Two pieces of John Waters-related media showed up in my feeds this week – a lengthy New Yorker interview ostensibly to mark the unveiling of his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and a brief Criterion puff piece from a few years ago wherein the director picks out some of his favourite DVDs (at least, those which are available in the Criterion collection) – and it got me thinking about my own 25-year fascination with the filmmaker.
As a young wannabe filmmaker in my early twenties, I would read as many books and magazines about film as I could, and Waters' Pink Flamingos (1972) would often crop up in discussions about low- or no-budget filmmaking (alongside those other low-budget poster-children, Clerks (1994) and 1992's El Mariachi). I dutifully obtained a copy (almost certainly on VHS at that time) to watch and learn from. I'm not sure whether the ramshackle production, dreadful script, terrible acting (Waters blames poor sound equipment early in his career for this, causing him to instruct his actors to simply "Scream!") or blatant courting of outrage that is the film's most famous moment (despite happening almost post-credits) impressed me least, but it was his attitude towards creativity – the conviction that he should just make things that he and his friends enjoyed – that stayed with me.
I've watched more of his work over the years. Cry-Baby (1990) was an early favourite, as was Pecker (1998) and the original version of his musical Hairspray (1988). His earlier, non-Hollywood studio movies (Mondo Trasho, Multiple Maniacs, Female Trouble, Desperate Living, and Polyester) are harder to find, although many are now available to watch in full for free on YouTube or other video platforms. I even made a pilgrimage to the Senator Theatre in Waters' hometown of Baltimore when I visited there in the late 90s. The cinema was where Waters would premiere all of his films; most were filmed entirely on location in and around the city.
In conversation, despite being labelled "The Pope of Filth" by some because of his work, Waters is always unfailingly pleasant and polite, unfazed by any outrage or disgust he may be the source of, and happy that at least some people enjoy the things he enjoys making – in short, a healthy attitude to have towards creativity, without worrying about meeting any arbitrary audience needs. If they laugh, fine; if they puke, also fine. He's apparently starting work on a new film shortly, to be based on his recent novel Liarmouth. The book's heroine is named Marsha Sprinkle, which reassures me that he hasn't lost his unique sense of (bad) taste.
(On a related note, I also highly recommend the documentary about Waters' frequent star/muse and friend, I Am Divine, which I think is still available on Amazon Prime).