John Waters’ seventh e book, Mr. Know-It-All, – a funhouse mirror picture of the normal self-help handbook – opens with a quandary. ‘The worst thing that can happen to a creative person has happened to me,’ he writes. ‘I am accepted.’
It’s the largest conceivable shock for a person who’s made a profession out of his capability to subvert and scandalise. The Baltimore-born director’s catalogue of video nasties from 1964 to 2004 had been like a grenade assault on cinematic proprietary. He made 300lb drag queen Divine his bodacious Marilyn, launched the world to the heathen pleasures of a ‘rosary job’ (google it) and developed scratch ’n’ sniffs for cinema audiences imbued with the unholy scents of flatulence and soiled sneakers. Again when Waters made the filmed-on-a-shoestring trash traditional Pink Flamingos in 1972, even essentially the most outlandish clairvoyant couldn’t have foreseen that, 25 years later, the snooty cinephiles of Cannes Movie Pageant could be toasting the murderous shit-eating trailer-park queen on the movie’s centre.
John Waters’ model drew freely from excessive and low tradition – gross-out gore flicks in addition to daring avant-garde works — and handled his common collaborators like Divine and Edith Massey just like the A-listers they deserved to be. Earlier than lengthy, precise Hollywood stars like Kathleen Turner and Melanie Griffith had been clamouring to be a part of Waters’ self-described ‘filth empire’. Prior to now couple of many years, although, Waters has re-envisioned himself as a sort of various public mental, Fran Lebowitz with dirtier jokes. His intensive talking excursions and meet-and-greets are a riot (he’ll signal something, together with a tampon). And he has infiltrated the artwork institution with a welcome dose of irreverence: his 2009 set up ‘Rush’ wasa gargantuan spilt bottle of amyl nitrate. In Waters’ warped world, even poppers could be excessive artwork.
On an ideal July afternoon, Waters telephones from the bohemian homosexual resort city of Provincetown, Massachussets. In truth, he used to throw a poppers get together on the city’s annual movie pageant. ‘I’ve seen film stars and A-list critics all doing poppers!’ he says. Sadly, the occasion was a sufferer of its personal success. ‘Then The Boston Globe wrote about it and then the entire town crashed the party.’ But Waters, at 73, stays a mind-expanding heady excessive.
GQ: In Mr. Know-It-All, you communicate movingly about Divine’s impression on popular culture. What’s your tackle RuPaul’s Drag Race?
John Waters: I’m actually joyful for Ru. I’ve identified him eternally, since he began. He’s been a hard-working individual for many years. He’s efficiently crossed-over drag to center America, which I by no means, ever thought would occur, and given careers to [so many]. Even if you happen to are available in sixth on that present, you tour eight golf equipment in America. Not solely was he sensible about it; I believe one other key factor is he is among the solely drag queens who has an awesome look out of drag. Ru is so stylish. His fits are wonderful. Divine was simply getting there when he died, however to start with, he simply used to stroll spherical in overalls. In Provincetown, the place I reside, the place there’s 5,000 drag exhibits, the drag queens all the time assume I’m snobby. I don’t know what they seem like out of drag – they give the impression of being fully totally different! I can’t recognise them – and Divine, I wouldn’t have recognised him out of drag actually. I believe Divine has a little bit one thing to do with it, as a result of Divine put an edge on drag queens. Once I was younger, they had been sq.. It was like they wished to be the Queen. They didn’t need to have an edge. Now, all of them have an edge! I’m sort of extra excited about drag kings as a result of they’re actually complicated to me. I believe RuPaul ought to have a drag king model, and I additionally assume he ought to have Fag Hag Race.
And who would you place because the choose on Fag Hag Race?
Properly, I don’t know, I’m making an attempt to assume – who’s the final word fag hag? That’s a very good one. I imply, they’ve Bear Week in Provincetown and I’m all the time simply astounded that there are bear fag hags. They appear sort of like Grace Metalious, the creator of Peyton Place. They put on lumber jackets with greasy ponytails. So I’m for the area of interest fag hags.
In your e book Position Fashions, you talked about your obsession with Rei Kawakubo and her garments. How massive is your Comme des Garçons assortment now?
Properly, it’s fairly massive. Comme des Garçons by no means goes out of favor as a result of it’s by no means in model. So that you by no means can go mistaken. However I’m additionally a giant fan of Walter Van Beirendonck. I purchase at MAC, which is my favorite clothes retailer in America, in San Francisco. It’s one of some locations that basically do carry him. I like Issey Miyake loads. Paul Smith I like, after I’m making an attempt to look regular.
Do you may have any outrageous Walter Van Beirendonck items?
