On Cry Baby by Roger Waters, 1990
Content and Context
The 85-minute-long 1990 film Cry Baby by Roger Waters is a parody on the musical film and an exaggerated love story between two teenagers from opposing groups: the “Squares” and the rebellious “Drapes”. Johnny Depp plays the leading role, other actors include Amy Locane, Iggy Pop, Traci Lords and Patty Hearst. A box office failure during its initial release, the film has subsequently become a cult classic.
Crying is a common thread throughout the film and marks different emotional states of its main characters. Moreover, crying and tears take on a symbolic meaning during the film and refer to memories and experiences of the film characters.
Focus 1 – Tears in the Musical Film
The genre of the musical film emerged in the early 1920s in Hollywood, USA. In a musical film, dance and song interrupt the film plot and address dreams, visions of the future, comment on what is happening in the film, or bring up the non-obvious. Mostly they reflected the ideals of the “American way of life” with stereotypical gender portrayals and the ideal-typical everyday life of the American middle class. In the 1970s, this changed and the claim to come closer to reality became palpable.
For the film musical, new recording techniques were invented at the beginning of the 1930s, which were intended to free the viewer from the perspective of the theater spectator: in the so-called “overhead shots,” hundreds of dancers formed human ornaments for the singers.
Focus 2 – Tears as Film Material
In a film production, the teary eyes of a performer are produced with different means. There are the natural tears the actor creates by concentrating and getting into the role, but there are also special compounds that are applied to the eye and create artificial tears.
Tear stick – is a substance which is applied to the eye lower limbs. Due to the menthol content, the eyes start tearing within a very short time.
Tear blower – is a preparation that also contains menthol, but is dusted directly into the eyes.
Eye drops – are sterile eye drops that are put into the eye and then flow out again. However, the effect lasts only a few seconds.
Vaseline product – is a petroleum jelly based product that works like a mask and allows for a “standing” tear.
Focus 3 – Tears as a Tattoo in Prison
Originally, the “stick and poke” style tear tattoo was applied below the eye to represent the shedding of a tear. The tear tattoo is a symbol that has negative connotations, as it is most often associated with gangs and criminal activity. For example, it can denote a stay in a prison, it can denote that the the owner of the tear tattoo killed someone, it can denote that a good friend of him/her was murdered, or it can denote that the owner of the tear tattoo was forced to get the tattoo in prison. Multiple tears tattooed under the eye can represent multiple people the owner of the tear tattoo killed or the number of years spent in prison. Sometimes each tear represents one person murdered or one year in prison, in other cases each tear may represent 10 or 20 people or years. Since there is not necessarily remorse for these crimes, the tear becomes an ironic symbol, as a tear usually expresses sadness. It is a common misconception that the owner of a tear tattoo is sad about something, since in fact he/she is very proud of what the tears represent.
Bruun Vaage, Margrethe: Empathie. Zur episodischen Struktur der Teilhabe am Spielfilm. In: Mon-tage/AV, 16/2007/1, S. 101-120.
Altman, Rick (1981): Genre: The Musical. London/Boston: Routledge&Kegan Paul.