Podcast Episode 70: The Trash Cinema Of John Waters
Screening of 'Desperate Living' prompts dusting off archive interview with the Sultan of Sleaze
Beth Accomando: Welcome back to another edition of the KPBS Cinema Junkie Podcast. I’m Betha Commando. [Music clip 00:00:10 can’t help it, girl can’t help it, can’t help it, girl can’t help] Beth Accomando: it’s true, I can’t help it, I can’t help the fact that I love John Waters and even though I spoke about him last December about his Christmas show. I’m doing another podcast about him, because film out Santiago screening his 1977 film desperate living on Saturday, April 9 at 3 PM at the museum of photographic arts in Balboa Park. Here’s the trailer from Desperate Living. [Clipof Desperate Living Trailer 00:00:30] Narrator: It’s contagious, it’s outrageous. Its John Waters desperate living, starring Hollywood sex Goddess Liz Renay… Liz Renay: [Indiscernible] [00:00:39] Narrator: - - Susan Lowe as androgynous Mole McHenry, - - Susan Lowe: [Indiscernible] [00:00:46] Narrator: - - And Mink Stole as hysterical outpatient Peggy Gravel, - - Peggy Gravel: Get out of here you; you stinking peace of flesh. Narrator: Yes, they all had a lot of desperate living, - - Speaker 1: [screaming] Oh God, find them, fill them, fuck them and forget them. Is that your new marrow? [Screams] [Baby crying]. Susan lowe: I’m a man, Muffy, a man trapped in a woman’s body. Narrator: Follow the dead end road to Martville, USA. Speaker 2: Look around you. It’s a village of idiots. Beth Accomando: John Waters boast that in regards to his film in desperate living, an official censor in London wrote, “We do not know how to deal with the subject of intentional bad taste.” And that’s precisely what Waters banks on, no one in the history of America cinema has done more for bad taste than Waters and his cinematic legacy maybe that he brought trash to the level of art. The screening is a perfect excuse for me to dig back to the dusty interview archives to pull out some pearls of wisdom from the man known as The Sultan of Sleaze, The Prince of Puke and The King or possibly The Queen of Schlock. Titles he proudly wears. I interviewed Waters back in 1997 when he was re-releasing Pink Flamingos. [Clip from Pink Flamingos 00:02:08] Mr. Divine: Question and Answer. Speaker 1: Do you believe in God? Mr. Divine: I am God. Speaker 2: you are God [laughs] Speaker3: you are God [laughs]. Mr. Goldstein: is there no wrong? Mr. Divine: there’s right and there is wrong. I have never been wrong Mr. Goldstein Mr. Corzan: you expect get new followers in this publicity? Mr. Divine: I certainly hope so Mr. Corzan I didn’t invite you here to jerk off you know. Get this all down don’t miss one single word. Mr. Vader: Supposed we decided not to print this story Mr. Divine what then? Mr. Divine: [laughs] Mr. Vader, see that? That answers your question. I have your address, and I know you have a wife and child is that correct? Well if nothing is printed, we might be in the mood for barbeque, get what I mean? A human Barbeque and of course it ends up here, proceed with the execution. [End of clip 00:03:01] Beth Accomando: Born in Baltimore 1946, Waters grew up in a comfortable, conservative Catholic family. He knew from early age that he wanted to make movies and he began by making a pair of super eight films, Hag in black leather jacket in 1964, and Roman candles in 1966. Then he borrowed money from his father to produce Pink Flamingos which was billed as an exercise in poor taste. While the content of Pink Flamingos - incest, exhibitionism, singing anuses and eating dog crap were direct challenge to the standard Hollywood fare, Waters approach to film making relied in Hollywood dynamic, insisted on a straightforward narrative of plot. Emphasize entertainment over enlightenment and built the stable of stars that rivaled Hollywood in a most outlandish fashion. By embracing this Hollywood trappings he foreshadowed his eventual move into the industry where proved highly successful with films like Hairspray, Cry-Baby, and Serial Mom. [Clip from Serial Mom 00:03:57] Narrator: this is the story of Beverly Sutphin, - - [Whip sounds] Beverly Sutphin: Scrambles anybody? Narrator: - - A devoted mother, - - Beverly Sutphin: I’m so happy I could chip, you know how I hate the brown word. Narrator: - - A loving wife Speaker 1: Think the kids are awake Beverly: We could be very quiet. Speaker 1: I’m ready. Honey, your hot tonight. Narrator: - - And a suspected murderer Beverly: Kids, are you doing your homework? Narrator: How did the America’s number one mom turn into one of Americas most wanted? Is she really guilty? Speaker 2: are you a serial killer? Beverly: Chip is only the cereal