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Six underground directors who dirtied John Waters’ mind

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johnwaters460American filmmaker John Waters was in the thick of underground, experimental, crass American filmmaking in the 1960s. His oeuvre includes Pink Flamingos to Hairspray. See what movies dirtied his mind as a budding director.

1. WILLIAM CASTLE
Castle is the grand-daddy of audience participation in cinemas, long before Rocky Horror sing-a-longs. In sessions of “The Tingler” (1951), which Waters fondly recalls, buzzers would be fitted to seats in the cinemas. They would go off in opportune and scary bits in the movie causing the recipient to scream.

» Check out the trailer to “The Tingler”

Castle was king of the gimic. Here are some more examples:

  • Macabre (1958): a certificate of life insurance was given to each patron should they die of fright during the film. Fake nurses were on hand.
  • House on Haunted Hill (1959): a glow-in-the-dark skeleton hung from the ceiling.
  • 13 Ghosts (1960): Patrons were given “ghostviewers” to wear while watching the movie.
  • Strait-Jacket (1964): Although advised against a gimic, Castles sent cast member Joan Crawford around to cinemas. (Joan would posthumously come to life as a horror character in her own right in Mommie Dearest.)

2. KROGER BABB
Sexploitation filmmaker whose most popular work was Mom and Dad. The movie was condemned by the National Legion of Decency. You can see a young John Waters rushing to see that one. In spite of (or because of) its condemnation, the film became one of the highest-grossing films of the 1940s.

I couldn’t find any footage from Mom and Dad, but I did find trailers for “Child Bride” and “Something Weird She Shoulda Said No”.

3. THE KUCHAR BROTHERS
George and Martin Kuchar. Twin brothers. “Known for their ‘low-fi’ aesthetic, playful use of no-talent actors, plotless plots, and themeless themes.” Most of their films were trash horror/sci-fi oozing trashy b-grade sexuality. Take Pussy on a Hot Tin Roof. They were movie theatre addicts and important scene setters for American experimental film-making in the 60s.

» Scene from Martin Kuchar’s “Sins of the Fleshapoids” (1965)

4. JACK SMITH
Notoriously, Smith’s 1963 movie “Flaming Creatures” is certifiably obscene. Certified by the New York Criminal Court after the film was seized by police at its premiere.

The film features an array of transvestites, hermaphrodites, drag shows, a sexually ambiguous vampire, a drug orgy and a well-built cunnilingual rapist. One for the whole family!

Of Jack Smith, Andy Warhol said: “The only person I would ever copy.”

» Check out the trailer to “Flaming Creatures”
» 2006 Documentary (feat John Waters): “Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis”

5. KENNETH ANGER
This is the man who helped Dr Alfred Kinsey build his film library. Anger turned Nazism into camp in his 1964 film Scorpio Rising, with a 1950s soundtrack. Think Grease meets Leni Riefenstahl meets Tom of Finland.

The movie was censored for indecency and the case went to the Supreme Court. Anger won. It appeared the same time as Smith’s Flaming Creatures

» Clip from Scorpio Rising

6. ANDY WARHOL
In 2005, Waters curated an exhibition called “Andy’s Porn”, which strangely enough featured Andy Warhol’s porn.

Waters was a fan of Warhol’s early, experimental films … presumably before they developed a more mainstream narrative structure of the kind you see in Heat.

There’s Blow Job – a 35-minute continuous shoot of DeVeren Bookwalter’s face as he is (supposedly) being fellated.

Also, Empire – Just over 8 hours of continuous real-time footage of New York’s Empire State Building

I’ll be posting one or two more blogs about John Waters.

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Written by Darren Smith

11 February 2009 at 11:07 pm

4 Responses

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  1. # one fan

    RICHARD HARPELL

    27 February 2009 at 5:20 pm

  2. […] talks about movies and filmmakers that inspired him and his vision for film that breaks taboos, involves the audience (such as the Odourama cards that […]

  3. […] it turns out, George is one of America’s most respected underground filmmakers and has made over 60 films and nearly 200 videos. Active since the sixties […]

  4. […] it turns out, George is one of America’s most respected underground filmmakers and has made over 60 films and nearly 200 videos. Active since the sixties […]


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