“We should be using humor as terrorism — embarrass the enemy into submission.”
Indie filmmaker John Waters is only partly joking when he says this on Thursday, March 9th, during John Waters: This Filthy World: Dirtier & Filthier, presented by NS2 of Nashville, TN and The Carolina Theatre of Durham in Fletcher Hall at The Carolina Theatre. The cheering crowd supports the suggestion.
Some comics are steering clear of politics on their tours (see my review of the Chris Rock: Total Blackout Tour 2017 on Feb. 13-15 at the Durham Performing Arts Center). The publicly apolitical Waters branches out from Hollywood horror stories and into the territory of American presidential politics.
“We have to talk about Donald Trump. We can’t not talk about Donald Trump.”
In a bird-covered Issey Miyake suit, John Waters holds court with a blunt, matter-of-fact delivery. He is not frothing at the mouth or waving a banner. He is simply suggesting that the President of the United States may, in fact, be the Antichrist.
The 70-year-old author and counterculture icon has made a career of pushing the limits of bad taste. He has been making satirical, edgy comedies since the mid-1960s; and his censorship battles with the Catholic League and the Motion Picture Association of America are well-documented.
His one-man 2006 touring show This Filthy World — now available on Netflix — has earned a revival in the form of This Filthy World: Filthier & Dirtier. The Prince of Puke graced the city of Durham last Thursday night and delivered a cacophony of no-holds-barred anecdotes about life in the wasteland of independent film.
John Waters‘ guiding artistic principle is anarchy. He speaks often of his idols: Herschell Gordon Lewis and William Castle — filmmakers known for nauseating and shocking moviegoers with blatant sex, gore, and more than a few gimmicks. He praises modern directors who cross the line, particularly Quentin Tarantino, Todd Solondz, and Harmony Korine.
Waters is still telling many of the same stories that we’ve heard before: working with a young Johnny Depp on Cry-Baby, doing drugs while filming Pink Flamingos, and the terrors of an all-boys’ Catholic high school. Those who have read Waters’ memoirs or viewed documentaries about him have heard these stories, but we still wait with bated breath to hear the tales spun again. His Durham crowd included fans of his more obscure films (Female Trouble and Desperate Living) as well as those who only know his mega-hit, 1988’s Hairspray.
“You kids need to quit studying and get out into the streets” he demands of Durham’s youth.
A former juvenile delinquent, John Waters worries that today’s apathetic teens are not able to disrupt the political system as his comrades did during the Vietnam War. The hubcap-stealing greasers of the 1950s gave way to 1960s hippies, 1970s punks, 1980s rappers, 1990s grunge kids, and now what?
“The new juvenile delinquent is 32 years old. He’s living in his parents’ basement, shutting down the government from his computer. Hackers are doing the important work now.”
John Waters’ rage against the machine falls on eager, but helpless, ears. His audience is mostly the same one that he has had for decades. Due to lack of financial backing, Waters has not made a film since 2004’s A Dirty Shame, though myriad projects (including three new incarnations of Hairspray) almost saw the light of day. New audiences just aren’t finding him readily.
There is good news, though, for hardcore fans. His second film, 1970’s Multiple Maniacs, starring Divine, is getting a Criterion Collection release later this month. Waters says of the announcement, “A studio like Janus Films releasing one of my movies is the most ironic thing that has ever happened in my career.” He is, of course, being modest. He recently enjoyed retrospectives at New York’s Lincoln Center and the British Film Institute. Last month, he was presented with a lifetime achievement award from the Writers Guild of America.
More comfortable behind the typewriter than behind the camera, John Waters is a master storyteller — making any listener his confidant with a cavalcade of insane observations.
Beating crying children with car aerials, an audition process for being gay, impeaching those with bad musical taste, mandatory nudity on the Oscar® red carpet, and co-ed nude gay square dancing are all on-topic at This Filthy World: Filthier & Dirtier. The diminutive man, with his trademark pencil-thin mustache, is now more essayist than filmmaker, more wise uncle than rabble-rouser. But to his loyal followers, John Waters will always be an artistic agitator. Baltimore’s Pope of Trash.
SECOND OPINION: March 8th Durham, NC Indy Week preview by Tony Mauss: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/legendary-filmmaker-and-lowbrow-virtuoso-john-waters-gets-even-filthier-for-our-lowbrow-times/Content?oid=5456641; March 3rd Raleigh, NC News & Observer preview by Craig D. Lindsey: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article135720323.html; and March 2nd Durham, NC Herald-Sun preview by Cliff Bellamy: http://www.heraldsun.com/lifestyles/cheaper-than-the-lawyer-filmmaker-john-waters-to-talk-filth/article_85f76098-fee8-11e6-a7df-07166a043a56.html (Note: You must subscribe to read this article).
John Waters ( film director and screenwriter): http://www.dreamlandnews.com/ (fan site DreamlandNews ), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/john-waters-96208 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000691/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Waters (Wikipedia).
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Dustin K. Britt, a Triangle native, is a local theater actor, regular crew member, and member of the board of directors of Arts Access, Inc., which makes the arts accessible to people with disabilities. He holds an M.A.Ed. degree in Special Education from East Carolina University. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment. You can also find him on Facebook as Dustin K. Britt, on Twitter as @dkbritt85, and via his movie blog Hold the Popcorn.