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John Waters

John Waters: Interviews

Edited by James Egan
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    John Waters
    Book Description:

    The films of John Waters (b. 1946) are some of the most powerful send-ups of conventional film forms and expectations since Luis Bu-uel and Salvador Dali'sUn Chien Andalou. In attempting to reinvigorate the experience of movie-going with his shock comedy, Waters has been willing to take the chance of offending nearly everyone. His characters have great dignity and resourcefulness, taking what's different or unacceptable or grotesque about themselves, heightening it and turning it into a handmade personal style. The interviews collected here span Waters's career from 1965 to 2010 and include a new one exclusive to this edition.

    Waters began making films in his hometown of Baltimore in 1964. Demonstrating an innate talent at capturing the hideous and crude and elevating it to art, he reached international acclaim with his outrageous shock comedyPink Flamingos. This landmark film redefined cinema and became a cult classic. Appearing in this and many of Waters's early films, his star Divine would consistently challenge gender definitions.

    WithPolyester, Waters entered the mainstream. The film starred Divine as an unhappy housewife who romances a former teen idol played by Tab Hunter. Waters's commercial breakthrough,Hairspray, told the story of Baltimore's televised sock-hop program,The Corny Collins Show, and how one brave girl (Ricki Lake) used her platform as a dancer to end segregation in her town.

    FromSerial MomandPeckertoCecil B. Demented, Waters continued to infiltrate the mainstream with his unique approach to filmmaking. As a visual artist, he was given a retrospective at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in 2004, which was shown at galleries around the world.

    eISBN: 978-1-61703-182-3
    Subjects: Film Studies, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xviii)

    I have known John Waters for over thirty-seven years now. I was twenty-four when we first met in Baltimore at a birthday party for Divine. My roommate at the time, Margaret, took me as her date. I had just finished college and was working at my family’s insurance agency. At the time, I was living downtown, which was basically abandoned at night as everyone fled at five o’clock for the safe suburbs (with good reason as Baltimore had been declared the murder capital of America). The party was held at Leadbetters, a hole-in-the-wall dive located in Fells Point, a small...

  4. Chronology
    (pp. xix-xxii)
  5. Filmography
    (pp. xxiii-2)
  6. Early John Waters and Hag in a Black Leather Jacket
    (pp. 3-4)
    The Baltimore Evening Sun and John Waters

    One of the students who marched in New York the other day to protest the war in Vietnam was John S. Waters, Jr., a nineteen-year-old Lutherville freshman at New York University who is better known in Bohemian circles here as the writer, producer, director, cameraman, and sound engineer of Baltimore’s first “underground” movie.

    “Underground” movies are arty, socially significant, Zen, startling, and avant-garde—almost beyond description in a bourgeois medium like journalism. Pioneer productions in the genre, shown in New York to semi-private audiences deemed ready for a great artistic leap forward, have featured scenes fixed on a man’s back...

  7. Artist in Dialogue
    (pp. 5-25)
    John G. Ives and John Waters

    John Ives: How did you feel when you first saw your own footage? Was it what you had envisioned?

    John Waters: No. I thought it was going to be black, no image on it. (Laughs.)

    Ives: So it was a relief . . .

    Waters: . . . that it turned out at all, that you could see anything. The scene inHag in a Black Leather Jacketwhere it’s double-exposed? That was accidental. I put the same roll of film back in. But people thought it was arty. (Laughs.) I don’t even know if you could do that today....

  8. Pink Flamingos & the Filthiest People Alive?
    (pp. 26-37)
    Danny Fields, Fran Lebowitz and John Waters

    Interview: Tell us the story of your life.

    Waters: I’m from Baltimore, but I only live there when I’m making films. I’ve lived in San Francisco a lot, and Provincetown. I just came here from New Orleans, I was in Las Vegas. I move around a lot, I live in my car, kind of. But I was raised in Baltimore, I went to school there.

    Interview: What school?

    Waters: A Catholic high school. Then I went to NYU, and I got expelled. I was taking Film at Washington Square. But I didn’t ever go to school, I just went to...

