John Waters: Role Models

I’ve been a fan of John Waters since my teens, when I heard about the “most disgusting movie ever made,” and went to our local video store to find it. It was, of course, PINK FLAMINGOS, Waters’ assault on good taste that became a midnight movie sensation. It’s revolting, ridiculously funny and absurd, and today it is rather prescient. Two couples vie for the title of “The Filthiest People Alive,” which describes the current state of reality TV. How else can you describe people who pretend their child is in a weather balloon, or behave like the troglodytes on “Jersey Shore”?

Me & John in 2006

John was ahead of his time, and he’s stayed a few steps ahead. Lately, with the dismal state of independent film and the stranglehold the MPAA has on films- see my review of THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED for details- he has taken to the spoken and the written word. If his show “An Evening with John Waters” comes your way- often at college campuses- I recommend you go. Better than most comedians and sharper than most social critics, you’ll get an unforgettable evening and a lot to think about. But if you can’t make it, pick up a copy of his latest book, Role Models. In it, he explains the celebrities and heroes that he most reveres and goes off on wild tangents telling outrageous anecdotes and proclaiming absurd wisdoms that just make too much sense to ever be put into practice. It’s a great, gripping read that delivers interviews with Little Richard and Johnny Mathis- two polar opposites of music, both consumed by fame in different ways- but also a detailed history of Leslie Van Houten, a former Manson groupie still denied parole mostly due to the histrionic political ambitions of district attorneys, than any danger she still represents to society.

That was the hardest part I had with the book. Having read Helter Skelter, I still had a hard time absolving Manson’s brainwashed cultists. It was interesting to hear her side of the story, how she takes full responsibility for her actions, but gets called “remorseless” any time she tries to explain how someone can be terrorized, drugged and brainwashed at a remote commune in the desert into believing the ravings of a psychopathic maniac. In the end, John makes a convincing argument, but I doubt Leslie will ever be released. Look at the hysteria over Kathleen Soliah, which admittedly consumed me as well, when I lived in Minnesota. But we are a Puritan nation, and believe that you die for your sins, even though Jesus was supposed to have done so already. Your Scarlet Letter is branded upon you until death, and then we visit the sins of the fathers upon your children, too. Do you think we could ever have a Reconciliation commission like South Africa did? If only we’d had one after the Civil War.

John Waters writes quite well, a witty and poignant satirist on our ridiculous society, which still hasn’t shed some of its absurd hypocrisies left over from the ’50s. He’s a modern-day Revoltaire, if you will. Pick up a copy of his latest, and you’ll see beyond the dog shit eating shock and see a scathing critique of our values that will make you think for quite some time after. And you’ll laugh a lot, too.

© 2010 Tommy Salami

casting my bread upon the Waters

John Waters is one of my favorite people.

80s Trash of the Week: Reform School Girls

“You’re just a shit-stain on the panties of life.”

Now these are the kinds of ’80s movies I truly miss; over the top exploitation films that would go direct to video today. The “caged women in heat” concept, played for the younger generation and set to bad-girl metal bands, was ripe for the plucking in the hairy days of ’86. Wendy O. Williams, the sexy metal queen of the Plasmatics, would team up with the unlikely addition of Sherri Stoner– who would go on to voice Slappy Squirrel in “Animaniacs” and be the live model for Disney princess Belle, and Ariel the mermaid. With the fearsome Andy Warhol fag-hag Pat Ast playing Edna the cruel prison matron, Reform School Girls is a deliciously over the top prison drama, a ’50s exploitation film filthied up for the trenchcoat and hand-lotion crowd, and a ’80s girl-metal soundtrack for the teens.

The story begins when bad girl Jenny gets caught helping her boyfriend rob a store, and gets thrown into reform school (Never mind that all these girls look like they’re in their early 30s, and Wendy O is pushing 40). There she hooks up with fellow fresh meat Nicky and takes the fragile Lisa (Sherri Stoner) under her wing. Immediately they get drubbed down by the towering matron Edna, who could be the love child of John Waters regulars Divine and Edith Massey, with a dose of Hatchet Face from Cry-Baby thrown in. Every line of hers is over the top campy drama, and she informs her prisoners that she believes in “complete control.” She’s the underling of the severe Warden Sutter, played by ’70s hot heroine Sybil Danning- probably best known for her cameo as the “Werewolf Women of the SS” in Grindhouse– who dons Nazi-esque gear and struts around looking serious.

