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SGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: An audience with John Waters, the Pope of Trash
SGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: An audience with John Waters, the Pope of Trash
by Maggie Bloodstone - SGN Contributing Writer

JUNE 3, 7:30 PM

It wasn't just the incredible rush of being part of an entire theater of people retching simultaneously over the sight of Divine munching poodle doodle in Pink Flamingos at the Harvard Exit in 1980. If that's all it was, then I certainly would never have gotten her portrait - red fishtail gown, handgun, and all - permanently seared into my right shin some 23 years later. Rather, it was the thrill of discovering a universe of maniacs, freaks, drapes, hair-hoppers, sexual outlaws, cinematic terrorists, truly alternative family units, and beyond-desperate housewives. A place where True Beauty was something that made you exclaim "Look at that!", and the only taboo was feeling bad about being bad. A place called & Dreamland.

Dreamland was a Bizarro-universe version of Warhol's Factory, full of edge-dwelling Baltimoreans bound by an unbreakable umbilical of filth and a sincere reverence for outrage and excess. A crowd only the '60s could have spawned, they were the Altamont Generation, and thanks to one particularly inspired, film-obsessed member of this clan of proto-punks, Dreamland's sublimely corrupting influence was able to spread like creeping fungus to the unsuspecting nation, finally making its pernicious way to the great Northwest at the dawn of the Reagan decade. I was home at last.

John Waters will be sharing his exquisitely twisted worldview within the stately walls of Benaroya Hall, June 3. But though his wiry, well-dressed form shares physical space with a Chihuly chandelier and the Seattle Symphony, his heart and soul will surely be in Baltimore. No matter where he travels - to Hollywood to pitch films like his current work-in-progress Fruitcake, to Broadway to oversee the musical adaptation of Cry Baby, to galleries filled with his art, or to bookstores where he will no doubt be signing copies of his new tome Role Models in the near future - Waters is a Charm City native right down to his shoes (which will never, ever be white after Labor Day).

Maggie Bloodstone: So Fruitcake is to be a parody of children's films - but will children be able to see it?

John Waters: Sure they will - special children! I think probably, in some families, eight years old and up will be able to see it, and others, maybe twelve and up. Because hopefully, it's going to work on the same level of a children's film, and at the same time, all the kids are very much John Waters characters. But it is a children's movie, and I'm excited about it. I've worked with kids before, in Female Trouble, I had the two kids in Cry Baby&in Pecker, there's the little girl addicted to sugar - so I've worked with kids before, I get along with 'em.

Bloodstone: There's the Infant of Prague&

Waters: The Infant of Prague in Multiple Maniacs, yes&

Bloodstone: Are there any classic children's films you'd like to remake in your image?

Waters: No, I don't like remakes so much - for me, the whole fun of making a movie is thinking it up from the very beginning. Certainly, when writing this, I did watch a lot of Little Rascals. But I also watched Viridiana, the Buñuel film. So, who knows, maybe this is "The Little Rascals Meet Virdiana." [Laughs.]

Bloodstone: What became of Glamourpuss? Weren't you trying to get Liz Taylor for that?

Waters: Well, I certainly like Elizabeth Taylor, and I grew up watching her movies & have you seen her outfits in the tabloids this week? I love it! She almost looks like the Beverly Hillbillies, it's great! And she's done so much for AIDS, she's the star of my favorite movie ever, Boom!, directed by Joseph Losey. I met Elizabeth Taylor once in her house, only because, I think, she had an all-Gay staff who knew who I was - not sure if she did. But it was a cookout, and it was amazing - I went with Johnny Depp and Tab Hunter, also, there was Jennifer Jones and Gregory Peck - it was amazing! And she - I don't mean this except as a compliment, but she reminded me of how Divine entertained, because she had lots of candy. [Laughs.] And she had a cookout, and it was hot dogs and hamburgers and stuff. And I told her how much I loved Boom!, and she was kind of insulted, she thought I was being mean, and I said no, for real, I really liked it, I take it around to film festivals and talk about it. Then she got nice, and she said "That's a terrible film!"

Bloodstone: You wrote the introduction to the latest volume of The Complete Peanuts. What made the guys at Fantagraphics approach you for that?

Waters: I have no idea, except for the fact that I loved Peanuts. I remember reading it as a kid obsessively. When I had mononucleosis, my mother bought the collection for me, the comic strip that I had read every day in the paper. I always identified with Lucy - I think everybody loves Lucy. When people say "I Love Lucy," that's the one I think of. She was a fussbudget, and I love her radical, ludicrous, kind of obsessive meanness in kind of a fun way. They [Fantagraphics] asked me, and I said, well, who else had done it, and they said Walter Kronkite had done one. And I said, well you got me then! [Laughs.] I'm always secretly impressed when I see Walter Kronkite in anything - that's my idea of a celebrity!

Bloodstone: Clearly, it's taken popular culture a few years to catch up with you as far as shock value, but who do you think - in film, TV, or any media - really continues the Dreamland tradition?