  9. The Late Show Presents the Divine World of John Waters
    (pp. 38-46)
    Bill George, Martin Falck and John Waters

    John Waters has been making films in the Baltimore area for the last decade. He has graduated from 8mm amateur films, embattling giant lobsters and pink flamingos for survival.Pink Flamingosis his most successful production to date and has become a cult classic. The film continues to play long engagements in most major U.S. cities, has been screened at the Cannes Film Festival and the Paris Cinematheque and is currently in release in Canada and Switzerland as well.New York Magazinecalled it “the nearest American film to Buñuel’sAndalusian Dog,” and theVillage Voicesaid it was “ten...

  10. “A Lot of People Were Upset That We Put the Baby in the Refrigerator . . .”: An Interview with John Waters
    (pp. 47-58)
    Louis Postel and John Waters

    In Provincetown, as in most small towns, everyone’s a star: a star for something. Hair, teeth, former lovers, athletic ability. We’re mythic, larger than life, like gods, which is terrifying and wonderful.

    John Waters is bigger than life and is now playing simultaneously in New York, Tokyo, Paris, and Mortville, Maryland. Once upon a time John worked at the Provincetown Bookshop across the street from the Crown and Anchor. A polyvinyl plaque is planned for that spot sometime in 1990.

    When I asked Waters how he got money to do his films in the beginning, he said he borrowed it...

  11. John Waters in Provincetown
    (pp. 59-70)
    Gerald Peary and John Waters

    We agreed on ground rules on the phone before I flew to interview him in Baltimore. No laborious discussions of his movies. He’d done that so many times before, and there’s already an excellent book, John Ives’John Waters(Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1992), in which his career is analyzed thoroughly via Q & A. Also, please, not another one of those tours of “John Waters’ Baltimore.” He’s exhausted hauling journalists around to show them his fair city’s fabulous underbelly. Anyway, what it means for the films was articulated long ago by Waters himself in the “Baltimore, Maryland—Hairdo Capitol of the...

  12. John Waters’ Divine Comedy
    (pp. 71-92)
    Scott MacDonald and John Waters

    A large part of me resists writing about John Waters; it seems a bit like paying attention to a demanding, bratty, suburban kid who’s already had as much attention as anyone ought to have. And in a period when the forces of repression seem to be closing in, Waters’ open defiance of humane canons of sensitivity and responsibility seems calculated to give Moral Majority types confidence in their attack on the arts as a pernicious influence. Still, I find Waters’ accomplishments as a filmmaker—especially in four features,Multiple Maniacs(1970),Pink Flamingos(1972),Female Trouble(1974), andDesperate Living...

  13. Still Waters
    (pp. 93-104)
    David Chute and John Waters

    In his leisure hours, writer-director John Waters is a noted aficionado of grisly criminal careers and court proceedings. As a rule, he acknowledges no peer in this pursuit, having once nearly proposed marriage, from the visitor’s gallery, to convicted Manson-family murderess Leslie Van Houten. There have, however, been occasional spasms of avocational jealousy—like the time he was one-upped by no less a colleague than Germany’s Werner Herzog. Over dinner with Waters in New York a few years ago, Herzog described his prison visit with a Berlin prisoner named Edward Kemper. This curious personage, an eight-footer in his socks, and...

  14. Waters: “. . . I’ve Always Tried to Sell Out”
    (pp. 105-111)
    Claude Thomas Brooks and John Waters

    Somewhere in the core of the city rises a tall apartment building surrounded by one of Baltimore’s more fashionable ghettos. Nestled on the seventh floor of this architectural dinosaur and accessible only by an elevator resembling a gold festooned broom closet is one of the most visually tantalizing and provocative domiciles this side of 221B Baker Street.

    Here in modest Victorian luxury dwells Maryland’s most controversial and perhaps most important filmmaker, John Waters.

    It’s an icy cold, gray, Baltimore winter’s day as I leave my car parked in a soot-covered snowdrift. Ringing up on the security phone at the main...

  15. Hairspray Gets a “Shocking” PG as Waters Looks Back to ’62
    (pp. 112-115)
    Kevin Lally and John Waters

    Last month, movie history of sorts was made when John Waters’ new film,Hairspray, was awarded a PG rating by the Motion Picture Association of America. “I was shocked!” gasps the writer-director of such impudent cult comedies asMondo Trasho, Multiple Maniacs, Female Trouble, Desperate Living, and the notorious midnight hit about “the filthiest people alive,”Pink Flamingos. A self-proclaimed connoisseur of “shock value,” Waters is a perversely pleased by the MPAA benediction, though. “It’s great to be able to shock in reverse,” he says, flashing a grin accented by his familiar, pencil-thin, Little Richard mustache.

