Taking Out the Trash with John Waters

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Ricki Lake, Johnny Depp, and Traci Lords in the 1990 film <em>Cry-Baby</em> Ricki Lake, Johnny Depp, and Traci Lords in the 1990 film Cry-Baby (Henny Garfunkel ©NBC Universal)

In his 50-year career, John Waters has created enduring staples of the midnight-movie circuit: high-camp shock humor. He discusses his work and his first-ever retrospective in the United States—Fifty Years of John Waters: How Much Can You Take?” at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. The retrospective, September 5-14, includes all 12 of Waters’s features, including “Pink Flamingos,” “Polyester,” “Hairspray,” “Serial Mom,” and his first two, “Mondo Trasho” and “Multiple Maniacs,” which introduced the world to his beloved, iconic muse Divine (Harris Glenn Milstead). 

Here are some highlights from the conversation: 

  • John Waters on his early films: “I didn’t even know there was editing when I made my first movie.”
  • On topics that are off limits for him: “I haven’t made too many Holocaust movies.”
  • On embracing who you are: “It’s feeling shame about things you can’t change and don’t have to change that causes mental illness.”
  • On developing Odorama in Polyester: “The fatal mistake [of technologies like Smell-o-Vision] was they only had good smells... Audiences, if they’re gonna smell something, want a bad smell.”
  • On what gave Divine such power on screen: “He used that rage [from being bullied] to make this character that was like Godzilla. It was like this humorous monster we created.”
  • On nudity in his films: “[It was] nudity that made most people yell: ‘Put it back on!’ Not that many people masturbated to my movies.”
  • On abortion: “Well, it’s a touchy subject, yes. I like abortion movies. I talk about in my spoken word show about the Abortion Film Festival I want to have, with all the greatest abortion movies. There’s many of them!”
  • On casting Patty Hearst in his movies: “She was sick of being famous for being a kidnap victim. It’s like being the Lindbergh baby who lived. Who wants that celebrity?”
  • On political confrontation: “I always think that you have to let the person you disagree with laugh and then they’ll listen to you.” 


John Waters

Comments [3]

Pamela from New Jersey

I was privledged to know the unit publicist (no longer with us rest his soul) while John made Cry Baby and Hairspray and I think Serial Mom as well while he was in his mainstream breakout film making period. Those were some fun times in Baltimore, a lot of fun watching these movies get made on location by some very talented people. Even more fun at the Celebrity Bar afterwards....

Sep. 04 2014 03:45 PM
Tony from Canarsie

Please ask the maestro about having to deal with the Maryland state film censor back in the day. I recall that Maryland's was the last state censor board. Hard to believe today that such things existed and had such power.

Sep. 04 2014 12:42 PM
Amy from Williamsburg

I'd love to know if any of the films showing will be available in "odorama"-- that would be something to behold.

My husband has John Waters-related stories from his younger days in Baltimore, things I'm sorry to have missed. My mother-in-law's last apartment there was the place that someone got raped by a lobster(?) in one film. However I did have the pleasure of spotting John Waters while dining at Martick's. Can't get any more Baltimore than that!

Sep. 04 2014 12:41 PM

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