Monday, June 27, 2022

John Waters: ‘I’m tired of being respectably gay’

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IIt’s the first day of Pride Month when I get a call from John Waters at his summer home in Provincetown, Massachusetts, so I feel remiss not to ask the 76-year-old how he plans to celebrate. “I’m just going to blow as many people as possible,” the cult filmmaker, stand-up and novelist-turned-novel tells me with an audible grin. He interrupts himself with a knowing laugh. “I’ve told my office I will say so. They said, ‘You can’t say that!’ But it’s just too hard for me not to because you’re supposed to give such a respectable answer and I’m sick of being respectably gay.”

Seriousness has never been high on Waters’ agenda. Dubbed by “The Pope of Trash”. Naked lunch Author William Burroughs, Waters made his name in the early 1970s with exuberantly transgressive independent films like 1972 pink flamingos, a depraved tale of incest and underground baby mills starring drag queen Divine, who goes by the name Babs Johnson and has been dubbed “the dirtiest person alive” as the criminal. In a sign that Waters has now become respectable, whether he likes it or not, the film will soon be celebrating its 50th anniversary by being re-released as part of the prestigious Criterion Collection with new bonus extras. Even more notable, last year Pink flamingos was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” “An irony above all ironies,” says Waters. “But a big compliment.”

Half a century later Pink flamingos retains the same shock ability once banned in Australia and Switzerland. It’s certainly the only film in the Library of Congress to climax with a scene in which its star eats a freshly produced and unmistakably real dog poo. Waters conceived the gross finale before writing the rest of the screenplay. “I knew it was the end,” he says. “I knew it was in spirit [1962 Italian shockumentary] dog worldand in the spirit of donkey before it even happened, and in the spirit of the punk world that was just around the corner. To [1972 porn film] deepthroat became legal, it was a joke about ‘What can’t you do yet?’ And it was a publicity stunt that still works today.”

Divine, being the pro, didn’t need much convincing. “I said, ‘Do you want to eat dog shit?’ He said, ‘Sure,'” Waters recalled of his friend and frequent collaborator, who died in 1988 at the age of 42. “We were terrorists against taste. It was a radical time, and it was group delusion in a creative way.” Waters made his early films with a tight-knit cast and crew known as the Dreamlanders. “We used to do a lot of LSD,” says Waters. “I didn’t write about it, but I think it certainly led to some of my writing.” He had first met Divine, nee Glenn Milstead, in high school in Baltimore. “His family moved five houses up the street from my family,” he recalls. “They ran a kindergarten for children and Divine was their only child, which wasn’t great publicity.”

Waters saw himself as an artist early on. “I knew I was going to be in show business,” he says. “I had a career as a puppeteer when I was 12 years old. My parents built me ​​a stage in my house where I gave very extravagant shows to my poor aunt. What kid has a stage?!” He saw potential in Divine the first time he saw him waiting for the school bus. “He was very ungodly,” recalls Waters. “He was an overweight nerd who got spanked at school every day, but I saw my dad shudder when he saw him and I knew there was a certain power there waiting to be unleashed. I think I unleashed that power and gave him an outlet for the anger and anger he must have felt at being bullied so much.”

Before the fucking climax Pink flamingos also includes a double shootout, a satire on America’s obscene gun culture. After the mass shootings in Texas and California, Waters says simply, “There’s no reason why anyone in America should have guns.” He adds that he has only fired a gun once in his life. “A biker took me into the forest and we shot with machine guns,” he says. “It was a fun day, but it was more fun because I was with him than shooting a gun. It was a good date, but I never wanted to shoot a gun again. I have no desire. I would accidentally shoot myself with it if I had one.”

The original trailer for Pink flamingos It didn’t show any footage from the film and instead consisted entirely of shocked reactions from people who had just attended a screening. “You couldn’t put footage in there, you’d give it all away,” explains Waters. “For the same reason I called the film ‘an exercise in bad taste’ and the title was very understated Pink flamingos. Both downplayed how sensational it was.”

After years of exposure to the worst the internet has to offer, it would be tempting to think that audiences are now beyond shock. But Waters proudly points out that the film has lost none of its power. “The end of Pink flamingos still works,” he says. “We won! No one will top it because it’s cheerful. It’s easy to be gross, but it’s really hard to be funny and witty and amaze people with their ability to shock themselves about anything .”

Followers of the film have been known to show their affection through imitation. “Someone with [the Connecticut-based fan festival] Camp John Waters asked in front of a lot of people if she could eat dog shit in front of me,” Waters recalls. “She took out a little sample and she did, and everyone applauded. I thought, ‘Well, that’s a nice bucket list thing I guess?’ Who was I to deny her her dream?”

