Filmmaker John Waters has spent decades creating what he playfully calls “dirt” for the big screen: irreverent, campy films set in his hometown of Baltimore. After decades of standing proudly outside the mainstream, the subversive auteur now enjoys very mainstream attention in Hollywood. To coincide with the opening of a major retrospective of his career at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, he was also immortalized this week in Los Angeles cement.
“Here I am, closer to the gutter than ever,” he joked at the red carpet ceremony for his sidewalk star this week. “The Hollywood Walk of Fame: You are the best and I hope that the most desperate scions of showbiz will walk all over me and feel some kind of respect and strength,” he said.
Waters was surrounded by adoring fans and friends like Ricki Lake, who starred in his 1988 musical. Hairspray, and the actress known as Mink Stole, who appeared in all 16 of his films. “The sewers of this magical boulevard will never erase the gutter of my gratitude,” he said. Waters posed for the cameras with a framed photo of his late parents, who he said indulged his passion for acting.
Waters has always been a proud outsider and a queer icon among American filmmakers. With his pencil mustache and sarcastic smile, he became an underground celebrity in the 1980s, and continues to be so behind and in front of the camera. He got his start in the 1960s as a teenager making underground guerrilla films. He quickly developed a cult following that continues to this day. Today, at 77, Waters considers himself a “dirty elder.”
The exhibition at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures is aptly titled “Pope of Trash.”
The first of the 12 galleries dedicated to Water is converted into a chapel. It begins with a shock – a literal shock caused by buzzers under the benches where visitors can sit to watch clips of what Waters calls his “trash comedy epics.”
The gallery spaces feature film clips and memorabilia from all of Waters’ films, including the electric chair that performed his star Divine in female problem. Mink Stole’s cat-eye glasses from Pink flamingos and the cockroach dress that Ricki Lake wore Hairspray.
There is a dance floor so visitors can enjoy Waters’ musicals, including Hairspray — the 1988 film about 1960s TV dance shows and racial integration, which became a hit Broadway show, was remade with John Travolta and continues to be performed in high schools.
The exhibit also features Debbie Harry’s explosive wig from Hairspraythe “Odorama” scratch and sniff cards from Polyesterand the deadly accessory of leg of lamb from Serial mom.
Since his debut, Waters has outrageously and lovingly mocked mainstream society, values and institutions. The exhibition includes his first film in 1964: Old witch in a black leather jacketand there is original footage of audiences leaving cinemas and reacting to the outrageous antics they have just witnessed.
‘The most disgusting thing I’ve seen in my entire life,’ said one moviegoer after the screening Pink flamingos, which ends with a scene of Divine eating dog poop. “It’s a bit gross,” said another, “…but I liked it.”
“Pope of Trash” is the nickname writer William S. Burroughs once gave Waters, and that’s where the exhibit gets its name. “The Duke of Filth, the Prince of Vomit. I’ve had a lot of titles,” he told NPR just before the show opened. “I wear them all proudly, and they have all been presented positively with irony.”
Waters says he enjoys surprising people – whether it’s ridiculing hippies and squares, celebrating drag queens and sex addicts, or appearing as himself in The simpsons And Alvin and the Chipmunks now he receives his flowers from the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and the Academy.
“If you stay doing one thing long enough, they can’t get rid of you. They have to kind of accept you,” he says. “I mean, who could imagine that Pink flamingos would it have been designated by the government as a great American film? It still shocks me, but things change.” As for being memorialized and celebrated in a museum exhibit of one’s life and career, he says, “…that happens a lot when you’re dead. And that’s good too. But it’s much better if you’re alive.”
Despite his provocative interpretations of American institutions and society, Waters says he always loved the subjects he parodied and was always treated fairly by the film industry. “I don’t have any bitter Hollywood stories,” he notes, while offering a bit of his philosophy: “A sense of humor that knows we never make our enemies feel stupid .We make them feel smart, even if they’re not. Get them to laugh, and then we can get them to listen.
As for all the current hype in Hollywood, John Waters said, “I’m so respectable I could throw up.” »
Jacqueline Stewart, director and president of the Academy Museum, said that for a show designed for both Waters fans and a new generation, the curators leaned into Water’s wry humor and themes such as body positivity and middle-class hypocrisy, which are relevant to this day.
“There’s a long tradition of filmmakers working in these kinds of marginal spaces, and it’s still happening outside of mainstream cinema,” she says. “I think this show also says that it’s okay if your films aren’t blockbusters, if you’re not always trying to reach all audiences, but rather really delve into the particularities of culture and the local community that you’re focusing on. … I think it’s going to attract a whole new audience to his work and I hope John really sees this as a show of respect that the film community has for him.”
The fact that he is being honored in Hollywood “is like a kind of crazy happy ending,” says film historian and professor emeritus Jeanine Basinger. In the 1980s, she asked Waters if she could archive his “trash” at Wesleyan University’s Center for Film Studies, which bears his name. Until now, his scripts and ephemera were stored there. “John is the ultimate outsider who is now warmly welcomed by all the major internal institutions. So he has now become the ultimate insider, but he has never lost his outside perspective.”
Fans standing on Hollywood Boulevard to watch his all-star ceremony were also tickled by Water’s new Hollywood close-up. During his ceremony, an unemployed actor named Danny Nero held up a Hollywood sign poster photoshopped to say “Filthywood.” Encouraged by Waters was porn actress Donna Dolore, who said: “I enjoy the fact that he brings filth and perversion to audiences around the world.”
Vanessa Moreno, who identified herself as a journalist and dominatrix, said she admired Waters “for showing that you can be an unapologetic garbage bag and still receive your accolades.”
Kyle Montgomery, covered in John Waters tattoos, had come from Canada to see his childhood idol be honored. “It’s about time,” Montgomery said. “The world is trash. He knew that all along.”