Properly, a few of them are too outrageous for me, I’m 73! I believe those that make me chortle essentially the most – they aren’t Walter Van Beirendonck. One was, I can’t even keep in mind which [designer] it was, nevertheless it’s a go well with that appears prefer it has cat hair throughout it. Folks say ‘Oh my god, John!’, and so they attempt to brush it off. It’s fairly intricate, the threads. And I’ve one other one that appears like water splashed up in your pants. As I stated in my e book, my look is ‘disaster at the dry cleaners’.
What do you assume is the brand new cinematic underground – is it on-line?
I don’t assume it’s. Within the music trade, all people makes a reputation on-line and on YouTube. [But] what film has premiered on YouTube or on-line and turn out to be a sensation? I can’t consider one. Properly, Roma was a Netflix film and it was all around the Oscars final 12 months. I’m not in opposition to that. I’m for anyone that may say sure to make a film! You realize, motion pictures survived all of it: they survived tv, they survived movies and now they should survive Netflix. If it’s ok, folks go. I noticed Quentin Tarantino’s film this weekend, and it’s so nice to see a film that basically surprises you and has that a lot model. These sort of motion pictures will all the time come out and win, they simply should be good and so they should be authentic. [Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood] is the one film that got here out this summer season that wasn’t a sequel or a prequel or one thing.
It’s true. My favorite line from one among your motion pictures, is Edith Massey in Feminine Hassle the place she says, ‘the world of a heterosexual is a sick and boring life’…
However she doesn’t even say it proper as a result of she didn’t know what it meant! She says ‘the world of heterosexual’, she doesn’t say ‘the world of a heterosexual’. It was actually a market-testing experiment on the time, as a result of all homosexual folks then applauded, so I might inform the breakdown of my viewers.
What sort of politics was that sentiment powered by?
It was simply making an attempt to trigger bother. That was filmed in 1973, so, on the time, homosexual rights had been simply starting to begin. It was sort of a daft model of that, to have a mom that wished you to be homosexual and was actually unhappy and dissatisfied that you simply had been straight.
How was Edith Massey to direct?
Properly, she tried actually laborious. She would memorise the strains like she was writing sentences in class. She’d write them time and again however we’d get there and he or she’d say [in Pink Flamingos] ‘Eggs, eggs!’ Then she’d say ‘Edith shakes the playpen’. I stated ‘No, you don’t say that out loud! That’s a course.’ The audiences actually beloved her proper from the start when she had a tiny function in A number of Maniacs. When Andy Warhol met her, he stated: ‘Where did you find her?’ She was like an outsider Gracie Allen [eccentric 1930s actress].
There’s one image that’s been circulated not too long ago, of Divine sneering at Donald Trump at Studio 54. Have been you there?
That’s fully faux! As a result of I do know the place that image of Divine is from and he was not with Donald Trump. It might have been true as a result of Donald Trump preferred Studio 54, and so did Divine. However we’d have all the time hated him, despite the fact that Trump was mainly a liberal again then. He was nouveau riche and a bragger. You know the way he adorned the White Home? It appears to be like like Jeff Koons did it with out artwork historical past information or intelligence.
Did you see the White Home’s horrible Christmas decorations?
They had been goth! They had been goth Las Vegas! Which could possibly be humorous if you happen to had been in on it, however [Melania] wasn’t in on it. She thought it was stunning. Tastes can change, however I don’t assume anyone will ever assume that the Trump decorations within the White Home had been influential or attention-grabbing. They had been simply unhealthy in a method that was simply surreal.
Do you assume that Trump will get a second time period as president?
I most actually do. I don’t assume that we now have one among [the Democratic candidates] that’s robust sufficient to beat him.
Do you assume America could possibly be prepared for a homosexual president with Pete Buttigieg?
Properly, I like him. I might be for him, however I don’t assume he can win when the one factor on the primary debate he bought credit score for was saying ‘I couldn’t get it executed’ [relating to police reform]. That’s not precisely a bumper sticker.
You labored with Selma Blair on A Soiled Disgrace – she’s been wonderful, talking out about her MS situation. Are you continue to in contact together with her?
I’m. I believe she’s doing an awesome job. I had written to her and I simply heard again from her. I present a film yearly on the Maryland Movie Pageant and the Provincetown Movie Pageant – simply because I adore it – and I confirmed this gorgeous obscure film she made with Nicolas Cage known as Mother and Dad. It’s about the place each dad or mum in America decides to kill their very own youngsters. She’s nice in it.
What had been her large boobs in A Soiled Disgrace constructed from?
They had been latex – made by the identical man who made Chucky and made John Travolta’s fats go well with in Hairspray. You needed to put them on day-after-day. Full bare was $5,000 a day, cleavage was, I overlook, $2,000? And common under-the-sweater was $1,000. On the finish of the day, they simply had been used breasts that had been shrivelled up. However sooner or later they had been lacking! Anyone took them and we all the time thought it was a pervert.