    Still, Waters fans will...

  16. The Domestication of John Waters
    (pp. 116-124)
    Pat Aufderheide and John Waters

    John waters looks up from the couch in his book-lined living room to glance fondly at his latest Christmas gift—a collection of tree ornaments bearing portraits of the Manson family. Then he gets back to business.

    Business for now is in Waters’ native Baltimore but only for a few days. He’s between Los Angeles editing sessions on his latest film,Cry-Baby, scheduled for an April release. And besides being the proud father of a new movie, he’s also the proud owner of a new home.

    “Come on,” he says, uncrossing his lanky legs and bounding up the stairs of...

  17. He Really Can’t Help Himself
    (pp. 125-134)
    James Grant and John Waters

    John Waters, the eccentric and acerbic writer-director, stands in a claustrophobic little guest room upstairs in his sprawling Baltimore mansion, giving a tour and offering impromptu tips on being a sterling host.

    He looks on pointedly as a reporter picks up a book from the nightstand titled “How to Care for Your Gerbil.” “This gets them every time,” he snickers. “My guests start to get a little nervous once they get a look at this in their bedroom.”

    You were expecting cookies and milk from the man who has been dubbed Hollywood’s Rapscallion of Repulsion?

    Waters is back, basking in...

  18. John Waters—Pecker
    (pp. 135-138)
    Gerald Peary and John Waters

    GP: Help indie filmmakers. How did you pitch your new film,Pecker?

    JW: It’s an R-rated rags-to-riches comedy about a goofy, cute, eighteen-year-old blue-collar kid who works in a Baltimore sandwich shop, takes pictures of his loving but peculiar family with an old broken-down camera he found in his mother’s thrift shop, and he’s discovered by a New York art dealer and turned into an art star against his will.

    Also, I gave potential backers a ten-page treatment and an ad campaign.

    GP: And did you offer backers your dream casting?

    JW: I never do that, in case they hate...

  19. Demented at Heart
    (pp. 139-146)
    Jamie Painter Young and John Waters

    Whether you love or hate his films, John Waters is an undeniable original, a filmmaker who continually surprises, and sometimes shocks, his audiences.

    The Baltimore, Maryland, native has been finding ways to subvert our expectations of what an entertaining movie is ever since, withFemale Trouble, Desperate Living, Polyester, Hairspray, Cry-Baby, Serial Mom, Pecker, and nowCecil B. Demented, his comedic spoof of both Hollywood and independent filmmaking. The film stars Melanie Griffith as a cheesecake movie star kidnapped by the Sprocket Holes, a gang of terrorists on a crazed mission to reinvent cinema. The film also features Alicia Witt,...

  20. What Price Hollywood?
    (pp. 147-156)
    J. T. Leroy and John Waters

    Fame—its construction, deconstruction, and ultimate absurdity—has long inspired the films of John Waters. From his earliest, Baltimoreproduced no-budget classics likeDesperate LivingandPink Flamingos, which created their own brand of stars out of Baltimore’s most eccentric characters, to such later comedies asPeckerandSerial Mom, which mixed new and old Hollywood royalty, Waters has had an eye for the cultural contradictions involved in becoming famous. In his latest film,Cecil B. DeMented, Waters delves into the divide between high and low culture, portraying the picture’s eponymous film director as an instant celebrity when he embraces terrorism...

  21. A Dirty Shame
    (pp. 157-162)
    Jenny Stewart and John Waters

    Set in the seemingly innocent Harford Road area of John Waters’ beloved hometown, Baltimore,A Dirty Shametells the story of Sylvia Stickles (Tracey Ullman), a frigid middle-aged woman who is transformed into a raging sex addict after suffering a concussion on her way to work. Turns out she’s not alone: Harford Road is overflowing with other sex addicts who’ve suffered similar “carnal concussions,” and they plan on taking over the town—one sexual fetish at a time—under the lustful guidance of superstud Ray Ray (Johnny Knoxville), the gang’s Christlike leader. Witnessing all this sexual sickness firsthand from her...

