Take a few scant moments to answer this questionnaire prior to reading the following interview:
- Have you and your white trash neighbors been locked in a heated competition, vying for the title of “Filthiest People Alive,” while your mother sits in a playpen calling out for eggs?
- Ever witnessed a woman being violated by a giant lobster?
- Has not receiving a coveted pair of cha-cha heels for Christmas ever caused you to topple a Christmas tree onto your mother?
- Is your child fond of recreating vehicular manslaughter scenarios, with a bottle of ketchup and an overactive imagination, in the comfort of your living room in a game he or she calls, “Car Accident?”
- Did a knock to the noggin turn you into an insatiable nymphomaniac at any point in your life?
- Have you been accused of having roaches in your hair?
- Did Tab (the diet drink or the actor with the last name of Hunter) become a staple of your diet after your spouse left you?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you might just want to seek professional help or you’re smack dab in the middle of a John Waters movie.
And fortunately John Waters let me into his world, his “Filthy World” to be exact, prior to arriving in San Diego with his one-man show, This Filthy World.
“I’ve been doing it for 35 years, I think it began as a way for Divine would tour the country to get attention to our early movies,” he explained about the show’s conception. “And it became a vaudeville act, that’s now a stand up act, really. I think I may be the only film director that has a stand-up act.”
And while the layman may envision the man who brought the world Pink Flamingos as some sort of artistic corruptor type, Waters is actually quite down-to-earth and affable, as was evidenced when we spoke.
“I think I am very well understood, to be honest,” he responded in relation to what he felt was the most common misperception about him. “Lately people say, ‘did you ever imagine that these movies would do so well!?’ And I always think, ‘Well, what did you think I would be some idiot savant?’” He said with a laugh. “So, I think that is just my reactionary thing.”
And fans may be interested to learn this tidbit about the director.
“I guess people would be surprised at how organized I am; some would call it anal,” he stated. “Every second of my life is scheduled, even a hangover I put on my calendar two weeks before.
“Maybe if I didn’t have all that order, I’d be insane in real life. What do they say? Idle hands are the devil’s workshop – that could be true of me, if I had too much time is when I have time to be neurotic.”
With a fertile imagination a mile wide and an interesting vision of the world at large, Waters emergence on the cinematic scene was like a shot in the arm to conventional filmmaking.
There are some filmmakers today that he follows, (no, not by stealthily hiding in bushes casing their every move, but by viewing their work on the big screen, naturally) which remind him of that maverick spirit his films have embodied. He cited film auteurs such as Todd Haynes, Gus Van Sant, John Cameron Mitchell and Bruce La Bruce as favorites.
“I am always open to the new kids making movies,” he said. “I think it’s so exciting when you see a kid that has their first hit movie, when you go to Sundance and see the film. It’s very different, when I was young, none of the studios would even look at what I was doing. Now, they are all looking for it because of The Blair Witch Project, they are looking for the next weird movie that can come from somewhere and make a lot of money.”
The Hollywood movie making experience has certainly evolved into an anything-you-can-imagine-it-can-now-be-done in terms of special effects forsaking intriguing characterizations and genuine storytelling, which has been Waters’ strong suit, lo these many years.
And, Waters definitely has his feelings about which areas of filmmaking today that could use improvement.
“I am not saying that anybody is lacking, it’s hard to make a good movie, no matter how much money you have,” he replied. “I think the ones I find the least interesting are the ones that have been written by 30 people and market tested, so there’s not an inch of life left in ’em that are trying to make everyone love them.”
Waters had his own steady line-up of actors, known as “The Dreamland Players,” including Divine, Mink Stole, Edith Massey, Mary Vivian Pearce, Cookie Mueller and David Lochary, for his early films.
But in his later films he has cast the likes of Johnny Depp (Cry-Baby), Kathleen Turner (Serial Mom), ’50s heartthrob Tab Hunter (Polyester), former underage porn actress Traci Lords (Cry-Baby), Melanie Griffith (Cecil B. DeMented) Tracey Ullman and Johnny Knoxville (A Dirty Shame), and kidnapped heiress Patricia Hearst has become a fixture with five Waters films on her resume (including Pecker).
So, who would Waters love to cast in a movie that he hasn’t so far? He answered that question two-fold.
“Always Meryl Streep!” He proclaimed. “And Isabelle Huppert, who always tells me she would be in one of my movies, but I can’t figure a way to have French accent in redneck Baltimore. She may have to have her car hi-jacked at the airport.”
One of Waters’ most popular films, Hairspray, has enjoyed immense crossover appeal, first as a Broadway musical (and his 1990 film Cry-Baby got the stage musical treatment right here at The La Jolla Playhouse, before heading off to Broadway), which was then remade as a movie musical. Waters had these thoughts about this particular film’s metamorphosis.
“It’s exciting and it has been re-invented everytime, I still think it has my flavor in all three versions. I think they did a great job; it was a free ride to me in a way. I think Adam (the new film’s director Adam Shankman) did a great job. I’m all for it, I went to all of the premieres, I was in it. I was involved with it from the beginning; I helped talk John Travolta into being in it. I think they did a great job!”
There is one version of the film that may never see the light of day; however, it has piqued Waters’ interest.
“I made a joke on the Jon Stewart show that now I wanted to do Hairspray on ice!” He said. “And the next day I had real ice producers calling and were serious and wanted to do it. Think of it, all fat girls on skates, it could be good!”
Another way that Waters stays busy, in a creative sense, is by penning books, such as
Crackpot and Shock Value, and has an upcoming book entitled Role Models, which Waters described as a “self portrait told through me writing about the people that inspired me, from strippers to Tennessee Williams.”
And be on the lookout for his new CD “Breaking Up with John Waters” coming soon.
While a great many of his past projects have held the distinction of being labeled cult movies, later films brought him more mainstream acceptance.
But the future of this true American original seems to be heading into an unlikely direction.
Waters’ next project will be a children’s film entitled Fruitcake (with Knoxville set to star). Nope, that is not a typo, nor is it a sign of the apocalypse – it is just a way for this truly talented man to branch out further artistically.
“Well, I made a sexploitation film last time, and I thought, ‘well, there’s a genre I’ve never done, a children’s movie.’ I like kids, I don’t want one, but I like them. So I thought, ‘well what would it be like to have all John Waters characters that were children?’ That seemed appealing to me.”
For a whole generation of movie goers, Waters represents a fringe element of filmmaking, and his films are considered a gay rite of passage (show of hands, who can recite lines from Female Trouble verbatim?), and Waters continues to be inspire new generations with his brand of creativity.
“What’s odd now is that kids come up and say, ‘My parents told me how great you movies were and showed them when I was young.’ When I was young, my parents would have called the police!” He exclaimed. “So it’s changed – it’s odd how 40 years of work suddenly kind of comes together, which it seems like is happening now, things are going very well.
“All of my movies are on television, who would have ever thought that Pink Flamingos would play on regular cable television uncut? I know I’m shocked about it! So that amazes me, last month I saw that five of my movies were playing on television and thought, ‘who would have ever imagined that?’”
This interview was first published on October 4th, 2007.