Sunday, May 17, 2015

My Date With John Waters

As most of you probably know, I am both a filmmaker and a film fan. My tastes range from the classics to cheap exploitation. While my favorite director of all time is David Lynch, I am not sure that I would ever want to meet him. He seems to have his own M.O.: modus operandi. I don't know that we would be able to have an conversation in the same realm of existence.

One director that I have always wanted to meet is John Waters. I admit that I found him through his later work first. Some friends introduced me to the movie Pecker, which I found to be charming and quirky. It made me laugh, but I didn't think that much more about it.

One summer night, I stopped by the now defunct Black Lodge Video. Black Lodge was a truly magical video store that stocked the most bizarre films on Earth. I would go in and tell the owners "Put something in my hand." Whatever films they chose were fantastic. On this night, I decided I needed to see a John Waters movie. I went in, told them I wanted to watch John Waters, and left with a copy of Desperate Living. During the opening scene, Mink Stole, playing an insane housewife, has paranoid delusions. She screams at the children for breaking a window, yells at a wrong number, and ultimately murders her husband. I knew in the first five minutes that I was hooked.

When I returned Desperate Living, I grabbed the film Waters is most known (reviled?) for: Pink Flamingos. Once again Mink Stole was there as Peggy Gravel. She, along with her husband, attempted to steal the title of "Filthiest People Alive" from the movie's star: Divine. I couldn't believe what I was watching. The film, shot on 16mm, was gritty and poorly edited. It had a very amateur quality; these were definitely not professional actors. However, none of that mattered. The story and the characters were so alive and so different. I was amazed.

At some point, I decided to stop renting Waters' movies and bought them for my own. It was then that I discovered one of my favorite aspects of his films: his commentaries. Listening to him talk about the insanity that played on screen was a terrific experience. He is so charming, full of life, and has a love for everyone on camera. I quickly learned how obsessive he can be, and how real life events inspire him. His love of crime, fashion, art- he discusses all of this in great detail. Mainly, what I took away from these tracks was that these weren't only movies to him. They were time capsules of an era that he shared with his friends. That really stuck with me.

Once I finished his films, I began reading his books. He has published several over the past thirty years or so. His latest, Carsick, documents his travels as a cross country hitchhiker. Hitching rides was something that he had regularly done in his youth, and this book is a document about what it would be like at age 68. The first part is his ultimate fantasy of how it could go. The second recounts a nightmare with the worst possible outcomes. The third is the actual account. While not as bizarre as the other two sections, the reality is still compelling in a way that only a John Waters adventure could be.

Carsick, like all of his books, is really an excuse for Waters to delve into the celebrities and music that he loves. The fictional sections are filled with obscure pop culture references, B grade entertainers, and each lists the best and worst playlist of songs that Waters can imagine. I can only dream of the script this could have turned into, had someone been willing to pony up the money.

These days, Waters spends his time writing and doing his one man show, This Filthy World. Last month, the show came to Little Rock, Arkansas for their annual literary festival. A couple of weeks previously, he had been signing books in Oxford, MS. I was not able to go, and feared that I had missed a chance to ever meet him in person. Luckily, my girlfriend surprised me with tickets to the show in Arkansas.

We drove two hours away, and spent the day walking around downtown. Unlike the book festival in Nashville, this one was inside various buildings with no real central hub. Frankly, it was difficult to find events that were happening. We spent most of our time sight seeing and getting food.

We found the Ron Robinson Theater as soon as we arrived to make sure we wouldn't be late. The theater is smaller, seating around 350 people. Every seat was a good one, ensuring an intimate experience. We took our seats, and patiently waited for the show to start. The stage was empty, save one pot to stage right of pussy willows. Great touch!

While we waited, we made friends with a drunken lesbian couple who also happened to be from Memphis. They were funny and chatty, and very excited to see Waters. They even looked us up on Facebook and "friended" us while we waited!

Finally, John Waters came out to a packed house. I couldn't believe that I was seeing him in person; a mere thirty feet or so away. He got a standing ovation before even saying a word; a point he jokingly commented on. For the next two hours, he discussed his films, Justin Bieber (he's a Belieber!), punk band names based on bodily functions, current events, and his new book. He was just as charming and lively as I had hoped. The audience was in stitches (much like the seams of his suit) all night, and gave him a rousing round of applause.

Before we left the house, I had thought about bringing my copy of Carsick for him to sign. I had also thought about bringing a copy of The Check Out to give to him. I decided against it, since I wasn't sure he would actually do a signing afterward. Of course, in the first few minutes on stage, he announced that he would sign and take photos after the show. Luckily, there were copies of his book on hand. I had gotten Carsick as an ARC, so it hadn't cost me anything. I gladly bought another.

The line was insanely long, but everyone was in good spirits. Waters had a table set up and an assistant that took photos for the audience. He was very nice and spoke briefly to everyone. He did seem a bit worn out by the end of the night. I imagine he arrived that morning and was probably leaving that night. I thanked him for allowing us to have that moment. To him, it was just another gig. To me, and the rest of the crowd, it meant something more.

Thanks, John Waters! You'll never be convicted of asshole-ism!


Post a Comment