I know anything about is rice crispies. Beth: But with Pink Flamingos, Waters made an audacious bid of attention and got it but the film was more than as an attempt to shock. It was an all-out satiric assault in the middle class values that waters saw as oppressive and hypocritical. [Clip from Pink Flamingos 00:04:48] Divine: Gentleman of the press get ready, because you’re about to witness the biggest news event of the year. Live homicide, Connie Marble, you stand convicted of Assholism, for proper punishment will now take place. Look pretty for the picture Connie, that’s it. [End of the Clip 00:04:48] Beth: The film lobbed a bomb in the cultural war of sixties and early seventies. But what made Waters unique was the joyous quality of his work, and the wicked delight he took in trashy obscenity. Waters revelry at smashing establishment values and championing social misfits made his films irresistible to all but the most puritanical. Who can resist the gleeful and absolutely defiant three hundred pound Divine decked out in flamboyant outfit and strutting down a Baltimore street to the strains of The Girl Can’t Help It. [Audio clip of The Girl can’t help it] Beth: This is an outsider flaunting his non conformity with pride. Water’s early films revealed a keen eye for social observation and genuine compassion for the outsider. He would hone these skills to perfection in Hairspray in 1988. [Short clip of Hairspray and music background] Speaker 1: Baltimore 1962 the hay day of hair do’s and hair don’ts. Speaker 2: We shall overcome someday. Now in that hair you won’t. Speaker 1: Heartthrob’s and hefty girls. Speaker: mama, Welcome to the 60’s. Beth: Here’s my interview with waters from 1997. He spoke to me from his beloved Baltimore and he reflected Pink Flamingos. The film that brought him into spotlight and gave trash cinema a good bad name. Beth: First of all, I wanted to find out what prompted to re-release Pink Flamingos? John Waters: Well, The filth was rotting in the can and it begged to be let out I think. I pitched this kind to Bob Shaye who is the head of New Line cinema who I’ve known for a long, long time even a long time it as the time in New York that has. So Pink Flamingos was a big part of their history and I knew the 25th anniversary was coming up and I knew that I had this footage that was kind of no one had ever seen before whole scenes that cut out the movie, some plots and stuff. So I pitched it to them I’m having it on 25th anniversary as a good way to get a new video release and to get back in the eye of the public. I dint even realize at that time that all these other movies were going to be coming out so it turned out perfectly with sort of spoof of star wars and all this good taste that’s coming up it sort of worked out that way. It was an idea that I had not realizing with another movie. The kind of movies that are coming up right now are always seems like The Garden ofFinzi-Continis with so much good taste that I thought that we have to put my idea now to sort of put a bad taste movie, also to remember that it came out 25 years ago too. [Clip of an Interview in the movie Pink Flamingos 00:08:00] Interviewer: I’d like to close. With the original trailer New Line cinema used to sell Pink Flamingos. Notice, no footage from the actual movie is ever shown. Interviewer: So are you happy about it? Interviewee 1: Some of friends saw it and thought it was absolutely marvelous Interviewee 2: Probably I’d be very insulted. Interviewer: Would you come out on midnight to see it? Interviewee 3: It’s a little gross but I liked it. Interviewee4: Well it was the grossest film I’ve seen. Interviewee5: “I think john waters got his finger in the poles of America. I think he got his film secure Americas act.” Interviewee6: “I enjoyed dirty things much as everyone else but this isn’t even dirty it’s just disgusting.” [End of the clip 00:08:43] Berth: So is this mean we’re going get the filthiest people in a World song and pig Latin put back in. John: Yes, those are scenes in the outtakes that come out in the end. Beth: So have you been holding on to all these reals scenes for twenty-five years? John: Well they’ve been in my attic. Actually when they did the new version of the film, they didn’t blow up, they rescan film, they re-digitized the sound. I mean it still looks terrible, it’s Pink Flamingos, but still it look as good as it will ever look. So I had always had this footage but I didn’t even see it myself for 25 years. And when I actually screened the whole thing I forgot some of it. A lot of it was like, I could barely remember writing it or shooting it [indiscernible] [00:09:25] and she didn’t remember shooting [indiscernible] [00:09:35] we made