Waters: Well, first of all, I think my career has been understood properly from the very beginning - I don't know if it took so long to catch up with me. I had an audience right from the beginning, my audience has always been minorities that didn't fit within their own minorities - the original audiences for Pink Flamingos were hippie Gay people that other Gay people didn't like, and mean hippies that couldn't wait for punk to happen, even though they didn't know it was going to.

Bloodstone: That would have been me.

Waters: I think who is in the tradition, more than anybody, would be Johnny Knoxville, because if we hadn't eaten dogshit first, he would have. [Laughs.] I think Johnny does complete anarchy - the Jackass movies' seemingly target audience would be blue-collar white teenage boys who might be a little bit homophobic, possibly, but what does he do? Have them all nude and shove things up their asses - and they love it! [Laughs.] So, I think he's a great leader and a great equalizer.

Bloodstone: I admit I saw Short Bus with the expectation that it was going to be more like A Dirty Shame, but I was disappointed, cause only the "pretty" people got to have sex - as usual.

Waters: Oh, I loved Short Bus - I'm a big fan of his [John Cameron Mitchell]. We did a thing together at the Toronto Film Festival. There's nothing the matter with watching cute people have sex - I mean, I like porn. But I like amateur porn better. Even though Falcon's great to me, they even send me tapes, and I always write them thank-you notes. I'm probably the only person that ever writes thank-you notes to them. And once, I was the judge in the porn Oscars a few years ago, and that was quite an experience.

Bloodstone: You once said the new film underground is the internet, YouTube in particular. What have you seen there recently that's really impressed you or appalled you, or both?

Waters: I never look at YouTube, and on MySpace, there's supposedly all these people who say "thank you for writing to me." & I don't have anything on MySpace, I've never looked at it in my life, and I promise you, I've never written on MySpace, so they're imposters. I do look at stuff online & here, I'll tell you what are my favorites, the bookmarked pages & I'm not against it, but I want to be harder to reach, not easier. There's a really good website devoted to my work that I like very, very much, that I cooperate with, but I don't run it and I don't have anything to do with it. And that is called & let me get my favorites up here & "Welcome to Dreamland." But what I have on my thing, let's see, besides all the newspapers and stuff, I have The Drudge Report, I'm embarrassed to admit - Gayporn blog, Rotten Tomatoes, MapQuest, the Hollywood Reporter, Paper Magazine blogs, DudeTube, the Symbionese Liberation Army, Deadline Hollywood Daily, which is the best show business gossip of anybody - Village Voice, Michael Musto blog, and I'll give you one more & The Manson Family Today. And also Dennis Dermody's thing, which is called Cinemaniac. Those are just some of the ones I look at. We have this contest for Cry Baby The Musical on YouTube now, where people send in their videos, and I judge them every week - so I look at them.

Bloodstone: When I look at the pack of the rich and famous girls gone wild, it looks like a considerably more restrained version of Dawn Davenport and her henchwomen - Amy Winehouse in particular.

Waters: Well, I like Duffy - have you heard of her? She's great. She's the new kind of rhythm and blues white singer - I like her more than Amy Winehouse, and she looks great, too. She just came out this week, in America. So, I'm a big fan of hers. I like Amy, too - she reminds me of Cookie Mueller. But there's no reason to do heroin, except once, to listen to jazz, then never do it again. [Cookie Mueller, who was in five of Waters' films, died in 1989 of AIDS, related to heroin addiction.]

Bloodstone: I've never been to Baltimore, but I've heard a few people claim that Baltimore is what Seattle hipsters would like Seattle to be, but we just can't quite pull it off. How close do you think we come?

Waters: Well, I like Seattle very, very much, and I've been there with the Greg Kucera Gallery, I've had openings, we've previewed Hairspray, which was great - but to be honest, I almost think Seattle is the exact opposite of Baltimore. I also live in San Francisco sometimes - I think [Seattle] is certainly closer to that. It's a city that, as far as I can see, is very white - Baltimore is 70 percent black. All the great, insane bars I go to are kind of rednecky or bikery, and if you have them there in Seattle, I haven't been to them. Or maybe there's faux biker bars - but that's New York; New York has faux everything. Once you open a bar in New York, if it's a biker bar, it's a fake biker bar. It's about style and irony.

Bloodstone: Have you ever been to the Central Tavern in Pioneer Square?

Waters: I don't think so. Is it good? I'll have to go there.

Bloodstone: It's pretty good, pretty biker. I was there just the other day and there were some of the Banditos, who I remember from my topless dancing days.

Waters: What always happens to me is, when I come to cities like this, they want to take me to those places, but I'm working, you know? I'm doing my show or I'm doing a presentation, so I don't want to have a hangover! [Laughs.] I'm a pro; when I'm being paid to come somewhere, I hopefully do it very well. I can't be out 'til all hours of the night - I like to do those kinds of things when I come back on my own. But unfortunately, if I ever have off-work, I stay home. My idea of a vacation is to stay home and cook for myself, and hang out with people who never ask me about show business.

Bloodstone: The Kuchar Brothers were one of your biggest filmmaking influences in the '60s. I haven't seen anything other than Sins of the Fleshapoids and The Craven Sluck [which have just come out on DVD], but I know George Kuchar is still very active. What have you seen of his lately?

