The Watcher - The triumph of trash

Sordid take on Texas; getting Real in Paris

Trash is everywhere. I don't mean litter. I'm talking a wholesale celebration of the lowbrow in pop culture. The musical Hairspray, inspired by a trashy 1988 John Waters film, just swept the Tony Awards. Jerry Springer: The Opera is the toast of London. And God forbid we mention Anna Nicole.

The term "trash," however, needn't always be pejorative. Consider the redneck hilarity of, say, O Brother Where Art Thou?, or the Euro-trash appeal of Hedwig and the Angry Inch? The best trash can both poke fun at the rough underclass but also say something universal in the process.

Such is the case with Sordid Lives, an under-appreciated indie flick from 2001 that only recently arrived on DVD. It was worth the wait.

The movie focuses on a big-haired Texas family and the aftermath of its matriarch's death. After Peggy dies tripping over her illicit lover's wooden legs in a seedy motel room, her daughters Latrelle (Bonnie Bedelia) and La Vonda (Ann Walker) war over her burial, while aunt Sissy (the hilarious Beth Grant) plays referee.

Delta Burke shows up as distraught neighbor Noleta, whose husband (Beau Bridges) is the prosthetic-legged adulterer. There's also a dreary gay son in L.A., an outspoken Tammy Wynette-worshipping drag queen and (oddly enough) Olivia Newton-John playing the honky-tonk Greek chorus.

The film's shoddy camera work and abysmal production values underscore its trailer-park essence, though writer/director Del Shores does need lessons on how to float a more consistent tone. The DVD's extras don't shed much new light on the film, which often shows its roots as a play. An alternate opening reveals the matriarch's ill-timed death, a sequence best left on the cutting room floor. A few other deleted scenes are included — don't miss Burke making her Lays potato chip casserole — but most disappoint.

Still Sordid Lives has all the ingredients of an instant cult hit. Its dead-on characterization of small-town personalities often hits a little too close to home for anyone who grew up in the South. No wonder viewing parties are popping up all over the place, with fans quoting lines in their best redneck accents. Can it be long before we start to see midnight theatrical screenings, complete with Texas flags and Tammy Wynette wigs?

There's trash, as in white trash, and then there's trash, as in sleaze. Last season's Las Vegas cast of "The Real World" took that show to its coarsest place yet, with its hot tub hook-ups and rampant two-timing. Never before had we seen a cast as slutty as the likes of Alton, Arissa and Trishelle (who my friend T.J. dubbed "Trashelle" after the first episode).

So far, "The Real World: Paris" seems set on the same track. In the first episode, it took the roommates nanoseconds to get nekkid in the Jacuzzi. Wine-drinking and ass-biting (yes, you read that right) ensued.

My nominee for this season's Trashelle is busty Christina, who works as a "waitress" in Vegas — because the term "stripper" just doesn't have the same ring. A close runner-up might be Ace, an ignoramus who hails from Statesboro, Ga., and who sported a horned helmet over his "little Viking" in the first episode.

Of course, there's a certain irony that this cast ended up in Paris, given the rash of anti-French sentiment the States have come to embrace. Leave it to Americans to spread our trash worldwide.


The Watcher is a weekly column on television, DVDs and other small-screen delights.