John Waters Celebrates the Holidays (In His Own Filthy Way)
Film director and screenwriter John Waters has made good by putting a twist on that old saying "one man’s trash is another man’s treasure" by changing it to say "one man’s trash is his own treasure." With a string of cult and mainstream feature trash films (including "Multiple Maniacs," "Female Trouble," "Pink Flamingos," "Cry-Baby," "Hairspray," "Serial Mom" and "A Dirty Shame"), Waters has become an icon and celebrity. Let’s face it: monikers such as "The Filthiest Man Alive" and "The Pope of Trash" don’t get bestowed upon just anyone.
"I’ve gotten "The Duke of Dirt," "The Anal Ambassador," "The Ayatollah of Assholes," says Waters. "You wouldn’t believe some of them. I’ve got more titles than Prince Charles." We know, however, that it’s not the title that makes the man. It’s the man that makes the title.
Waters has long been seen as a director with no real fear to push the envelope of the movie industry and the values of middle-America. It’s funny how a crowd of moviegoers can be delighted in the humor made of the racial stereotypes in his film "Hairspray" (1988) only for that same crowd to find Waters’ "Pink Flamingos" (1972) totally repulsive. According to John Waters it was easier to make fun of the censors in his earlier years of filmmaking because the censors were so ridiculous then. Now liberal censorship is much smarter, and therefore, more dangerous.
Since the production of Waters’ last film project "Fruitcake" stalled in 2008, it has been since 2004’s "A Dirty Shame" that we have had the pleasure of a John Waters’ film. He continues his trashy storytelling through books and one-man stage shows. I had a chance to speak with the "Almighty Trashy One" in prelude to a two-show tour stop of his "This Filthy World" show in San Francisco, and we crammed discussion on the relevance of the term trash filmmaking, the dangers of liberal censorship, Hollywood’s attempt at making trash films, what Divine would have become, the unlikelihood of a "Fruitcake" film, his hitchhike across America, and being a drag king hag, into less than 15 minutes.
Waters’ national tour continues this week with dates in New York City, Boston, Washington DC and his hometown of Baltimore.
More titles than Prince Charles
BeBe: ’The Filthiest Man Alive’ and ’The Pope of Trash’ are monikers that you would expect to be used to describe you. Are there others?
John Waters: Oh, there are a lot more obscure ones. I’ve got ’The Duke of Dirt,’ ’The Anal Ambassador,’ ’The Ayatollah of Assholes.’ You wouldn’t believe some of them. I’ve got more titles than Prince Charles, but they are all meant well.
BeBe: Would you say that you have changed the way people think of trash filmmaking?
John Waters: I don’t think anyone thinks that way anymore. Today, I don’t think it’s (trash filmmaking) even a meaningful term. Did I see any great trash movies this year? I think ’Spring Breakers’ (James Franco, Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez) was my favorite movie of the year. That was trashy, but it was a great, funny, hilarious trashy. It was an art sexploitation movie which I’m all for.
Trash in vogue?
BeBe: So, are you saying that trash filmmaking has become vogue now?
John Waters: I don’t think it’s vogue. Hollywood attempts to make trash movies now. Sometimes they are very successful, and a few of them I like. But as soon as they make a successful one that grosses $500 million, then they have 500 bad imitations of it. Like ’The Hangover’ (Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis), which I loved, had two bad, too expensive imitations (sequels II and III). They grossed me out, but not in a good way or witty way.
BeBe: That’s the thing about Hollywood that annoys me, their lack of original creativity in general. As you say, Hollywood will have a big successful movie and then are subjected to seeing the piddly Parts II, III and IV.
John Waters: They’re not piddly. They cost $300 million. They are science projects. They are not movies. But you know what, I’m not complaining. These people in Hollywood aren’t there for art. They are there to make money. I didn’t really have a horrible experience in Hollywood, but the more money they give you, the more people you have to answer to. That’s always the way it is going to be.
BeBe: And, that’s not always great.
John Waters: It’s not always bad, either. I think one of my best movies was ’Serial Mom,’ and that was one of the ones I had the biggest budgets for. So, I think you can have a big budget and make a good (trash) movie. And, I think you can have a very small budget and make a terrible (trash) movie. It all depends.
BeBe: One thing that continues to surprise me about you, no matter how many times I read it, is that ’The Wizard of Oz’ had a big impression on you as a kid and helped develop the kind of filmmaker you are. Can you expand on that for me?
John Waters: In the very beginning I had an affinity for Walt Disney films because I always wanted to be the villain. I always rooted for the villain. So, I wanted the witch to win (in ’The Wizard of Oz’). I never understood why Dorothy would want to go back to that smelly farm when she could live with winged monkeys and gay lions. I always thought there should be a sequel where Dorothy’s Aunt Em puts her in a mental institution where they give her shock treatment because she can’t stop talking about Oz. Dorothy tries drugs, but only poppers seem to work. So she takes poppers and goes back to Oz for only three days where she sees all three of them. The Scarecrow has written a book called ’Friends of Dorothy.’ The Tin Woodsman is a yoga instructor. And, the Cowardly Lion is a drag queen named Rora who gives Dorothy the Wicked Witches’ old clothes. Dorothy comes back home after three days and starts cross-dressing like Margaret Hamilton (Oz’s Wicked Witch) and opens a gay bar called The Yellow Brick Load. That’s my idea of an ’Oz’ sequel.