Wendy O as the tough bitch Charlie

The school nurse is the lone bleeding heart who cries out against the torture and abuse the girls undergo, and she is stymied at every turn by the sadistic leaders of the “school,” which is run more like a prison camp. The girls make license plates and dig the fields, but we never see a teacher or a class. There are however, lots of shower scenes. Within the first 15 minutes the new girls need to be hosed down and sprayed for lice, and whenever we need a break from their hard life of hanging around the dorms in lingerie and bondage gear, they take a shower. It’s sweaty work, and their boobies need constant washing, rinsing, and re-soaping.

Director Tom De Simone knows what viewers of a movie called Reform School Girls are looking for; not only was his directing background in porn, but he was the screenwriting genius behind Chatterbox, a movie about a woman with a talking vagina. Not only does it talk, it sings. And more embarrassingly, I know about this movie because my Dad bought it on laserdisc. I sadly never got to watch this masterpiece, but from what I can see, Reform School Girls is actually much better. Which isn’t saying much.

Fragile Lisa has a stuffed toy bunny that she keeps in memory of her dead brother, but Edna keeps tormenting this obviously disturbed child out of pure sadism. First she burns the bunny, then she puts her in solitary, and finally sets her gang of bull dykes loose on her. Led by Wendy O., they’re straight out of campville, dressed in lingerie and S&M gear as they serve iced tea to Edna, while the rest of the girls slave in the hot sun on the farm. Out in the wild the girls find trouble; Jenny sleeps with the guy who drives the work truck, hoping that he’ll sneak her out, but of course he just uses her for a quick hop in the sack, and turns her in. They also find a kitten wandering in the field, and sneak it back to the dorm. Leading one of the sassy black chicks to say, “the last thing this dorm needs is another pussy!”

Would you like the TWA coffee or the TWA tea?

The film does have a sense of humor about itself, and its audience; the first time the new girls bed down in the dorm and Edna turns out the lights, she bellows “Keep your fingers above the sheets. We only change them once a week!” to tease the prurient viewers hoping to see the gals pleasure themselves. The sheets stay clean- this won’t be running after 1 AM on Skinemax. If only it took itself a little less seriously, or had the subversive genius of a John Waters behind the helm, it would be more than a nostalgic hard rock and hard nipples trip.

Edna and Sutter keep spiraling into further sadism, and when the kitten is discovered, the fat matron chases it down and stomps on it. Wendy and her girl gang force poor Lisa into their initiation, and brand her ass with a hot coat hanger- fittingly a circular “O” as in Wendy’s middle initial. This drives the poor girl over the edge, and when she tries to escape, the evil Edna chases her up the guard tower, where she tumbles to her death. This is the final straw for Jenny, who leads the girls in destroying their dorm. Warden Sutter seals her own doom by throwing Wendy in solitary for joining in the mayhem, and the girls decide to march on the prison reform board who is visiting, to tell the truth about the vile goings-on. This leads to a fiery and violent climax, with the girls attacking the guards with garden tools- ho’s wielding hoes- and a delightful ending with Evil Edna hollering “COMPLETE CONTROL!” from the burning guard tower as she fires about 80 shots from a shotgun.

Poor kitty.

If you like trash, this is an ’80s classic. Back then we loved it; heavy metal music (we still used the ‘heavy’ prefix then) and lots of boobies, with the cast strutting around in lingerie the whole time? If HBO had a pause button, this would have been burned on the TV screen of many a teen boy, and I’d be one of them. It’s a veritable spankfest if you don’t double over laughing at the bushy ’80s hairstyles (above and below!) The incomparable Pat Ast would reprise her role in the Motley Crue “Smokin’ in the Boys Room” video, and Wendy O would go on to sing with Lemmy and go on stage wearing only whipped cream. The soundtrack by Wendy O. Williams, Girlschool, and the Screamin’ Sirens is quite good, and the generic synth that plays when someone is sneaking around is hilarious.

Wendy leading the riot

The best quote of the film by far is when Edna sells out Wendy: “You’re nothin’ but a dumb-ass kid from Cleveland, a shit stain on the panties o’ life.” To which Wendy replies, “You should know, you lick ’em every night!” It’s good trash if not great trash, and MOJO+ is playing it in HD. So give it a watch instead of Skinemax, you pervert.

