||Before becoming embraced by the mainstream as some sort of likable kooky uncle in the cinematic family, Waters gleefully strived to make self-described “exercises in poor taste,” i.e. films the masses would consider repugnant.
Bashing hippies, insulting squares, John was “punk rock” long before the term ever existed. Mondo Trasho (1969), Multiple Maniacs (1970) and The Diane Linkletter Story (1970) were geared to send smiley-faced idealists into shock and revulsion. Conversely, to those alienated from “normal” society, Waters’ works were wickedly funny, a beacon for the disenchanted.
The whole account of John’s Pink Flamingos (1972) and his subsequent fall from underground to Broadway has been documented countless times elsewhere, so I am instead going to hail Flamingos' comedic follow-up (and arguably its superior) Female Trouble, starring most of the Pink cast.
Lost in the publicity shuffle between Flamingos and Johnny Depp’s first foray into offbeat waters--Waters’ Cry-Baby--Trouble follows the sordid misadventures of meatball-sandwich-chomping juvenile delinquent Dawn Davenport (Divine) as she “graduates” from petty crime to mass murder, joyfully celebrating the fame her acts generate. She even makes a jubilant production out of going to the electric chair!
Among the memorable moments are: Dawn finally having enough of her pushy Hare Krishna daughter, and strangling the pest; and, while performing her stage act, asking the audience “Who wants to die for art?” at which point some smirking longhair stands up, thinking it’s all one big joke…and—BANG--Dawn shoots him dead on the spot. (I nearly jumped as high as the projection booth in delight over that particular bit, the first time I saw it.) The portly princess’ rampage over not getting cha-cha heels for Christmas is a scream, too.
But the most memorable scene in terms of one-of-a-kind film moments occurs when Divine minus the drag queen gear has sex with (and impregnates) Divine done up as Dawn!!!
John Waters told a Seventies live audience that included the exceptional SWManor…imagine that, two artists of such magnitude in the same room at the same time! It’s a wonder the city hasn’t bronzed the entire building to commemorate such a historic occasion!!! Now where was I? Right: John Waters told a Seventies live audience he inspired to one day make an X-rated movie with no onscreen sex or violence. To my immeasurable dismay, with the exception of the original Hairspray, it was all downhill for Waters after Female Trouble…at least until the 2004 “comeback,” A Dirty Shame…director’s cut only.
Anyway, if you just got into town from Oblivia and only know of Waters as “that guy with the old-fashioned suit and pencil moustache, who wrote the play Hairspray and we saw being witty while charming the gals on The View,” you owe it to yourself to check out a couple of his earliest offerings. It’s like discovering Walt Disney made bondage films before striking it rich with Mickey.
My (very late) dinner with Edie. That would be Edith Massey, one of Waters’ regulars and apparently a much-loved figure in their native Baltimore. I’m sketchy on the year of our adventure, but figure it to be circa mid-74. There was later talk among my then-bandmates and a couple of the people with us on the visit about performing original songs with Edie, and I recall writing some suitable lyrics…but that’s getting way ahead of the story.
Edie was a truly sweet lady, and it seemed that every third person who came by her thrift shop stuck their head in to see if she was okay, wanted a cup of coffee, and so on. It was like she was on a first-name basis with half of Baltimore.
The objective of our “road trip” was to hang around with Edie and take her to dinner--and, no, she did NOT order eggs. For some odd reason, we didn't get to the restaurant until about nine, but the prolonged delays meant we spent more time listening to Edie tell fascinating stories about being a dancer in her youth, how she got involved in the movies, her beloved cats, and the like. People who didn't know her but had seen Edie in films tended to assume she'd be some sort of half-senile crackpot; but in reality, she was a lot sharper than most would expect.
After dinner, Edie took us to her sister's corner taproom and got behind the bar to lend a hand mixing drinks for the locals! Even though we were “old pals” by then, it was still pretty surreal being in a gin mill where the bartender was a bona fide underground-movie star...especially since it was very business-as-usual to everyone else in the room.
Oh, and just to show you how thoughtful Edie was, she gave us each a pendant as a parting gift and sent us Christmas cards that year. Edie was such a genuinely nice person, and I believe that's why she wound up doing such outlandish scenes in the movies: Waters politely asked, and she didn't have the heart to turn him down.
There's a boatload of junkfilm reviews--most illustrated in the crazy new COLOR medium!--at ManorOnMovies.com. You are invited.