love soon blossoms, but with it comes your normal teenage problems and shenanigans.
What I personally love about the majority of John Waters films is his dedication and deep love of Baltimore. His movies take place here — showing this normally looked down on the city in a positive light. Baltimore in herself is always a character in these films, and in this case, we get a glimpse of Baltimore County — and even Ellicott City in Howard County. We see Baltimore in beautiful bursts of green — indicating this movie takes place during the warmer weather. The neighborhoods we see are meticulous split level homes, with cut grass and brightly colored homes. Waters was deliberate with which neighborhoods he filmed in. They are en extension of his characters, and this is especially clear with Cry-Baby. For this film Waters filmed primarily around Baltimore County, including Franklin Middle School (for the high school scenes) and Milford Mill Swim Club for the location of Turkey Point. Both are within a 20-minute drive of each other, showing how much care Waters took in picking locations. Milford Mill Swim Club was also in Barry Levinson's Liberty Heights. My parents frequented this spot as kids; "Oh god, it was so ratty. Back in the '50s and '60s, I went with my parents. It was a quarry. There were tadpoles swimming with you. We didn't care in those days!" – Mark Sisselman. This is absolutely a place where teenagers and kids hung out, and where camera club guys could try to get photos of pretty women.
My favorite location in Cry-Baby is The Enchanted Forest. The Enchanted Forest opened on August 15, 1955, and was a popular spot for Maryland tourists. Now, Waters only used the front gate of the park in his film — the rest was filmed inside of Hershey Park. Of course, knowing when The Enchanted Forest opened — and the fact that these kids are clearly in school — would suggest that school started suspiciously early in Baltimore County. So naturally, I asked my dad — who was in elementary school at this time — and he confirmed that he always went to school after Labor Day. During the movie, it's suggested that everyone is heading to this new theme park (The Enchanted Forest) for its opening day. This isn't really a big deal in the grand scheme of the movie, but I genuinely feel sorry for kids that have to go back to school in the middle of August.
He even hires Baltimore locals for this movie — something he does for every film. My boss from one of my former jobs is in the film.
Waters took a lot of inspiration from his own upbringing in the film. Drawing from newspapers from his childhood that warned Baltimore of juvenile delinquents — or drapes — and his own neighbor who was a drape, Waters set out to make his own tongue in cheek teen exploitation film. Yet unlike the teen exploitation films of that era, Waters shows the drapes as the misunderstood good guys, while the squares are the bad guys who start the problems in the first place. The drapes represent creativity, freedom, and sexual liberation, while the squares want conformity and the safety net of their white picket fences. The class wars between the two are subtle, but they were absolutely a thing happening in 1950's Baltimore — a common thing we see in many of the films by John Waters. Waters has always been a champion of the beaten and the damned and celebrates the weirdos of the world with sincerity and love. Cry-Baby embraces their "bad guys" with nothing but love and support.
If you haven't seen Cry-Baby yet, I strongly urge you to do so. This is a great film with a lot of heart. You won't be disappointed.
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