R.I.P. Wendy, shock rocker extraordinaire

Beers Required to Enjoy: 2
Could it be remade today? It would be horrible and PG-13
Quotability Rating: medium
Cheese Factor: sharp cheddar on a tuna melt
High Points: Sherri Stoner getting her ass branded
Low Point: Sybil Danning not getting a bigger role
Gratuitous Boobies: A-plenty!

Greasy Spoons: Chap’s Pit Beef, Baltimore

I heard about Chap’s on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” via The Mouth from the South- a true connoisseur of barbecue. He couldn’t make it, so I have to describe the culinary experience for him vicariously. Chap’s is a great little find, and definitely worth stopping by if a road trip takes you through Baltimore.

Baltimore stoops to conquer

Up north we don’t get BBQ joints of this caliber, except in rare circumstances. Even the normally reliable Munchmobile of the Star-Ledger pointed me to Smitty’s in Lyndhurst- and they do have decent barbecue for up here, but nothing to write home about. About the same as Jim Dandy’s in Nutley. Falls off the bone, but has that spongy quality that tells you it’s been injected with sauce to get it tender. It’s much better to head to Montclair’s Indigo Smoke, which may be a bit pricey for ‘cue, but serves up the real deal. If you cross the Hudson, MoGridder’s in the Bronx, and Brother Jimmy’s in 5 locations now, are all good bets.

Pit Beef & sausage sandwich will cure all ills

But in Baltimore I’d say try Chap’s. Baltimore has their own barbecue creature called Pit Beef. I first heard of it in John Waters’ movie Pecker, and was finally reminded when I watched Guy’s show. If you ride past the Fell’s Point area down Orleans, past the typical Balitmore row houses with their white stone 3-step stoops, a few more blocks down Pulaski you’ll find this unassuming box next to a gentleman’s club. You’ll follow the smoky scent of charred meat past around the parking lot, and inside you’ll find a real picnic table, a few gambling machines, and huge pumps of BBQ sauce and ketchup. The wooden walls painted red and purple, looking like they’ve absorbed countless amounts of grill fumes. A sign above reads, “The only difference between this place and the Titanic… was they had a band.” So yeah, a real dive.

Boss Man had the ribs, which he said had too much sauce. I opted for a pit beef sandwich with hot sausage on a kaiser roll, having seen the show and lusted after one ever since. They also have a “Guy Special” now with corned beef, pit beef and turkey. We got mac ‘n cheese and rice pudding as well. The sandwich was excellent, and really, if you come here you have to have the pit beef and sausage. They are outstanding.


The beef is juicy (I had mine medium rare) and flavorful, never stringy or chewy. The sausage is spicy and has good smoky flavor, and they slice it into three slabs so your sandwich doesn’t fall apart. The poppy seed kaiser roll is strong enough to hold it all together and not get mushy, even if you slather it with their BBQ sauce. Don’t use too much sauce, the meat is tasty enough. The mac ‘n cheese was dry and tasteless, but the rice pudding was thick, creamy and not too sweet. Just enough cinnamon, and the small size was pretty filling.

A little too saucy for me, Bearnaise.

On a Monday afternoon there was little crowd, but like a good truck stop, you could tell this was a hidden gem. It reminded me of Ann’s Snack Bar in Atlanta, home of the ghetto burger. That place deserves a “blast from the past” blog post, and will get one soon. This is a must-visit in Baltimore. A combo sandwich on a kaiser will make a big lunch or a good sized dinner, and you can walk it off at Fort McHenry National Park, just a few miles away, if you want the exercise.

By the pit beef’s surly bite

80’s Trash of the Week: Earth Girls Are Easy

I’ll admit it. I’ll watch anything with Geena Davis in it. Let me qualify that. Any movie with Geena in it. In that “Commander in Chief” TV show she had a forehead like Andre the Giant’s, which terrified me. But since her first role in Tootsie I’ve had a crush on her (probably because I was 12 and she was in her bra & panties). I’ve always thought she had an adorably cute face with that big wry grin of hers. I even watched that superflop Cutthroat Island, which is actually pretty bad. But she’s hot in her pirate outfit.