Drag King Hag
BeBe: ( after laughing my you know what off) I think that’s a great idea that needs to happen. What other movies influenced you as you were growing up?
John Waters: All the nudist ’camp’ movies like ’Baby Doll’ (Elia Kazan, 1956) where all the Catholics would go to hell if they saw ’it.’ ’Mom and Dad’ (William Beaudine, 1945) where men were jacking-off to medical films of birth because that’s the only place they could see a vagina. That really got me! All the William Castle movies. All the Ingmar Bergman movies. All the Warhol movies. All the Hershell Gordon Lewis movies. All extreme movies, movies that pushed the censorship, that changed the laws.
BeBe: Now we have to do more to push that censorship.
John Waters: Well, what we have now is the worst which is liberal censorship. That’s what we have with Motion Picture Association of America. That’s a much more dangerous type of censorship because they’re smart, not stupid. The censors used to be stupid and ridiculous that it was easy to make fun of them. But liberal censors are the scariest of all because we have to put up with bad stuff for freedom of speech. We have to put up with hideous pornography. We have to put up with Nazis being allowed to march. The extremes on either side of these things, we have to put up with so some of us artists can use sex in a new transgressive way.
BeBe: I know you have an affection for drag queens. Having Divine (Harris Glenn Milstead) in your films increased the use of drag in art films.
John Waters: I think drag queens now have changed so much. Every drag queen is a hit now sort of. I’m more, to be honest, fascinated by drag kings and transgendered males, which San Francisco has a lot of amazing ones that look like the cutest boys I like. I’m more of a ’drag king hag.’
BeBe: John Waters is a drag king hag. You heard it hear first folks. That will become your latest moniker.
John Waters: Probably.
BeBe: Sadly, Divine had an untimely death shortly after the release of ’Hairspray.’ Had his talent not been taken away from us and your cast of ’Dreamlanders’ so soon would there have been more Divine in your movies?
John Waters: Oh, sure! I think if I would have had my way, he would have been the neuter grandmother in ’A Dirty Shame.’ But, Divine wanted to play men. I think he would have had big success in the ’Married: With Children’ where he was cast to play the gay uncle (before his death). It would have been one of the first time a gay male character would have been on a television sitcom. I think it would have been successful. Divine said the wigs were too hot for him. He hated it! He’d sweat too much. He’d get in those big leather shoes and they’d snap under his weight. So, he liked playing men just as much.
BeBe: Now tell me what this this hitchhiking trip across America was all about.
John Waters: I have a book (’Carsick’) coming out about it in June (2014). I hitchhiked across America (May 2012), and it took 21 rides and 9 days. I highly recommend it. I recommend hitchhiking.
BeBe: But what was it that made you think about doing this at this time in your life?
John Waters: A book deal! (we laugh) It was the quickest book deal I ever got in my life. It was one sentence - ’I’m hitchhiking from my house in Baltimore to my apartment in San Francisco.’ I remember my last ride picked me up in Berkeley and thinking if I can’t get a ride from Berkeley across the bridge to San Francisco, I’ll shoot myself.
BeBe: For some time, we have been in anticipation of your ’Fruitcake’ film project which is a children’s Christmas story. But, it hasn’t happened.
John Waters: Yeah, it never happened. They couldn’t even get a Chipmunk Christmas movie made this year. If the Chipmunks can’t get a movie made, I’m definitely going to have problems with my children’s movie.
BeBe: But the film was in development a few years ago, right?
John Waters: And then things changed. All those people (New Line Cinema) are gone, Bob Shaye and all of them. But who knows, it may happen again. But, I write books. I have many ways to tell stories. I’m fine.
BeBe: One way you are telling stories is through your one-man stage show ’This Filthy World’ that you tour with. What’s the show all about?
John Waters: Yes, I’m coming to Yoshi’s in San Francisco real soon (Nov 23) with it, and I have 13 cities in December. This show are stories about compassion, fashion, crime, movies, art, movie theaters. It’s a fun show. I’ve been doing these shows for over 40 years but it’s always updated. Not one joke is the same as any time before.
"John Waters’ This Filthy World Show" makes a tour stop for two shows (8pm and 10pm) at Yoshi’s in San Francisco on November 23. www.yoshis.com. ’John Waters’ This Filthy World’ continues to 12/1: Chicago, City Winery; 12/5: Seattle, Neptune; 12/6: Portland, Alladin; 12/10: New Orleans, Civic Theatre; 12/11: Nashville, War Memorial; 12/12: Atlanta, Variety Playhouse; 12/13-14: New York City, Stage 48; 12/15: Boston, Berklee Performance Center; 12/18: Alexandria, VA, The Birchmere; 12/19-20: Baltimore, Soundstage.
For more information about John Waters, visit his website.