this movie but no one can even remember doing it. Beth: So then what do you think will be the banner headlines for this new restored scenes, how should you be promoting it? John: Yes, what they are, it’s not a director’s cut because you can see why this all sub plots are cut out. It made the movie too long. Afterwards if you know the movie and you’ll see a whole new thing and also they are cut shorter because I’m sort of the human cut away [indiscernible] [00:10:17] that kind of spirit. Beth: Did you also feel that a new generation just needed to be exposed to Pink Flamingos in the big screen? John: Yes I did. I think what I’m proud of is that the film still works. It hasn’t mellowed while it’s been sitting up there in my attic, the bile has not mellowed. It may be even ruder that it ever was with all the political correctness going on now and kind of thing. Things have changed. I mean 25 years ago it was shocking to have a plot where people sold babies to lesbian couples but today politically correct. Some things have changed but certainly Divine’s Make-up remains still I think the best look a drag Queen could ever had. Beth: Well I really admire is that after 25 years it still can offend people I mean I can still see scenes that I could probably could not describe on the radio because ,- - John: Well everyone still talks about the final scene divine eating dog crap being most repellent but I think the artificial insemination scene is probably the rudest scene in the movie. Beth: So do you still get complaints about this scene? John: Well the film even got busted. In Florida in a video shop about five years ago, yeah what happens is that families go out and be like “Oh we loved Hairspray let’s get another John Waters movie.” And they see something called Pink Flamingos .That’s why we very much wanted and got this time an NC-17 rating because the last video release didn’t have any rate it was unrated. So some video shops don’t know what it is and they just put it up in the comedy section. Then some unsuspecting family goes home and rents the movie and then they call the police. Which to me, I don’t understand, I mean why don’t they just turn it off? That’s what I did when Forest Gump started running; but no they feel that they must stop it like a disease. Beth: I thought it was interesting that when I went to look for your film in the video store to watch it again I thought “Oh must be in like midnight movies or cult movies” but now you’re in alternative lifestyle. John: Well my favorite was I used to see it in foreign and I thought that was the best. Beth: did they consider Baltimore four? John: I see that in foreign language movies and Pink Flamingos. I guess there was an attempt to try to figure out where to classify because putting it in x rated section is really doesn’t work unless really something the matter what you know I don’t think it’s a marital aid for many people. Beth: I’ve read once that you said your film was obscene but in a joyous way. John: Yes, I think it is. Beth: Do you think that’s offends people the most? John: I think that’s what it makes it popular, that’s why people like it. I think joyously obscene can be wonderful and it is celebration. Real obscenity is nasty and makes you feel bad about yourself, I think Pink Flamingos makes it feel good about yourself, I think it’s a happy movie. I mean some catholic movies in some way I mean it’s just obvious there’s good and bad and the good guys win and the villains punished. It’s a very moral along the way. Beth: Well I think that probably offends people that is you make divine’s family seem so normal, you presented it to be acceptable that I think that’s what people may find the most offensive. John: Well yeah it is, and they’re happy with their filthiness, which mean they aren’t judging anybody else; they’re not bothering anybody, they’re living by themselves and live basically and attacked by people who are jealous and judgment and I think that I never revealed divine as a man in any of my movies. His was a character actor it just happened to play woman sometimes. I think it’s peculiar, but people never seem to - they always laugh during that when divine’s having an affair her son in the movie, but her son is really into her travelling companion as long as she watches him he is an exhibition [indiscernible] [00:14:13] so it’s complicated that is [indiscernible] [00:14:18] into kind of a special happiness that’s only really takes place in a move. Beth: If you’re making you’re first films today do you think you can make a film like Pink Flamingos and find an outlet for it? John: Certainly yes. I think it might be even easier. There are more venues to show that kind of thing but the