  22. Interview with John Waters
    (pp. 163-174)
    Todd Solondz and John Waters

    JW: Here we are, joined in art, at last. (Laughs)

    TS: Yes. Yes. You know, about twenty, twenty-five years ago in SoHo, there was a side of a building, visible to commuters driving back to New Jersey, that was used as an advertising space. And one day it was painted over in shocking pink, and against it in black script was written: “I never knew Art could be so much fun!” It was dripping with irony, a kind of mean, satirical jab, perhaps, at the bridge-and-tunnel crowd, of which I was a member, who flocked in each weekend to visit...

  23. John Waters
    (pp. 175-187)
    Dennis Cooper and John Waters

    Under normal circumstances, introducing John Waters would be a pure formality. He is easily the world’s most famous icon of cultural outrage and transgression. As a filmmaker, he has created a body of work that is widely recognized as one of the great treasures of American movie history, and he has inspired a degree of reverence in his admirers that few if any other directors can claim. Early classics likeFemale TroubleandPink Flamingosremain among the most quoted and name-checked movies of all time. Midcareer films like the Broadway-anointedHairsprayand Waters’ comedy masterpieceSerial Momlaunched the...

  24. This Filthy World
    (pp. 188-191)
    Steve Appleford and John Waters

    America has somehow come around to the way John Waters sees things. The director with the razor-thin mustache still lives in Baltimore, where he began his underground career in the 1960s making wild farces of fun and filth. In those early films, there were scenes of naked men on pogo sticks, of his transvestite superstar Divine eating a dead policeman’s leg, and that notorious dogshit-eating coda at the end ofPink Flamingos—a moment Waters realizes will certainly be mentioned prominently in his obituary. He was just getting started.

    More recently, Waters has been tolerated and even supported by mainstream...

  25. Love and Frogs: Dating John Waters
    (pp. 192-199)
    Michael Franco and John Waters

    Preparing to interview John Waters is an intimidating task. So many questions race through the mind: Will he be deliberately obscure? Will he bait me with his humor, only to laugh when I miss a reference? Will he reek of pretension, as so many film aficionados do? Will he, in other words, be a difficult interview? It’s only natural to expect this from a man often referred to as the Pope of Trash, a man whose tastes are so far removed from what’s deemed “normal.”

    Turns out, John Waters is—quite unbelievably—a very normal person. No, not normal in...

  26. Waters World
    (pp. 200-210)
    Randy Shulman and John Waters

    In the annals of cinema, there are few Christmas moments more uproarious than the one launching 1974’sFemale Trouble, as teen bad girl Dawn Davenport flies into a rampage after discovering the gift bestowed upon her by her parents is not the one she’d requested.

    Dawn:Whatare these?

    Mom: Those are your new shoes, Dawn!

    Dawn: Those aren’t the right kind! I told you cha-cha heels! Black ones!

    Dad: Nice girls don’t wear cha-cha heels!

    Dawn: I’ll never wear those ugly shoes! I told you the kind I wanted! You ruined my Christmas!

    It’s at that point all hell...

  27. Where Will John Waters Be Buried?
    (pp. 211-227)
    James Egan and John Waters

    JE: John Waters. Thank you for having us to your beautiful apartment in San Francisco for this interview.

    JW: You’re welcome.

    JE: You have a long history here. You first came here in 1970, and a guy named Sebastian showed your filmMultiple Maniacsat the Palace Theatre and the audience went insane. And then he paid to have Divine flown out here and fifty people met her at the airport, to everyone’s shock, including the Cockettes. Do you think that San Francisco was really the very first place to recognize your work, more so than Baltimore?

    JW: Baltimore was...

  28. John Waters, an Appreciation
    (pp. 228-230)
    Everett Lewis and John Waters

    When Mr. Waters began his life’s work, his views were not those of the mainstream. That was the point. But a very strange thing has happened during the course of Mr. Waters’ career. The mainstream has changed.

    It has begun to mirror the world of Mr. Waters. It’s a long way from Charo to Nirvana, pal. Who knew?

    From Church Basement to The Museum of Modern Art is a long trip. And the journey wasn’t exactly intentional. The work of Mr. Waters has both paralleled and quite probably encouraged a shift in the mainstream, a broadening of the possibilities of...

  29. Suggested for Further Reading
    (pp. 231-242)
  30. Index
    (pp. 243-249)