A Geezer's Journal: John Waters, the Pope of Trash
A recent article in the New York Times about John Waters reminded me how much I dig this guy.
John Waters has always been himself. He doesn't give a damn what you think about what he does or says or what kind of movies he makes. He's not aggressive about it. He just is.
There are really two John Waters, at least as far as the movie-going public is concerned. The first is the John Waters of Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble and Desperate Living. The second is the John Waters of Hairspray. Pink Flamingos may be, to borrow a phrase used to describe its main character, the great transvestite actor, Divine, the filthiest movie ever made. Once, years ago, a good friend of mine, on my spirited recommendation, took his girlfriend to see Pink Flamingos. The ticket seller leaned toward them and whispered emphatically, "Do not see this movie!" There is a now-notorious scene at the end where Divine proves she is the filthiest person alive by scooping up some freshly deposited dog shit and taking a big mouthful. Just before she shoves the doggy poo into her mouth, she looks to the camera and mouths, "I'm so hungry!"
Every movie John Waters made before Hairspray was rated X or R. Hairspray was rated PG. This to many Waters fans seemed a kind of betrayal. As Waters himself said, "After that, I thought I'd never work again." I love Hairspray. (No, not the Broadway musical or the movie musical.The original movie.) It's easy to think of Waters as pure camp, but I don't think of him that way at all. I think Hairspray, which, among other things, is about racial integration in 1962 Baltimore, is a truly great comic film. Divine plays Edna Turnblad, the housewife who just can't understand her daughter Tracy's obsession with the Corny Collins Dance Show (obviously patterned after American Bandstand). One of my favorite Edna Turnblad lines: "Now l've got nothin' but hampers of ironing to do ... and my diet pill is wearing off." Every child should be required to see this movie.
Now, here's the best part. I went to see "A John Waters Christmas" here in New Orleans last week at the Civic Theater. It was a live show with the pope of trash himself. It promised to be an incredible evening. I love bad taste. I mean, what's not to like? He was f-ing hilarious. One example: "If you go home with someone and they don't have any books, don't f--k them." He did 70 minutes without stopping, and never disappointed once. The place was packed. It was great to see how much New Orleans loves him.
Merry Christmas, John Waters!
Richard Goodman is an assistant professor of creative nonfiction writing at the University of New Orleans. He’s the author of French Dirt: The Story of a Garden in the South of France.