difference today they wouldn’t be it will just be shown in the Angelica Theater in New York and the problem is you have to have a large budget for advertising at the time Pink Flamingos had no advertising with [indiscernible] [00:14:18] so that’s the different things to that no matter what the film is it would have to be promoted. When then audience [indiscernible] [00:15:08] they would even look out even go up the middle of the night and try to find a movie that will surprise them and I’m not so sure [indiscernible] [00:15:11]. Beth: It also seems that in independent film the budgets are so much bigger now that would seem harder to just….. John: No. still, I mean look that - certainly there are still movies that are made with very little money that do get attention. There’re more outlets I mean when I made Pink Flamingo you couldn’t go to film school to make that kind of movie. Now you must certainly could; you could make [indiscernible] [00:15:33] then you would fail. The difference, you won’t be allowed them then times are very, very different, I think that it’s more open to any kind of film today. The differences then that there are more Taboos, but taboos that are in Pink Flamingo s there are still taboos today I mean that’s what I’m saying that I’m proud of the film, but it still does work on the level. I made that movie for an audience that thought they seen it everything and to laugh at the fact that they hadn’t and it’s pretty harmless if they really consider what is the big shock in it. I even shown it when I’ve taught in the prison to a class of all murderers but they ran out of the room saying I was insane. Beth: Did you take that as a compliment? John: Well it shocked me at first because I thought boy you’re so touchy here considering these are like murderers, rapist and stuff. And they’re telling me I’m crazy. It’s strange, it shocked me, it made me laugh. Beth: Today when you’ve got all these shock jocks and got these people confessing everything on talk shows, do you think you have to find another way to shock people or different approach? John: The problem with that is that they are trying to shock people as their first goal that was not my first goal. My first goal was to make people laugh at being shock there’s a big, big difference in that. I’ve talked for years about good bad taste and bad taste. And here’s where I think that comes into play. Bad, bad taste to me is not very witty and is trying first to only be repellent and with Pink Flamingo was taking being [indiscernible] [00:17:10] turning it into a style that I think basically was in some kind of good taste in a way. Beth: How did your parents react to it when it came out? John: My parents have still never seen the movie but my father paid for it and I paid him back with interest. I think he was totally shocked to get his money back. I told them it was coming out again and my father’s eighty and he said “oh no.” I mean they were horrified that they would have to live through that again like that was 25 years ago. My mother joked and said “Maybe we’ll die first,” she actually said that and then my sister told me that “maybe I guess we have really go and see it this time” and I said no really don’t. I mean why, make them go see that movie. I think that’s the thing that’s changed the most that just came up to me now, my parents showed Pink Flamingos now, so our generation of parents sure wouldn’t have done that. Beth: But they were basically supportive of you? John: Yes, always even though they were scared to step of it horrified by it and everything they believed in this movies defied, but at the same time I think they knew that at least I knew what I wanted to do, and I was very passionate about it. So I looked back on it and I realized how much they really love me by doing that. But that time I was thinking like “Oh God my parents are watching I shouldn’t they.” But now I looked back and see how incredibly supportive they were and I think that was whatever degree I have mental health these day is because of that. Beth: Did you ever think there were lines you’d never cross or do you look especially to find that and then push it a little further? John: No, I never do real violence. I don’t have any interest in that. I love make violence and I hate real violence. Certainly that’s the main one I would never have anyone really being hurt or kill anybody I’m no interest in snuff movies, I’m no interest in any kind of real violence. Beth: Are you disappointed if your films don’t provoke some kind of controversy? John: Well no I mean certainly I didn’t expect Cry-Baby to you know what I mean. None of them are made without initial thing well I guess at the beginning I guess Pink Flamingos I