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Film | Inside the filthy mind of John Waters

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Prince of Poop, Lord of Low-brow, King of Crass — ladies and gentleman, please welcome to the stage Sir John Waters

I’ve been immersed in the world of John Waters recently, and a lot of it has to do with This Filthy World, a 2006 documentary about the man who brought us the original Hairspray along with a heap of perverse classics like Female Trouble and Pink Flamingos.

Some backstory. Picture it: Baltimore, 1964. A young budding filmmaker called John Waters shoots his first $30-budget, 8-minute film on the roof of his parents’ home. He calls it Hag in a Black Leather Jacket. It was the beginnings of a career as one of America’s most notorious and celebrated cult filmmakers.

Today, veteran Baltimorian cult film director John Waters is making a sequel to Hairspray, following its recent phenomenal success as a Broadway musical and remade Hollywood flick.

It’s a good time, then, for a look back — precisely what Jeff Garlen’s documentary This Filthy World does. In truth, it’s less a doco and more a stand-up talk by Waters recorded at New York’s Harry DeJour Playhouse. Waters talks us through his filmmaking life — from his childhood obsession with vaudeville and the Wicked Witch of the West to his first set of low-budget movies. From his success with Hairspray through to establishing himself as Hollywood’s Prince of Puke.

And it’s all littered with amusing, and occasionally repulsive, anecdotes shooting his films, the people he worked with and the reception his movies received. Waters makes it an entertaining and personal journey. And he delivers really well, never really faltering for the 90 or so minutes.

He 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 patrons received for Pecker) is dirty, and attracts the gaze of censors.

Waters urges us to use humour as terrorism. Talking about gay marriage, he says:

“If you have a local politican that’s against gay marriage, send the skankiest drag queens to his house and have them yell out fashion insults to his wife. Or get some meth gay guys and have them hide in the woods and scare a boy scout troupe — they deserve it.”

He shares stories of working with Dreamland regulars such as Divine and Edith Massey, as well as Johnny Depp, Patty Hearst, Tracie Lords, Ricki Lake and Tab Hunter.

Of working with Kathleen Turner in Serial Mom, Waters says:

“Meeting Kathleen Turner is like going to prison. Show no fear and you’ll do great.”

He talks about his obsession with court cases and attendance at Patty Hearst’s and Watergate. In fine detail, he shares his experiences signing objects for fans, including the time one fan presented her Tampax for autograph.

Waters explains some of his pet peeves:

“People in airports who do their exercises at the gate. I hate these people. ‘We’re waiting for a plane, not a trainer, asshole!'”

We get a personal tour of his much-beloved hometown of Baltimore, and it’s inhabitants. You get this feeling that Baltimore is Waters’ muse.

All of this in a 90-minute feature that’s nothing more than the man himself. And he does a mighty fine job — I don’t think there’s a moment where he falters and he managed to make me repulsed at least once.

It’s on DVD. If you’re a Waters fan, go get it.

If Waters was a teenager now, he’d be on YouTube. But would he have the same shockable audience? Has every taboo been broken?

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Written by Darren Smith

1 March 2009 at 10:10 pm

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