You’ve written many books at this level. Might you ever see your self being a journalist?
Oh, I’ve been a journalist, actually in [essay collection] Crackpot. I might like to cowl a giant trial.
When you had been to profile a public determine, who would you wish to interview?
The one I’d wish to get essentially the most – as a result of no person can get her – is the defence lawyer Judy Clarke who solely handles demise penalty instances. She wins, and he or she will get you life, not demise. She’s executed among the largest ones, and the one one she misplaced was the Boston Bomber. She’s by no means given an interview and he or she’s by no means allowed her purchasers to speak to the press. So for me, she could be the final word get.
In Mr. Know-It-All, you describe Polyester as an entire new degree of movie-making for you. Was that the primary movie the place you paid the solid a wage?
No, I paid all people, even on Pink Flamingos. It wasn’t a lot – and it took years to pay again the cash from folks that I borrowed it from. I don’t assume I bought a wage earlier than Polyester.
And it’s stunning to learn that Hairspray didn’t earn money till very not too long ago.
No. I bought the primary cheque for revenue like possibly two or three years in the past. You realize, I believe it price $eight million to make. What occurred was, it was doing rather well, however then Divine died. That places a dampener on a comedy. However in fact, Hairspray went on to have 20 extra lives. I simply want Divine had had the 20 lives with it.
I’ve seen some wonderful fan tattoos in tribute to your movies. Do you may have a favorite?
I’ve seen wonderful ones – the characters from my motion pictures. Nonetheless, my favorite one was that somebody had a web page of the script of Feminine Hassle on their leg. That’s wonderful. Which scene was it? I can’t keep in mind, in all probability the cha-cha heels scene.
I see folks posting that scene each Christmas.
I do know, however drag queens nonetheless get it mistaken. Cha-cha heels aren’t excessive heels! They’re brief, squashed heels – to today, most drag queens get it mistaken.
Famously, Divine impressed the character of Ursula in The Little Mermaid. Now Disney is remaking it, who do you assume ought to play the function?
Perhaps Beth Ditto. However isn’t Melissa McCarthy taking part in it? She was wonderful when she dressed as Divine in Folks journal.
There’s been a wave of cult homosexual heroes leaning right-wing not too long ago, like Morrissey and Bret Easton Ellis. What do you make of that?
Properly, Tab Hunter voted for Trump. And I really thought Bret Easton Ellis’s e book [White] was good. I don’t agree with him, however I believed it was intelligently written. You realize, I’ve associates which might be Republicans. I don’t agree with them, however as quickly as we make different folks really feel silly, we’ll by no means get them to alter their minds.
So is your viewpoint that we have to discover one thing to interrupt bread over?
Or not less than, brazenly discuss, as a result of they’re not going to alter their minds if we act like they’re silly. You realize, the insane political correctness – despite the fact that it’s principally right – is gonna make Trump win. It’s a category subject. I promise you, within the neighbourhoods in Baltimore which might be actually fighting poverty, they’re not worrying about pronoun utilization. I’m not saying that some don’t! Nevertheless it’s wealthy children’ faculties who’re essentially the most stringent police of it. I by no means understood what a set off warning was, I believed you went to school to have your values challenged. I believed that was the purpose of training.
Is there a cut up between John Waters, the general public character, and the man you’re behind closed doorways?
No. I believe I’m precisely like in all probability what you’d count on. Within the early days, I might go to schools and so they thought I used to be fully [like my films]. That they had medicine for me and so they thought I lived in a trailer with shit-eating drag queens!
In Mr. Know-It-All, you point out that you simply’re in a relationship. Is it vital so that you can be non-public in regards to the private aspect of your life?
It’s, primarily as a result of my boyfriend has no need to be within the press. My boyfriends have by no means been like me. I like someone very totally different from me. I like him to be excited about issues I’m not excited about generally. I don’t need to fuck myself!
Which of your motion pictures do you assume is essentially the most underrated?
Cecil B. Demented. It didn’t do nice and it’s not the primary one folks choose, nevertheless it had humorous strains in it! My favorite is when Fidget says to Melanie Griffith once they’re on the drive-in: ‘We’re past the critics’ attain.’
Do you share Kathleen Turner’s horror – in Serial Mother – with regards to white sneakers after Labour Day?
Oh sure, I imagine in that. Not simply sneakers, you’ll be able to’t put on white something – besides winter white, which is wool. I’m a agency believer in that, I pack all of it away after which I see folks [wearing white] and assume ‘your parents didn’t inform you?’. It’s the one factor I’m right-wing on.
This interview initially appeared in GQ Fashion AW19.