John Waters – the director of no-budget schlock masterpieces such as Pink Flamingos (1972) – Female Trouble (1974) – and Polyester (1981) – may be the most famous underground filmmaker of all time.
After Hollywood found him in the late eighties he went on to make Hairspray (1988) – which was turned into a hit Broadway musical in 2002. Through the nineties Waters kept on making films that went against the mainstream – with Serial Mom (1994) and Pecker (1998). In the new century the director made Cecil B. Demented (2000) and A Dirty Shame (2004). Waters hasn’t come out with a film in over ten years – unless one counts his art piece – a G-rated table-read of Pink Flamingos made with children, “Kiddie Flamingos” (2014). Waters filmed it at the request of his art dealer Marianne Boesky – and it’s intended to be shown on a loop at galleries.
Now at sixty-nine (‘an embarrassing age’ said at a recent appearance in New York City (‘I don’t even like the sex position’) John Waters seems to have a career on the upswing: he’s in development for a TV series and he has a bestselling memoir Carsick – the story of how he hitchhiked across America in 2012. His traveling stand-up show This Filthy World – packs the houses on a regular basis.
Waters is infamous on TV; he regularly appears on shows such as Saturday Night Live – The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. Those who know nothing about the director but who’ve seen him on those shows likely still appreciate Waters for his Comme des Garçons suits and sparse greased-back hair that’s finished off with a vaguely unsettling, dyed-black pencil-thin mustache. The TV cameras on him – he’s the talk-show guest who might say anything. On Colbert he asked America, ‘Wouldn’t you rather your kid be a drug dealer than a drug addict?’
As John Waters also said during his New York appearance ‘google me and it ain’t pretty’. But much of what isn’t pretty about Waters dates from those early years when he was still America’s dirty secret. Back then his fans had to catch his work at a midnight show or perhaps at an underground screening. His films were outrageous and unapologetically gay. They were also a respite during those spiritless years that span roughly from Nixon to Reagan.