|John Waters c.1969|
Guerrilla filmmaker; trash auteur; social commenter and hilarious purveyor of outrageousness, Baltimore's favorite trashy son John Waters turns 67 today. Waters is single-handledly responsible for the career of plus-sized drag impresario Divine in his underground films of the late 60's and early 70's, while continuing to push the envelope after having gone more 'mainstream.' in the 80's and 90's.
Like many Waters' devotees, I first discovered his work in college in the 80's and his infamous (and career-making) Pink Flamingos. I remember renting it over Christmas break and watching it while my then teen-aged sister was baking cookies (even then, she was Little Betty Crocker). I kept telling her "Stay in the kitchen..." more than a few times. I haven't seen since, but have seen just about every other Waters' film available on VHS, DVD or on line. Some are very good (Cry-Baby; Serial Mom); some are fair to middling (Pecker; Cecil B. Demented) and one or two are downright terrible (A Dirty Shame).
Regular readers know that I was lucky enough to play Edna Turblad (a character created by Waters and Divine) in a rather tumultuous though ultimately successful production of the musical version of Hairspray last year. If pressed to name my favorite Waters' movie, I'd have to split into three:
Of his early films, 1977's Desperate Living is probably the most insanely brilliant films of Waters' early works. He manages to create his personal version of Oz (he admits that The Wizard of Oz is the most influential film he's seen) in Mortville, a cardboard kingdom of criminals and perverts ruled by an insane Queen. One of Waters' few earlier films that did not feature Divine, Desperate Living is certainly among the most entertaining of his underground films. The trailer below is decidedly NSFW:
After 1988's Hairspray opened Waters to the mainstream, he made two more movies I absolutely adore.
1990's Cry-Baby is Waters' Rock-a-Billy musical parody starring a very young Johnny Depp in the title role and former porn-star Traci Lords in a Romeo & Juliet parody set in 1950's Baltimore. There are some amazing performances from Polly Bergen; Amy Locane; Susan Tyrrell; Iggy Pop; Ricki Lake; Troy Donahue and even Willem Dafoe. That's not mention one of the best prison-set musical numbers since "Jailhouse Rock":
Probably my favorite Waters' film, Serial Mom is his 1994 parody of Suburban Perfection and sociopathology. Starring Kathleen Turner; Sam Waterston; Ricki Lake; Matthew Lillard; Traci Lords and a very unfortunate Patty Hearst, Serial Mom is Waters' first real (and only successful) exploration of filth in Surburbia:
Waters continues to write and lecture and can be seen in the documentary version of his one-man show, This Filthy World:
Happy Birthday, John!