Listen John Waters filthy world
Listen John Waters tell MPR's Euan Kerr about his most subversive act
Listen John Waters talks about the early days of showing his films
Growing up in Baltimore John Waters was a pretty strange kid. He admits as much in his show "This Filthy World." Take his reaction to "The Wizard of Oz."
"I was the only kid in the audience who couldn't understand why Dorothy would want to go home," he tells the audience. "It was a mystery to me. To that awful black-and-white farm, with that aunt who was dressed badly, with smelly farm animals around when she could live with winged monkeys and magic shoes and gay lions. I didn't get it."
Slim and elegantly dressed with his trademark pencil moustache, Waters talks like a machine gun, and he tends to talk about the things that nice people tend to avoid.
“Divine would come out pushing a shopping cart, very much like the act in 'Female Trouble' and throw dead mackerels into the audience.”John Waters on his early stage shows
In his one-man show, Waters describes how in the late 1960s, he decided to make movies. Never subtle, Waters went for laughs, shock value, and at times disgust.
Shooting around Baltimore, he used his friends as actors. One was known as Divine. She was a 300-pound transvestite.
Waters' most infamous film, "Pink Flamingos," featured Divine in a competition between criminals for the title of the most disgusting family in the world.
Just how disgusting they are in the film is best described elsewhere, but let's just say they have no boundaries to their depravity.
Waters said he drove his films from city to city, showing them at college film societies or rented halls. Every evening kicked off with a live introduction,
"Divine would come out pushing a shopping cart, very much like the act in 'Female Trouble' and throw dead mackerels into the audience," Waters says.
"And then in each city we would have a friend, or someone that looked cute, and we had a stolen police outfit. And he would put it on and a short-haired wig, because everyone had long hair then, and he would pretend to come on stage and try to arrest us, and Divine would strangle him, and then the movie would start. And it was vaudeville for hippies."
In time Waters and his films became famous, or at least infamous. Waters says the Fitzgerald performance is just an extension of those early shows.
Then in 1988 Waters made Hairspray, a musical comedy about the attempt to integrate a popular 1950s teen dance show in Baltimore.
The movie, starring Divine and Ricki Lake, was a hit. It inspired a Broadway musical, also a hit, which inspired another movie, this time with John Travolta playing the role created by Divine.
Waters says it's the only subversive thing he's ever done.
"Middle American audiences are completely embracing it," he says. "Watching two men sing a love song to each other, embracing a movie, a musical, another movie that encourages teenage interracial dating, and nobody seems to have a red flag that goes up."
Now the stage musical of another Waters film, "Cry Baby," is about to start its pre-Broadway run, and Waters hopes to get be shooting a Christmas movie for kids called "Fruitcake" early in the new year, although he hasn't got all the money yet.
Waters says it's never easy for him to get his movies made "because they never make a lot of money when they come out. But at the same time they do play everywhere in the world and they last forever. Last month seven of my movies were playing on cable television. Now that shocks me, that 'Pink Flamingos' is on cable television uncut. I never thought I would be alive to see that day."
And what does he think that says about society today?
"It's saying that people today have learned to laugh at things they fear. The saddest way to put it is, I have a friend - I taught in prison for a long time - he served 28 years and he went back to his community where his crime - horrible murder- had taken place. And I said 'What do they think? You are in the same neighborhood.' And he said, 'They brought food over to me, they brought clothes. They've had their own tragedies in their house.' Wow! That's a powerful statement."
John Waters is 60 now, but says he doesn't think he'll ever retire. In addition to his film project, he's got a book and a bunch of other projects in the pipeline. And then there's his show this weekend. He says people should take note of the title.
"It's not called 'The Sound of Music,' I mean it is called 'This Filthy World.' That is a problem I have always had. What happens since just Hairspray the movie was a hit. Families would go into video stores and say 'We love Hairspray. Let's get another John Waters movie. This one, 'Pink Flamingos,' is that about Florida?' And they take it home and call the police."
John Waters says everyone should have someone bad to look up to, and he's quite happy to take on that role.