knew that’s there’s going to be a controversy and but it was a very different time, it was the time where there were cultural war going on and it felt that it was [indiscernible] [00:19:19] and the reviewers were them. It can be outraged reviews were a big help to my films. I don’t think that would happen today, I don’t think reviewers would, they all think they’re not be admitting that they were shocked by something. I know that the ad campaign we released an ad campaign it’s all negative reviews we have once the view original negative reviews; but that are pretty funny now, when you see them. Beth: What are your feelings about Hollywood now that you’ve done some films within the system to a degree? John: Well there’ve been, well that’s not news, certainly hairspray was made [indiscernible] [00:19:53] was made within Hollywood system and a way with New line Cinema but still they tested the movie underrated as much as the same thing well. I think there’s not a huge difference anymore between independent in Hollywood, I mean it’s still hard for me to get movies made was never easy. But at the same time, it’s easier for me now I when I go to see the studio would be an independent or real studio than it used to be when I have go out, just had to borrow money from eight lunatics which had $10,000. At least now when I go to the studio I know that they have the money but that isn’t the issue. It’s kind of the same. I guess it’s gotten easier in some way that I know the business and know how it works but it is never hard I mean my last movie result at the last minute [indiscernible] [00:20:36] to be amended. It’s not like that I can make any movie that I want still and that’s because I write and direct and that’s the hardest movie to get made because the studio knows you wrote it that you control it and that’s what I want always want me to direct a movie that I didn’t wrote so they can control it but I never do. Beth: Do you think that you have two groups of fans those are really love your early stuff and those who know from your recent works? John: At least I have three groups. I think I have [indiscernible] [00:21:04] hopefully they like both, there are few die hards that wants me to make Pink Flamingos over and ever but I think if I ever tried to it wouldn’t work and it would be unsuccessful. Certainly there are people that only know me from Hairspray on and those are the people that would be horrified when they go to see Pink Flamingos and they say “don’t see it, don’t go, oh I heard that’s the wild one.” But they quite don’t know how wild. Yes I mean the people like elderly woman came up to me said “I love all your movies.” And I said “you like multiple maniacs?” then she said “well no I didn’t see that one.” As well [indiscernible] [00:21:43] I’m happy to say the truth; I mean these days when you make a move and somebody likes any of them [indiscernible] [00:21:49] it doesn’t matter which one. Beth: Do you like to watch your films with an audience? John: Yes, at the beginning I do then I certainly don’t watch it myself and Pink Flamingos that I haven’t seen in the long time and then I had to spend the whole week watching it every day when we get the blow up and out the music back in. First like it but then it was torture. But then it premiered in some time it was fun, seeing it with the audience. Yes I like seeing it with an audience in the beginning. Then I like to move on to the next one. Beth: What was it like when you actually made the film? When you were shooting it, when you shoot in like weekends or something or sporadically? John: We shot maybe but I don’t know why because nobody worked, nobody had real jobs so I don’t know why we would waited for weekends. I don’t remember its like a blurry area it maybe one day a week or something when I’d get the money, together to do it. And I wrote it as I kind of went along I mean I know the end, but sometimes people would get hit, the dialogue was always hand written and that kind of paper they didn’t have Xerox, I think it was more like mimeograph, yes that’s what it was written on and it was filmed on because they didn’t have videos and this was what news teams used to use, the sound on mag striped 16 mm and that’d what it was shot with and that’s why there’s such long takes because you couldn’t cut because every time you’d make a cut the sound had to overlap 24 frames there, so it was almost like filming a play. And it was filmed in the friend of mine who lived in the country there were woods and nobody was around, that’s what the trailer was, we got it a Junk the Jargon and it was very hard and it was very [indiscernible] [00:23:30] all the way through them, it was freezing cold [indiscernible] [00:23:33] 