I never knew John Waters when I lived in Baltimore. However, since I participated in the Baltimore art scene, sometimes we were in the same place at the same time. Until his career took off I’d sometimes see him at a party and often at the Club Charles or Louie’s Café. We spoke briefly a couple of times. I don’t know if he’d remember me though I wouldn’t be surprised because he’s aware of what’s going on around him.
The first Waters film I saw was Multiple Maniacs. It’s still my favorite. Its effect upon me was intense, and felt it was like seeing a Brueghel painting come to life. It was filled with endless invention. I saw his other films and they didn’t produce the same effect, though I enjoyed them, particularly Female Trouble.
I saw him recently give a talk at a movie theater here in Paris about 10 minutes walking distance from where I live. It’s called the Louxor and is like the Senator Theater in Baltimore, a Golden Age Movie House which has been renovated.
Seeing him brought back Baltimore to me. I’m not one for nostalgia, but that’s what I felt. I’d thought about saying hello to him and had brought with me a copy of Baltimorology, the new anthology from Apathy Press Poets to give him. However, during his introductory remarks he said that people from Baltimore are always stopping him and announcing that they’re both from the same city as if they’re all part of some huge support group. I took that as his way of announcing that he wasn’t interested in having any unwanted reunions.
I enjoyed his talk immensely. I’ve noticed in the past that celebrities have a set of sound-bites they repeat during interviews. Quentin Crisp was famous for it. Having to be completely original for the 200th personal appearance is too much to ask. Waters did this, but he also said things which seemed off-the-cuff and immediate. He was extremely funny and intelligent.
I’m one of those who feel Waters’ artistic career dimmed after Desperate Living. I think I discovered why. At the Louxor, someone asked him how he felt about the gradual acceptance of what were once seen as fringe groups in society, i.e.transvestites, gay people, etc. He said this was weakening “the pervert brand.” His response revealed what motivated him at the beginning of his career, a sense of opposition to the larger group of normal people, what he called in Pink Flamingos, people suffering from “chronic assholism.” He was proud to be a pervert and fuck those who weren’t. Perhaps that’s the problem: how do you make a mainstream movie and still engage in a cinematic style which is meant to alienate 90 percent of the potential audience? They’re mutually exclusive. I can imagine someone today purposefully acting like an uptight square simply to define him or herself against the endless masses of the “hip.”
I don’t think Waters started his career to be a spokesman for the socially ostracized, yet I saw from the audience reaction that he has become, whether he likes it or not, a symbol of modern social progress. As he mentioned during his talk, near the start of his career one critic said that his films were so awful that if you saw a poster for one of them, you should cross the street. Waters said that his new film, if it gets made, will rival Pink Flamingos in its audacity. I hope it gets made and that it holds up to this promise.