Waters: He teaches at the San Francisco Art Institute. I called him yesterday, cause I'm in San Francisco today, I'm headed back to Baltimore today. And he is now in Oklahoma, where he goes every year and sits in hotels and waits for tornados - which I love - and he's done diaries about that. [Check out Kuchar's Wild Night In El Reno on YouTube] He's been a great teacher for many years - I think even Courtney Love was in his class. And Mike Kuchar lives in New York now, and makes great movies. I love that he always seems to fall in love with his cast. They're both such amazing filmmakers that still work full-time, and they really deserve a MacArthur award.

Bloodstone: Kenneth Anger is another underground artist who really needs to have a documentary or biopic made about him - are you acquainted with him, as well?

Waters: Kenneth Anger hates me, and I feel bad about it. I'm never going to say anything bad about him. I'm really a fan of his movies; I think he was the first person that invented the use of ironic use of pop music. I think his movies are sexy, great, and he's an amazing filmmaker.

Bloodstone: I'm guessing he doesn't like a lot of people. Divine was definitely on the way to more mass acceptability in Hollywood at the time of his death-besides your films, of course, what role would you most have liked to have seen him tackle?

Waters: The day after Divine died & he was supposed to start shooting Married With Children, where he was playing the Gay uncle, which was pretty early for a very, very popular sitcom to have a Gay character, and if that had worked, who knows? He could have become a giant star as a male actor, too, and he very much wanted to be both. I think, probably, he would have liked it more if it was a male part, because he had done everything. His character that was based on Jayne Mansfield, we dreamed up to scare hippies! [Laughs.] And he ended by getting the best reviews of his life by going against type and playing an alcoholic mother in Polyester and an overweight stage mother in Hairspray. So, I think he was ready to try something else, cause he had gone from glamour berzerko in the beginning to roles that no drag queens would ever have played then, and that's why I've never used a female impersonator again in my movies - not that I'm against them, but I think in a way, they would always be compared to Divine. I don't think anybody's as good as Divine. But Divine really did make drag queens hipper.

Bloodstone: I don't think it would have been too much of a stretch to see him as a Falstaffian character.

Waters: Well, I try to be humble&. [Laughs.]

Bloodstone: Being a fan of obscure oddball music, I loved A Date With John Waters - what's your idea of a fun date?

Waters: Well, I wrote the liner notes and they're sort of tongue-in-cheek, what it would be like if I lured you over to my house. I've done that many times in my life - I mean, I'm probably the only Gay man who never went to the gym. I try to get people into bed by making them laugh - maybe - but humor is really how I would seduce people. So, I'd probably play you some music that you would never have heard before, weird novelty songs that were on A Date With John Waters and the John Waters Christmas Album.

Bloodstone: Were you a Dr. Demento listener?

Waters: I have certainly listened to him, but I have my own - I work with a guy named Larry Benicewicz, and I work with him on all my soundtracks. He knows every record in the world - I might say, like when I was making A Dirty Shame, "Give me every country western novelty song about bears." [Laughs.] And then, of course, I'd use it about a Gay bear, even though it wasn't a song about that, but it seems to work out of context.

Bloodstone: Is it safe to assume you won't be taking advantage of the Gay marriage ruling in California anytime soon?

Waters: Well, I'm not getting married - I would have owed three alimonies by now if it was legal. [Laughs.] But every Gay person has the complete right, of course, to be married, and in our lifetime, it will be legal. However, I think it's a terrible time; even though I'm for it, finally it gives the Republicans something to rally against. And the Republicans are in trouble this time. I've said that we should just wait for a Democratic president - OK, good, Gay marriage is legal, ha ha, too bad, it's over! [Laughs.] - because Republicans very, very much want it to be a campaign issue. It's perfect for straight Gay people - I'm just not one of them. But I would certainly fight and vote against any political candidate that was against it.

Bloodstone: Do you plan to attend the Tonys, what with Cry Baby getting four nominations?

Waters: You bet I am! I'm introducing, on stage, the jailhouse number!

Bloodstone: Is some of the music that was in the original in the stage version?

Waters: Oh no, it's all completely original, which it has to be - David Javerbaum and Adam Schlesinger wrote the music and lyrics, and they did a great job. It has to be reinvented - all the music that was in the musical of Hairspray was not in the movie. I'm spoiled, I've had great experiences on Broadway.

Bloodstone: Who would your fans be the most surprised to find included in Role Models?

Waters: Maybe Johnny Mathis, cause I love Johnny Mathis. Every day I wake up and wish I was him.

Bloodstone: Finally, I'm sure Steve Buscemi would play you in a biopic, but who can you see playing Divine?

Waters: Carly Jibson, who is on the stage, but she could certainly play Divine young. She started in the road company as Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray, and did it on Broadway for a long time. And now, she plays Pepper on Broadway in Cry Baby. Oh, but I don't know - I would have said Anthony Hopkins, or maybe an unknown, a great, great unknown. It would definitely be a man, but I think that would be a good twist to have the younger played by a woman and the older played by a man.

Bloodstone: Great, well, thanks again, very much, for doing this.

Waters: Okay, I gotta keep packing!

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