Featuring a range of cult favourites, including the 1974’s female problems and 1981s polyester Under his belt, Waters made his commercial breakthrough in 1988 hairspray. The film starred a young Ricki Lake as teenage dancer Tracy Turnblad, who uses local television fame to protest segregation. In 2002, it was adapted into a hit Broadway musical, which in turn was made into a film starring John Travolta as Turnblad’s mother, a role originated by Divine. “In a way, it’s a lot more perverted than Pink flamingos because he wormed his way into Central America,” says Waters, who was surprised when his original film received a PG rating. “Two men are singing love songs to each other in elementary school during this musical. This is far more radical than preaching to the converts, which may be the case Pink flamingos is.”

The success of hairspray brought mainstream fame with it, and Waters, in his words, “made more money from it than anything I’ve done in my life.” However, it has been criticized by some quarters for its alleged “white savior” narrative. “Well, there were white people on Black Lives Matter. Among the freedom fighters were whites,” argues Waters. “Everyone is needed for a revolution. I do not say hairspray was revolutionary, but it was a revolutionary time that I remember very fondly. Basically, Ricki Lake was me.”

Waters made another incursion into Central America in 1997 when he appeared in Classic The simpsons Episode “Homer’s Phobia” which plays the openly gay owner of an overbearing collector’s shop who helps Homer overcome his prejudices. “I was like, ‘If it’s good enough for Elizabeth Taylor!'” Waters recalls when approached by the show a few years after Taylor’s first words about Baby Maggie. “My favorite line is when [bartender] Moe says, “The entire steel industry is gay.” That really makes me laugh since I’m from Baltimore.”

The episode, which aired a few months before sitcom star Ellen DeGeneres made history with her coming out, won both an Emmy and a GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) Media Award and is now widely regarded as a milestone in positive representation of homosexuals on television. Waters says it’s proof of how times have changed that “Homer’s phobia” doesn’t seem so subversive anymore. “That Simpsons episode wouldn’t be so shocking if it came out today,” he says. “All kids know what gay is, and all kids know what trans is. I said in my last book, ‘There’s no such thing as a girl or a boy anymore. You can be anything!’ It’s very different from when I grew up. They always ask you to choose a pronoun, but what I want isn’t there: “The Royal We”. That’s what I identify with. I don’t want to be called ‘she’, I want to be called ‘Your Majesty’.”

Speaking of royalty, Waters sends his wishes to the Queen for her platinum anniversary, though he has little interest in the broader machinations of royalty. “I love the Queen, I’m a total fan,” he says. “I remember I was on tour in Australia once and so was she. I always forget that she also rules Australia. There she was, in a different pink suit every day. She has worked! I just don’t care about the others. If the queen dies, I’ll probably never follow her again.”

In the years since the release of Waters’ last film, 2004 a dirty shame He has sustained an amazing creative output. He has written a number of non-fiction books including 2010 Role models, It had a chapter devoted to Leslie Van Houten, the Manson family member whom Waters befriended after interviewing her in 1985. This March, she was again denied parole. “I spoke to her and she hasn’t given up and is as positive as ever and continues to lead a reformed life in prison,” says Waters. “She speaks so eloquently at every parole hearing about her grief and not blaming it [Charles Manson] even. She has been in prison for 50 years so today I think it is unfair that they keep turning her down.”

The new book by Waters liar’s mouth is his first novel. Published last month, it’s about a woman who steals suitcases from airport carousels, which he describes as a “feel-bad romance.” After pointing out that writing novels isn’t such a departure for him (“All Movies Are Fiction”), Waters responds with delicious mockery when I ask whether writing a novel or a screenplay is more “fun.” “It’s never fun to type,” he says sternly, before making a sarcastic impression of a madman at a typewriter: “I don’t sit there and say, ‘Ahahaha! I am So happy, I think I’ll take this newspaper, la la la!’ I’m not crazy.”

In addition to the books, Waters is also writing an ever-evolving stand-up show, false negative, which he is bringing to London’s Barbican this week. After years of lockdown, which Waters found “boring and endless”, he is thrilled to be back in front of an audience. “I tell them, ‘Just think, this might be the last night you go out,'” he offers, that grin in his voice again. Today he may be a celebrated novelist whose fans want to hear him speak loudly, but the specter of seriousness hasn’t quite settled on John Waters. “And now they have monkeypox!” he adds with a sigh. “Oh great, just what I want! Boils on my balls. That will be nice for the summer.”

Pink Flamingos will be released on July 25th on the Criterion Collection Blu-ray. Liarmouth is out now. John Waters’ show “False Negative” is on the barbican hallLondon, June 10th.

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