The undisputed ‘master of filth’ is returning to Adelaide with a second helping of his This Filthy World monologue. The Adelaide Review dared to ask the notorious director, screenwriter, actor, author, comedian, journalist, visual artist and art collector what’s been left unsaid.
“I don’t know if anything’s been left unsaid, but it’s more about what I’ve added,” Waters explains. “I’m always updating the show, adding new stuff, talking about my new obsessions, new perversions, new things that I think I can share with you to make your neurotic life happier.” Waters’ appeal transcends politics, upbringing and ages. Whether people have followed his career from its beginning, or are just discovering his cult work now, he finds a broad cross-section of society coming to see his shows all over the world. He doesn’t consider a John Waters fan to be a specific type of person. “I think most of the people that come to see me have one thing in common – it’s not their sexual preference, their race or age, it’s their defiance of trying to perform the way they’ve been programmed to perform. They might be fucked up but they’ve learnt how to live a life and be happy and fucked up. I think that’s what my show is all about. I’m not mean and I never put anybody down – in fact I praise people that most people don’t praise. I’m trying to get you to look at things in a different way without judgement and I think if you can do that, and I think that humour is the best way to do that, then you can change people’s minds.” From this description, Waters’ This Filthy World series sounds more like a public service than a comedy show. He admits that his material – to him – is just “sharing common sense”. “I actually think I am a public service to some,” Waters laughs, although he laments that the shock value with what he comes up with seems to have waned with time. “No one gets mad anymore, because I’m not mean. I’m generally interested in what I talk about. That’s why I don’t like reality television – I think it tries to make you make fun of the people on it and I’d never do that.” Waters confesses that the topic that interests him most is “people who think they’re normal, but are totally insane” and “any question that doesn’t have a fair answer” – enjoying the grey area more so than the black and white. A lot of people often ask him for advice given his wealth of life experience, to the point where he says going to his show is like “going to see a good shrink”. “It’s like Dorothy and the Good Witch in The Wizard Of Oz, when she goes, ‘You had to find that out for yourself, Dorothy’. It’s the same principle. I’m leading you to think that way, but I’m not going to tell you how to solve your problems, I don’t know how to solve your problems, and sometimes they’re problems that can’t be solved – you just have to learn to live with them and embrace them and make them your partner.” Waters’ catalogue of cult films has endured for just this reason – they are riddled with flaws and mistakes – but that’s become their greatest charm. They have become a prime example of what you can achieve with little more than enthusiasm and creativity. His early films, including Pink Flamingos, arguably his most notorious work, prove that money, political correctness and star power is not always the formula for success. His films have created stars, albeit infamous ones, with long-time friend and muse, the overweight drag queen Divine at the pinnacle. However, perhaps his career’s greatest inspiration – and champion – is his hometown of Baltimore. “A lot of people who come to Baltimore say, ‘Your films are documentaries!’ People do look like that here. People do look like Divine on every corner. Cookie Mueller [one of Waters’ early stars] always used to say when she would come back to Baltimore, ‘Why is it that it’s the only city in the world where they dance at bus stops?’ And they do! For some reason you always see people dancing by themselves at bus stops… Believe me, the buses here do not inspire artistic feelings!” Waters admits that his best film and “the only one where I had enough money” is 1994’s Serial Mom, starring Kathleen Turner as a homicidal housewife as an ode to Waters’ obsession with attending murder trials. The film was ahead of its time more so for the ‘trial by media’ plotline, which foreshadowed the groundbreaking OJ Simpson case later that year. Furthermore, 1972’s Pink Flamingos enjoyed underground success for its fellatio, dead chicken and that final scene before New Line Cinema distributed it nationally. In many ways, Waters broke new ground for filmmakers who are looking to push boundaries of their own. “I believe that every Hollywood studio is looking for the John Waters and Pink Flamingos – they weren’t when I was making it in any possible way but today they are. They’re looking for that movie to make a fortune on it, so it’s good; it’s a better time to make movies when you’re young. You have a better chance of being discovered.” Although his last film, 2004’s A Dirty Shame, was critically and commercially panned, Waters refuses to admit he has given up filmmaking, although there is nothing as yet in the works. He does, however, note some changes to the film business that would make a new John Waters film a difficult endeavour. “The difference is the independent movie business has completely changed. I’m no longer in it. It’s impossible for me. In 50 years it’s now the only time the industry has nothing to do with what I did. They want you to make a movie that can play all over the world, especially in China, and cost $100 million dollars and have no dialogue. Comedies are the last thing they’re looking for. That’s why I’m so jealous in the best way for Woody Allen; he has the most enviable career of anyone. He just keeps making smart comedies and nobody gives him notes.” Waters will also be joining Adelaide Writers’ Week, with a talk on his 2011 nonfiction book, Role Models. He gives The Adelaide Review some insight into his next book, Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America, out in June. “I hitchhiked across America by myself at 66 years old, without anybody following me or anything. I wrote about it before I left in a fictional way of the 15 best rides – the best for me isn’t always the best for others. There’s sex, there’s adventure, there’s run-ins with the police. And then I imagine the 15 worst rides – and when I think up something bad it’sreally bad,” he laughs. “And then the next day I left and did it for real; it was 21 rides in nine days. It was very optimistic and very despairing at times standing alongside a road for 10 hours and nobody picks you up. On those days I thought, ‘this is going to take a year’.” This interview originally appeared in Rip It Up.