Geena’s on the left

Before Beetlejuice, The Fly, and The Accidental Tourist made her a star, she was still taking projects like Julie Brown‘s Earth Girls Are Easy, as quintessential an 80’s movie as ever there was. It’s silly and over the top, garishly colorful, has campy special effects and a ludicrous plot, and tries to make some sort of comment on the dating scene, so yeah, late 80’s trasharama. Imagine Casual Sex? with Jim Carrey, Jeff Goldblum and Damon Wayans as aliens instead of Dice Clay, throw in a bunch of campy Valley references and songs by Julie Brown of “The Homecoming Queen’s Got a Gun” 15-minute fame, and you’ve got it.

Do you think we’ll ever regret these hair-dos?

It’s surprisingly watchable for being such a silly concept, because it never takes itself seriously. It teases you a few times, with a serious romantic subplot, but it’s all played for a gag with a decent payoff, so don’t let that bother you. Geena is Valerie, a hairdresser engaged to doctor Ted, which should be every gal’s dream of landing a rich chiseled Ken doll of a man, but like that Ken doll, he is too disinterested in sex for her liking. She tells her co-worker Candy (Julie Brown), who gives her an awful frosty blonde make-over that screams ’88, but when she tries to surprise him at home, he opens the door with a nurse in tow. She kicks him out and trashes the house in a “music video” scene, in her lingerie. While it’s sort of a chick movie, the producers were wise to insist that we get plenty of bikini action.

I ran out of Kleenex.

Valerie spends her weekend moping by the pool, while in the cold reaches of outer space, we see a Flash Gordon-like ship observing Earth. Inside are 3 guys covered in bright fur, like they skinned muppets and made catsuits out of them. They’ve been alone too long and after watching a holographic porno, turn their scopes toward our planet, where of course they see Geena sprawled by her pool, tantalizing them with a little side boob.

Late 80’s invention- the side boob.

They crash-land in her swimming pool and the fun begins. They’re goofy and good-natured, after all they’re Jim Carrey and Damon Wayans from the late-80’s super-skit comedy “In Living Color,” and Jeff Goldblum, who every went to for a studly nerd back then. She tries to hide them in the house but they want girls, so she ends up taking them to the hair salon for a make-over, which goes surprisingly well. Then we get an interlude for Julie Brown to sing “Cuz I’m a Blonde,” which is actually still pretty funny.

More proof that Cheez Whiz came from space.

From then on the movie involves trying to hide them from her hubby and her stoner pool man (Michael McKean), while taking them out to the L.A. party scene. They go to a club at Griffith Park Observatory, where Zeebo (Wayans) wows the ditzy Valley girls with their crazy dance moves, and Wiploc (Carrey) gets a following when he grabs an ice cube with his 8 inch tongue. Mac (Goldblum) is the most reserved of the aliens and has a thing for Geena, not surprising when the two actors married shortly after. They have a romantic scene and then skedaddle home where he shows her his magic “love touch,” which would be re-used in Cocoon.

“You guys were easier to wax than Robin Williams.”

In every movie where she bumps uglies with Jeff G, she has a nightmare afterward- in The Fly she had the infamous maggot baby, but here she just imagines all her neighbors as weird aliens, and other bizarre stuff like a midget with a beehive hairdo in her fridge. Now I know why Peter Dinklage’s character in Living in Oblivion was so pissed off about being in a dream sequence, it seems like half the roles for little people are in freaky dreams.

They give each other knowing nods at parties for enduring this.

The last part of the movie is a little confused and involves Ted trying to get back into Valeries good graces, and the alien boys getting into trouble with Woody the pool man. Zeebo and Wiploc wanna go to the beach because unlike Mac, they haven’t gotten any space booty. While Woody is gassing up, they manage to accidentally rob a store, trash Angelyne’s Corvette, drive through a car wash and then backwards down the freeway. Who’s Angelyne? I only recognized her because John Waters wrote about her in his book Crackpot!, but she’s a self-made celebrity in L.A.– by driving around in a pink Vette and buying billboards of herself modeling, she managed to get her 15 minutes.

Angelyne in all her skanky glory.

The boys crash into the giant sign of Randy’s Donuts, another L.A. landmark; I’m surprised they didn’t stop at Tail o’ the Pup for hot dog. Of course the cops haul them in and they end up under Dr. Ted’s care- could it happen any other way? How they unravel this conundrum, and whether Val ends up with her fun-loving alien or Dr. Dork I’ll leave for you to learn. The movie is good fun and an overdose of late 80’s nostalgia, with the B-52’s on the soundtrack. Before Carrey was making millions per picture he was in stuff like this, and Once Bitten. I liked him better as a goofball. And Geena fans, she’s never looked better.

