Filthy and respectable — a Q&A with John Waters

The famed director and Pope of Trash rides a wave of recent success into a celebratory show for TIGLFF’s 25th.

click to enlarge SUMMER OF JOHN WATERS LOVE: The season was bookended by two major milestones for the cult icon. - PUBLICITY PHOTO
SUMMER OF JOHN WATERS LOVE: The season was bookended by two major milestones for the cult icon.

John Waters — This Filthy World: Filthier & Dirtier
Sat., Oct. 4, 6:30 p.m., at Tampa Theatre. After the show, TIGLFF will host a book-signing of Carsick, and the Mondo Trasho party featuring DJ “Lounge Laura” Taylor spinning tiki, lounge, and exotica; food and beer trucks available for
refreshments. $33,

John Waters would get an A+ on his “What I Did On My Summer Vacation” report. His bestseller about hitchhiking across the U.S., Carsick, hit the bookstands in June, and last month the Lincoln Center Film Society saluted the Pope of Trash with the retrospective Fifty Years of John Waters: How Much Can You Take?

“They showed every movie I made over 10 days, even the 8mm early ones,” Waters shared with CL during a recent phone interview. The films included gloriously low-budget and demented shorts like Multiple Maniacs, which depicts Divine being violated by a giant lobster, masterworks of deviance like Female Trouble, and more accessible favorites like Polyester (with the heralded scratch-and-sniff Odoroma cards!), Pecker, Hairspray and Serial Mom.

“[The tribute] was a really major kind of thing for me. No irony, I was filthy and respectable all at once.” Longtime Baltimore pals, stars like lovable crank Mink Stole, and crew from his Dreamland production company joined the celebration. “All the old Dreamlanders showed up,” Waters effused. “It was like [in a mock announcer voice], ‘This Is Your Life, John Waters!’”

One summer highlight didn’t pan out: “I attended a canceled Liza Minnelli concert. Is there anything gayer than that!” The Aug. 4 show in Provincetown went on without the ailing star, and the other half of the double bill, Alan Cumming, performed.

On Saturday he helps Tampa Bay observe a gay milestone of its own: He’ll be headlining the Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival’s 25th anniversary event on Oct. 4, followed by the Mondo Trasho party DJ’ed by “Lounge Laura” Taylor.

Waters has seen and recommends two of the films showing at TIGLFF: the lesbian crime documentary Out in the Night — “That guy deserved it. He was hassling them, saying, ‘I’ll fuck you straight!’” — and Regarding Susan Sontag. “I love to read about Susan Sontag; she’s so humorless. The best book about Susan Sontag — it’s pretty mean — it’s by her daughter-in-law. … But I liked the movie very, very much.”

Expect Waters to speak up on behalf of his favorite bad boy, the Biebs. During our last interview in 2011, Waters showered affectionate words on Justin Bieber, thrilled that the then-teen pop star had posed for a photo in a pencil-thin mustache à la Waters.

“I still talk about Justin in my show,” Waters said. “Now that he’s Bizzle, his rap name, I like him even more now. I’m going to hunt down those stupid teenage girls that turned against him and make their life miserable. I’m warning you, girls! Don’t turn on Justin!”

Waters, 68, hasn’t lost his knack for wince-inducing perversion — even if it’s all talk. He’s like a dapperly dressed wind-up toy, sprinkling bon mots across the U.S. on book tours and speaking engagements, and even co-starring in the odd rap music video, like 2011’s Lonely Island send-up, “Creep” with Nicki Minaj. A trip to London is planned this fall for the UK release of Carsick.

"I personally love John Waters for his wild ingenuity," says Zachary Hines of Coco and Homo, a campy and deliciously naughty act that would fit right in one of Waters' films. "He creates whatever shocking, filthy thing pops into his mind without fear of crossing a line. ... He grew up with what would infamously become his Dreamland crew, starting out as high school misfits making low budget, shocking films. Their narrative is similar to Coco & Homo's ... broke kids producing one of a kind trashtastic performance art which some may find offensive (if we're doing our job right!) ... I just love the fact that even though John Waters could rest on his filthy laurels he's still coming up with new adventures for himself and devising new ways to revolt and delight us." 

Sadly for his film fans, it’s been a decade since we’ve seen a movie from Waters. Fruitcake, starring Johnny Knoxville, was in the works during our last interview, and is still “in meetings.” With aging directors like Woody Allen regaining Oscar nods, it would be gratifying to see Waters make the next big cinematic step.

In Carsick, Waters invokes imagery from his past films — even the infamous singing anus from Pink Flamingos makes an appearance — but there’s a glimmer of the older, wiser, empathic John Waters that should not be underestimated, even if under-represented: the John Waters who is dutifully conscientious and fiercely loyal; who maintained lifelong friendships with the late Glenn Milstead, aka Divine, and the late Edith Massey, with whom he shares a tender if silly reunion in the fantasy chapter of Carsick.

From his films to his books to his campaign to free ex-Manson Family member Leslie Van Houten, Waters still possesses an undeniable and endearing belief in humanity, reinforced by the kindness of strangers during his hitchhiking odyssey.

“I’ve always believed that most people are pretty good. I’m an optimist, and what I came away with was the idea that people in the middle of the country are not predictable like most snobs on the East and West Coast think. Nobody is a regular person. Everyone has secrets. Everyone has ups and downs. The American public is less judgmental these days — at least, the people who pick up hitchhikers. They’re a special breed.”

As for TIGLFF, Waters expects fest-goers to share the love, too.

“I think I’ve been to every film festival in the entire world,” Waters proclaimed. “You’d be surprised how many there are. If there are more than 100 people in a town, they have a film festival! And every one of them does well because people love the idea of going to the movies with their friends and seeing new things that other people haven’t seen, and seeing a movie first. It’s exciting and a good way to bring the community together. It’s a good place to get laid!” 


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