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John Waters

     What to expect when filmmaker John Waters arrives in your town for his one-person show, "The World of Trash"?

     "It's my vaudeville act, one hour of my obsessions," the Baltimore-based Waters told me in a cheery phone interview. "It's an ever-changing monologue about my movies, about crime, my advice to young people... how to be juvenile delinquents. It's my position paper, my highly opinionated but joyously friendly rant about show business."

     Then there's a Q&A with the audience, in which those in attendance can ask weirdo things. "I've never been stumped yet," said Waters, who doesn't mind when youngsters make mundane queries about how to start up as a filmmaker. Waters: "I tell them the way to break in, depending if they want to make Hollywood films or indies. But they can't wait around for someone to ask them to direct a movie." A warning: don't dress cuckoo to impress Waters to put you in his next picture. "My shoot is union, and if you're not from Baltimore, I'd have to offer you a per diem and first-class travel. I'm not really casting. That's not my mission."

     Time permitting, he will sign autographs. On whatever. "I've signed dicks, asses, parole cards (that's my favorite), a collostomy bag while it was pumping. A couple of years ago, I signed a bloody Tampax. That's one you don't forget. I'm not asking for someone to top that!"

     The title of his show, "The World of Trash"? "Actually, I give about ten titles to choose from. My favorite is 'This Filthy World.' They never pick that one!"

     The night of Waters begins with a showing of a spanking new 35mm print of his 1974 cult classic, Female Trouble, concerning the rise and demise of Dawn Davenport (Divine at his most in-drag fabulous), a spoiled, sleazy teenager who becomes an abusive single mama, a demented criminal, and finally an electric chair victim, frying triumphantly because she's a famous celeb. Female Trouble is off-the-charts non-PC. The most outrageous of its shock moments: Divine being raped by his butch male self!

     "It's the favorite of my older movies," said Waters, "in a beautiful print, and the dialogue has been cleared up. There are words that I'd never heard before." Waters thinks this is the most complete print, including one scene missing from earlier 35mm versions in which Divine, in full female costume and pursued by police, swam across a fast-moving river on a chilly November day. "Unless you've watched Female Trouble theatrically, non-theatrically, in 16mm and 35mm, and in video in three different European countries, there are probably scenes you haven't seen."

     Was Divine a big movie fan? "He liked anything with Elizabeth Taylor. It didn't matter. And he liked movies about rich people. I made him see Ingmar Bergman's The Hour of the Wolf when he was tripping on acid. He thought Bergman was OK, but his movie taste was more conventional than the Divine character. I didn't see many movies with Edie [Massey]. She liked old movies. Don Ameche was her favorite star. [Of my actors,] I went most to movies with Mary Vivian Pierce. We'd take diet pills and see three movies in a row."

     John Waters' history in Boston? It began ignominiously in 1974, with the first screening outside of Baltimore of his then-unknown film, Pink Flamingos. "An executive at New Line (he's long gone) booked it, to my horror, at the only gay porno theatre in town. Not that I have anything against porno theatres, but it's pretty hard to jerk off to Pink Flamingos! [Pink Flamingos actor] David Lochary, was in Provincetown and came up to see it. He had quite a hissy because everyone was having sex in the bathroom and nobody was watching the movie.

     "Nobody reviews movies in porno theatres! I went crazy over that. I was living in New Orleans without a nickel, stealing people's drinks when they went to the bathroom, using fake credit cards for phone calls. I remember I was making one of those phone calls when I found out about Pink Flamingos in Boston. I'll never forget that moment! But it's ancient history. New Line really did it right when Pink Flamingos played at the Elgin in New York, and then it came back to Cambridge at the old Orson Welles and was a hit."

     Waters surfaces at the Provincetown Film Fest June 13-16, introducing a screening of Freeway (1996). "It's an unheralded really dark comedy, starring Reese Witherspoon before she became famous. Even Brooke Shields is great in it!"

GERALD PEARY
(Boston Phoenix, May, 2002)

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