From the sublime to the ridiculous, films laden with camp and irony - sometimes intentionally, occasionally purely by accident. Some of these are established classics of this dubious genre, others are my own personal choices...


For John Waters' first mainstream film (which starts with an aerial camera shot that probably cost more than the whole of "Pink Flamingos"!), he moves on from the gross-out spectacles of his earlier films to present a send-up of suburban soapville. Divine is downtrodden housewife Francine, whose husband (owner of a porn cinema) runs off with his white trash secretary, and whose two children have become juvenile delinquents. Then, Francine's luck changes when she has an affair with the mysterious Tod Tomorrow (hammed up by one-time teen idol Tab Hunter)...or does it? Mark my words, it'll all end in tears...


The first and best of the Doris Day-Rock Hudson romantic comedies. Doris plays Jan Morrow, an independant single woman and interior designer who shares a telephone 'party line' with Rock Hudson's philandering playboy, Brad Allen; and they develop an intense mutual dislike when their calls keep clashing. The film sees Rock courting Doris by pretending to be a downhome, gentle Southener after a turn of events find them in the same club, with Doris unaware that she is being dated by the man she loathes - and what happens when she discovers his true identity! There is much fun to be had for the knowing modern viewer, with many scenes alluding to Hudson's offscreen sexuality; notably in a scene where Hudson's cowboy hick pretends to be gay ("Sure is tasty...can I have the recipe?") - in other words, a gay man playing a straight man pretending to be gay! And finally, his apartment is total bachelor pad heaven, until - as an act of revenge - Doris turns it into a kitsch dungeon teeming with exotic knicknacks and hideous objets d'art!

ATHENA (1954)

This forgotten MGM musical shows is a camp curio from the time when the old studios tried to appeal to the teen market. "Athena" is about sisters Jane Powell and Debbie Reynolds and their unconventional family - a bunch of prototype new agers who exercise, eat health food, follow astrology and "don't believe in telephones", and have a tendency to break into song at the drop of a chickpea. There's fun to be had in the unusual novelty of the use of health fads and green themes as the film's gimmick before they were remotely trendy; Mr. Universe Steve Reeves drops in (guaranteeing camp status - remember the line in "Sweet Transvestite" from "Rocky Horror"?) and the musical numbers seem to define perky wholesomeness in a way that only films made before the rock'n'roll revolution are able to!


"Johnny Guitar" is a groundbreaking re-imagining of the Western formula that turns all the stereotypes on its head. Here, the girls carry guns and the outlaws wear colourful shirts. Mercedes McCambridge is a puritanical bitch from hell trying to stop Joan Crawford, an enterprising saloon owner who has the gambling scene sewn up, from becoming more powerful. Crawford's old flame 'Johnny Guitar' - who traded his gun for a guitar - returns to the town, but (in spite of the title) the film's all about Crawford and McCambridge's bitter rivalry, with McCambridge suggesting more than a little repressed sexual desire for Crawford and the power she represents.


FLASH! A-AH! Saviour of the universe! This update of the "Flash Gordon" B movies of the 1930s goes one better than the originals in the camp stakes by throwing everything a medium sized British budget can afford - Brian Blessed chewing the scenery ("Who wants to live forever?" - sounds like a good idea for a song!), Max Von Sydow relishing the chance to get away from guilt-ridden medieval soldiers and priests wrestling with their faith as Ming the Merciless, and an air-guitar-tastic soundtrack by Queen. It's hard to know where the parody ends, especially during "Blue" Peter Duncan's death scene; not to mention trying to figure who the director wants us to drool over more - blond bimbo Sam Jones or saucy vamp Ornella Muti! Keep your eyes peeled from Harold of "Ever Decreasing Circles" fame as a scary surgeon...


In one of the great films she made with Eric von Stroheim, Marlene Dietrich plays a drudgy housewife and mother - yes, I know, hard to imagine! - who becomes a burlesque performer to pay for her husband's life-or-death operation. While she is working at the club she falls in love with a playboy (a very young Cary Grant) who gives her the rest of the money, and they have an affair together. When her husband comes home early, cured of his disease and unaware of the mystery benefactor, he rumbles her affair, and Marlene and her son (child actor Dickie Moore) go on the run and slum it in flophouses. As is often the case in these early movies, before the puritan censors cracked down and insisted on moral endings with bad girls duly punished, Dietrich doesn't return to her old life, but becomes a stage success in Paris as 'Helen Adams'. This is the film that features Marlene performing the number "Hot Voodoo", dressed in a gorilla suit - which seals its first-class camp credentials.


Bette Davis and Paul Heinreid are cinema's ultimate star-crossed lovers in this, the definitive black and white melodrama. As Charlotte Vale, Bette is a repressed, mousy Bostonian spinster who dresses like her mother and has just had an 'episode'. A sympathetic doctor encourages her to come out of her shell, and she metamorphosises - ugly duckling-style - on a transatlantic cruise, where she falls in love with a man. The catch? He's married. Will the soulmates be reunited? I'm not telling, but suffice to say the film features one of the most bittersweet endings in Hollywood, but not before you cheer as Charlotte's mean manipulative mother kicks the bucket. Other legendary scenes including Heinreid super-cool placing two cigarettes in his mouth, lighting them both, and handing one to Davis, and the closing line ("Let's not wish for the moon - we still have the stars"). Max Steiner's lush soundtrack - in full Viennese romantic mode - is the icing on the cake.

PINK NARCISSUS (1965-1971)

Underground gay art film written, directed and photographed by 'Anonymous', "Pink Narcissus" is a strange and surreal film about a self-absorbed boy's attempt to escape from the everyday reality of fellow hustlers and johns on the street by retreating into fantasies. He imagines himself as a bullfighter, a faun, a Roman slave boy and other camp scenarios before the illusion-shattering closing scene, which is pretty amazing the first time you see it.
Sets drip with exotic bric a brac, and the overall effect is a bit like falling headfirst into a decadent masquerade ball. Interesting watching it to see how much of its style has been plundered for mainstream films such as "Moulin Rouge" and "Velvet Goldmine", and by photographers such as 'Pierre et Gilles' and David La Chapelle.