Oh, it’s in the hole!

Beers Required to Enjoy: One
Could it be remade today? No way
Quotability Rating: Low
Cheese Factor: Off the charts
High Points: Smokin’ hot Geena, early Jim Carrey
Low Point:Things get serious with Ted
Gratuitous Boobies: Side only, but lots of cleavage.

Spring Awakening

Firecracker’s been wanting to see this for a year, and we finally got to it. I took her to see Rufus Wainwright for Valentine’s Day instead. While Rufus is entertaining, I wish we’d gone to see this musical instead. It’s pretty funny and very hot. For a show based on a play from 1890 that’s a surprise. There’s sort of a dearth of bawdiness in that era, and that’s what the story is about- it’s a morality tale about sexual repression, the kind of thing John Waters should be making a campy movie version of.

Sure it’s a little emo, but it’s a good show. I was thoroughly entertained and titillated. We had on-stage seats, which gives you a unique perspective; I’d probably want to see the show from the audience before I did it again. You miss a lot of the dialogue and lyrics because the actors are projecting away from you. You get the best view imaginable, and get bumped around sometimes as they bounce around the stage. The stage seats are incorporated into the show, actually- the backup singers sit with you, and occasionally the cast is standing right next to you.

Moritz, Melchior, Wendla

The story begins with young Wendla, a German girl who asks her mother about the birds and the bees. Our Prussian-Puritan background shows in that I said “birds and bees” instead of “the penis and the vagina.” We’ve got a thousand euphemisms for it. Anyway, her mom is too embarrassed to tell her not to let snakey into her no-no, so you know she’s going to get in trouble later on. From there we cut to a strict Prussian schoolroom, where mussy-haired Moritz (Blake Bashoff, Alex’s boyfriend on “Lost”) has fallen asleep during recitations of Latin. His friend Melchior (the lead, Kyle Riabko) defends him and becomes the rebel of the show, questioning the schoolmaster’s methods.

I’ll only put it in a little

He’s the one who gets in trouble with Wendla. Moritz falls asleep in class because his wet dreams are keeping him up all night, and he asks “Melchy” to write him an essay with illustrations because he’s read about sex in those forbidden books. Wendla finds him by the lake scribbling his naughty essay and eventually succumb to their throbbing hormonal urges. From the stage seats you get subjected to Mr. Riabko’s ass-crack, which delighted Firecracker. I got a look up Wendla’s skirt, and can tell you Alexandra Socha wears tighty whities. Besides being appropriately cute, the actresses and actors are all quite good. Beast said Melchior overacted, but he’s playing a rebellious teenager, and he played the part of the “Angry Young Man” from that Billy Joel song perfectly.

We’d be in those chairs on stage left

Emma Hunton was my favorite- she plays Ilse, a girl who was kicked out by her parents and now lives on the streets, posing for the Bohemian painters to live, usually wandering barefoot or in one of the artists’ shirts. She’s got great pipes and has a touching scene where she comforts inconsolable Moritz, who besides suffering the cruel injustices of the schoolmasters, can’t tell when a girl likes him. They sing a duet together that was the best song of the show, “Blue Wind.” The real crowd-pleaser is “Totally Fucked” when Melchior finally rebels, but it was loud and heavy on percussion so I couldn’t understand any of it from the stage seats.

Moritz channeling Amadeus

Overall Spring Awakening is a good show and worth seeing- the current cast is excellent, and while the story might appeal more to teenagers than adults like me, who wanted it to be campier or even more daring, it is never boring. The set design is spartan and efficient, with no big set changes- it’s not showy like Hairspray but it was clever and impressive. Check out the soundtrack on Amazon:

The Mad Tea Bagger

Here’s a funny short film by cleverscripts, a comedy troupe based in Louisiana and consisting in part of Katie, Firecracker’s roommate. I should call her “Beast” going with the rule of only using nicknames in this blog, and will do so retroactively from here on in. Beast has a small but funny role in this. See their other videos for her Rena Rae film, too.

If you like teabagging, check out John Waters’ movie Pecker, which has a lot of it. Also it bas drag kings, and proves that pubic hair causes crime. A great film.