10 degrees there. It was a very, very hard movie to make but we were all young. So all movies are hard to make and when you’re young you can make them even harder. Beth: What was it like editing, how did you, did you do that at home? John: Did it myself and my ad hoc you know and it was and the Gods are all watching over me because I had no work print, I had every time, this how I edited. I would make a hot place and then to look at it put it in the projector. And there’s no work print and it’s not scratched. ‘I don’t know how that’s possible, I mean turn in my work print today and it looks you can barely see it by the time I make the final print some of the movie if its scratched and I really look at it millions of times too. So I don’t know if you ever tried it that way, it would never work but it’s no any better. Beth: How did you find Divine? John: Divine lived down the street from my parents. I used to see him every day and he had different color hair when he was waiting for the bus and my father would like tremble and rage. I thought “God I have to meet this person.” So I met him through a girl that I knew that I used to see bleached [indiscernible] [00:24:43] that turns green from [indiscernible] [00:00:00] from the swimming pool and she had mosquito bites on her ankle and him mowing the lawn in like short shorts with the beehive and she knew Divine because they used to gamble for pimple medicine when they played cards. Because divine has a like white lipstick, that’s how I met him, he lived up the street. Beth: And what was you’re working relationship like? John: Well it was a very good one I think. In the beginning I don’t think Divine believed that anything was going to happen with these movies at all. He didn’t even quite get it, I mean in the beginning. I mean because in the very, very beginning Divine was like a real drag queen for about two seconds until I really got a hold of him because then other drag queens hated him immediately because they knew that we were making fun of drag queens because drag queens were really very square they all wanted to be like Miss America and wear mink coats. And Divine obviously made fun of that image. I mean here was someone who was fat and proud of it, which no drag queens were. Divine wasn’t a drag queen and at the end, even in Hairspray, when he looked at he said no drag queen would ever allowed himself to look like this. I mean he was a character actor. And I think Divine had a lot of built in rage, I mean he was hassled in high school and I think he used that. I think being Divine the character gave him an outlet for that and I think I had a lot of rage too and the two of our rages turned them to whatever the character was that was Divine in the film because I never walked around looking like that. I mean that’s the part he played he would not dress like that in real life. Beth: Who came up with the great costumes? John: Matthew did all the costumes for all my movie costumes and he still does, I think he did a great job. Beth: The infamous final scene with the dog, how did you come up with that? John: It was just something I knew in the very beginning I said “Would you eat dog shit?” and he said “Oh yeah.” It was no big thing. You know that’s the scariest thing about it, it really wasn’t a big deal to us - - [clip from Pink Flamingos 00:26:46] Divine: What your about to see is the real thing. John: - - it was pot humor, that’s what it really was I think. It was the very last thing we did in the whole movie. And you know the story, do really want me to tell again? I told it many times like I tried a new way to I mean we followed the dog around, it was my friend Pat Moran’s dog, she fed it for like three days and didn’t let it out and it still wouldn’t go and we kept following it around and following it around, finally we had to give it an enema with a hair dye applicator bottle and then it just dropped a little turd and Divine said “Eat that little thing?” and I said “Yes we’re losing the light, we’ve gotta do it.” So he just did it and it was over. I remember looking through the viewfinder in my pitiful little 16 mm silent camera and just realizing that it was a surreal moment in our lives. And the very first time I ever saw it with an audience I knew that it really worked, worked beyond whatever I could imagine. But even then I didn’t think 25 years later I would still be talking about it. And Divine eventually got weary from it, from talking about it because he could never. People were scared of him his entire life because he did that. It worked too well. I mean people were really frightened of him, they thought that he really did live in that trailer and killed people and eat shit all day. I mean