Scanned image of the page. Keyboard directions: use + to zoom in, - to zoom out, arrow keys to pan inside the viewer.

Page Options

Download this Issue


Something wrong?

Something wrong with this page? Report problem.

Rights / Permissions

This collection, digitized in collaboration with the Michigan Daily and the Board for Student Publications, contains materials that are protected by copyright law. Access to these materials is provided for non-profit educational and research purposes. If you use an item from this collection, it is your responsibility to consider the work's copyright status and obtain any required permission.

February 29, 1988 - Image 56

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1988-02-29

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

So Memorable,
So Disgusting
John Waters has a refined taste for the tasteless

and his longtime star Divine
Movie director John Waters
are enduring a photo session
at an offbeat New York toy
store called Little Rickie.
Around them teems a crush of kitsch rang-
ing from bulgy toy cars to Mexican "day of
the dead" skeleton figures to Elvis gift-
wrapping paper. The photographers snap
away and try to get the duo to exude. Yet, in
the midst of this cornucopia of time-warp
trash, the celebrities seem . . . well, bored.
They've been here before. Not this partic-
ular store, but in the realm of the weird-
and beyond. The rail-thin Waters lights
up another Kool Light and chats lazily
with Divine. The 300-pound transvestite
actor is dressed in his own gender today:
a somber black-jacket-black-shirt-black-
slacks ensemble, looking like a cross be-
tween Uncle Fester and a Stealth bomber.
You have to be weirder than Little Rickie
to impress John Waters, who has made a
string of memorably disgusting films. No
one else has so thoroughly pushed the lim-
its of tastelessness. His "Pink Flamingos"
(1972) is famous for a scene in which Divine
puts poodle feces in his mouth. While most
of us have a mental filter between our
brains and our mouths that represses the
tasteless things we really think, Waters
has an amplifier. Once widely reviled-the
showbiz newspaper Variety called "Pink
Flamingos" "one of the most vile, stupid
and repulsive films ever made"-Waters is
now recognized as an original director
whose films, while sometimes terrible, are
often funny and always provocative. His
11th film, "Hairspray," will open soon at a
theater near you.
With infamy has come a degree of re-
spect: William Burroughs called Waters
the "pope of trash." Waters glorifies, even
idolizes, the tacky. On film, he creates a
special world in which his strange sensibil-
ities run wild. Off-screen, he's managed to
exploit these attitudes even further, in a
nonfictional way, through two books and a
nightclub / lecture-circuit act. Even if he's
not a mainstream success at all this, Wa-
ters has steadily built from an initial cult

following and achieved some unbelievable
honors. Last year the mayor of his home-
town, Baltimore, declared Feb. 7 to be
"John Waters Day."
Waters grew up in a suburb of Baltimore,
and his upbringing was fairly sedate-ex-
cept maybe for the time the Christmas tree
fell over, pinning his grandmother under
it. He was raised by well-to-do Roman Cath-

olic, Republican parents who have always
been supportive, if somewhat bewildered.
"If I wasn't their son," he admits, "they
wouldn't choose one of my movies to go
see." From childhood on, he immersed
himself in films, rating each one he saw in
a notebook. (He now has more than 1,500
entries.) Waters believes he was influ-
enced by both "the arty stuff and the real
trash." Thus, Woody Allen's very serious
"Interiors" and "Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS"
get the same four-star rating in Waters's
Kicked out of the New York University
film school for smoking marijuana in 1964,
he began filming ultra-low-budget movies
with titles like "Cavalcade of Perversion"

and "Multiple Maniacs" around Balti-
more and on his parents' front lawn.
While "Pink Flamingos" was his break-
through to a larger audience, "Polyester"
(1981), a more commercial film featuring
Tab Hunter, moved Waters out of the mid-
night-movie ghetto. It featured an inspired
gimmick: "Odoraina" cards with 10 assort-
ed smells to enhance the moviegoing expe-.
rience through the miracle of scratch-and-
(shudder) sniff. Smells ranged from pizza to
sneakers to, um, well . .. a fart. "Polyester"
made more than $2 million. Waters de-
scribes his screen work as "lowbrow movies
for highbrow theaters."
In his newest film, "Hairspray," the
Rimbaud of Baltimore goes back to his


MARCH 1988

Back to Top

© 2021 Regents of the University of Michigan