they thought that for real because the film was so cheap looking that it, looked real like a documentary film. Looked like when you stumble into the woods and people were really living in trailer like they do some crime or massacre something. And I believe that’s why Divine eventually got weary of it, because people couldn’t ever get beyond it. Beth: Actually when I rented the film somebody said oh yes I knew that scene at the end where he eats the dog excrement,” and I said “yes” and he says, “But that’s not real right?” And I said “no it’s one take.” And he was “no way.” John: It confuse them like if it computer edit or everything but that’s why it’s a twister, like special effects that aren’t seem less. And here we are, I mean it’s one take and it really didn’t cost a lot of money and if Hollywood did it, it would have been definite. Reality is worse than you can ever imagine. Beth: You’re one of the few directors who I think are, as well known as your films in terms of if somebody sees a picture of you, almost everyone recognizes you immediately. John: Well I think in the beginning it was a way you know we don’t have money for advertising. We tried to think of ways of how to get the people see the movie and it started out because I used to introduce my movies in that way. Just to get some marketable way to get people see our movies and I would come out and talked to them and introduce Divine who would come to the stage pushing a shopping cart and throwing dead mackerels into the audience, that’s how we used to travel and it was just some kind of twisted showmanship. Our way to get people to identify and come and see the movies because we didn’t have money for anything else, same way we didn’t have stars so I turned my friends into the star. Beth: You became kind of a like this Emily post of bad taste and do you ever get tired of people interviewing in just like wanting your reaction to a bunch of different things just a kind of -- to see if you could come up with one of your to say something shocking or. John: No because I don’t. Try to and I know I think that in the beginning it was more like that sort of thing when Pink Flamingos fist came out and I used to go to colleges, people thought I was like that too. You know they would shop at drug, and shop at all stuff and I think great I am going to get arrested and I going to think no one is going to ever believe that this is me, you know, no I don’t think so much. The people really believe that I likely say no, you know, I’m doing this for 30 years. So, if I was that crazy I couldn’t pull it off. I don’t think you know. But in some ways I mean it comes like I played myself [indiscernible] [00:30:43]I mean so in some ways it is turned into a whole other thing that is funny in a different way I think. I am certainly you know I maybe I’ve become a cartoon character. I always wanted to be one, I always wanted to be a Disney villain when I was a child so this is second best. Beth: Is there still a chance you could be a Disney villain? John: I'm not. Divine was in the Disney film in a way, but certainly in that one called little mermaid where even the animators who said it was Divine, I mean they even set us on the interview and said "it is, it is divine was in it." He would want his money though. Beth: What about the Simpson role that you just took on, how did that came about? John: They just called my agent and asked me and I said sure. They asked Elizabeth Taylor so I said sure. If it’s good enough for her it’s good enough for me. Beth: Did you have anything to do with the plot? John: No. You do it like seven months ago and then they animate it after you do it. No with fun, I mean it was just a something I realized, I don’t know, you can’t never have too many careers. Beth: You're like of a self confess trial freak. John: Not anymore. Beth: I just want to know how you did these past few years. John: Oh, jay ruined that. Well I used to then, I think, then I started teaching in prison and sort of turned into that. Then I taught in prison for a long time till the prisoner took off the educational system [indiscernible] [00:32:11] taxpayers who are furious about it. I can’t go anymore, I tried recently and they recognize me, and it’s different thing now and I can't worry anymore because they think that I’m going to make a movie about them. The news team looks at me, it doesn’t work anymore. I'm too identifiable to be a good [indiscernible] [00:32:28] anymore. That’s the one thing you lose with any kind of celebrity is the right to spy. Beth: Would you ever make a film about a real life crime or trial? John: What do you think Serial Mom is about? What do you think that Pink Flamingos have a trial scene in it? Beth: No, but I mean like a real life one. John: I wouldn’t know but certainly don’t think I would do another, I used it too much in my movies. I mean in those three movies they all have trials in it. So that influence, that obsession maybe just used up, I’ve written about, I made movies so many time at the past. Beth: I was just wondering if you prefer creating everything yourself, if you need something from? John: No. I don’t need a real thing. Well though certainly there are influences in some of my movies but no, I tried to go to a trial recently with Baltimore case and nobody know because I lived here, but when I came in the news team were like are you making a film, the jury just staring at me. I just realized I can’t really do this, now Icould go to a big national one because there were lots of famous people. A local one? It was too weird, I thought I was hurt that I was on trial or some weird way because people [indiscernible] [00:33:35] must really be guilty. I mean you know they couldn’t think I felt quite awkward and I never went back. Beth: Do you have a project that you are working on right now? John: Yes, it’s called [indiscernible] [00:33:47] about a kid that wore it as a nickname because he picked his food as a child and he works in a sandwich company in Baltimore and went to an accident that turned in a star in New York and totally screwed up his life the script is done it was developed by the New Line Cinema and I’m waiting to hear so they will let me make it. I love to shoot on spring I mean I just have to wait this weekend. Beth: Who are the people that you mostly work with right now? John: Oh, I never tell that to who they are going to be. I don’t want to expand it and there’s about to happen. I certainly don’t do stunt casting anymore, I did that peak with Cry Baby. I like to use really good actors and that’s the only way I have left to shock people is to use like Sam Waters Sam Waters who would have ever thought he would be in a drum. You know what I mean? I think I did that in Cry Baby and I love the character in Cry Baby but I don’t want to do something once it is done and I think if people expect that I try to confuse them a little bit by not doing it again. Same way I would never be in my old movie again after I did that one Hairspray. Beth: Does it bother you that some of the people or some of the values that you are criticizing that those people are not kind of embracing yours films? John: Well no it’s just another moment of irony in a life laden with irony. I realize I’m the establishment now. Clinton maybe has seen one of my movies, there’s probably a president now has possibly could’ve seen one of my movies. So no I find it even more ironic and even funnier in a very, very strange way. I mean when I was in Sundance all these kids would come up and call me sir, nothing more impressing than being called Sir and in a non-sexual way. Beth: What kind of advice do you give to young film makers like that who came up to you? John: Well they don’t need it anymore. I put violence and sex in my movies and they all know it anyway, they don’t need me to tell them anymore. They’ve learned. Beth: Okay. We will thank you very much for your time. John: Okay, thanks you and good talking to you. Beth: Thanks for listening for this archive edition of the KPBS Cinema Junkie Podcast featuring my 1997 interview with John Waters. His film “Desperate Living” will be screening at Santiago on April 9th at 3 p.m. at the museum of photographic arts at Balboa Park. The screening is being sponsored by Film out Santiago along with Horrible Imaginings Film Festival and the Film Gigs at the Digital Gym Cinema. You can subscribe to the podcast on “I-tunes” where you can also leave a review. If you’re looking for archive you can find them on kpbs.org/junkie podcast. So to our next Film Fix I’m Beth Accomando your residence cinema junkie.
The screening prompted me to dig back into the interview vault to pull out some pearls of wisdom from the man known as The Sultan of Sleaze, The Prince of Puke and The King (or possibly Queen) of Schlock. Titles he wears proudly. I interviewed Waters in 1997 when he was re-releasing "Pink Flamingos."
John Waters boasts that in regards to his film "Desperate Living," an official censor in London wrote, “We do not know how to deal with the subject of intentional bad taste.” And that’s precisely what Waters banks on. No one in the history of American cinema has done more for bad taste than Waters, and his cinematic legacy may be that he brought trash to the level of art.
Waters spoke to me from his beloved Baltimore and reflected on "Pink Flamingos," the film that brought him into the spotlight and gave trash cinema a good bad name.