John Waters: This Filthy World

See that creepy-looking guy above you in the banner? Not the smiling guy with the beard, the one with the pencil-thin mustache. That’s John Waters, The King of Trash.

He was a rogue filmmaker back in the 70’s, infamous for the gross-out epic Pink Flamingos, but probably best known nowadays for Hairspray, which went from movie to musical to movie musical. Nowadays he still makes movies, but he’s also become sort of a stand-up comedian; it began with giving “lectures” on college campuses, but he’s so damn funny and bizarre that they filmed one of his shows, like a comedy act, and it’s on cable and DVD now.

A clip from This Filthy World

I saw him give the talk at Ramapo College a year or so back, and that’s where I got my picture taken with him. The crowd was an interesting mix of students, sport-jacketed professors, and bizarro types who might have been extras in Pink Flamingos for all I know. In his show, he mentions the strange things people have him sign. Like their asses. Then they get it tattooed on. Who inspires that sort of behavior outside of rock stars? A skinny, acerbic little man who is a wellspring of vicious humor and unwholesome fascination with the morbid and extreme. Don’t look at me, I had him sign my copy of Shock Value.

The King of Bad Taste certainly inspires a great deal of love in his fans. His movies are rather unique. Shocking in their day, they seem sort of quaint now; though Pink Flamingos will never be quaint. It may become an art film, but it will never be quaint. Designed as the most tasteless film ever, the story involves trash queen Divine, dubbed The Filthiest Person Alive, defending her title against Connie and Raymond Marble. They’re lovely people who kidnap girls and artificially inseminate them, and sell the babies to gay and lesbian couples. As they battle, we’ll see incestuous blowjobs, flashers, foot fetishes, singing assholes, and Divine will eat a dog turd.

The birthday party scene

Vincent Gallo might have put a hardcore blowjob in The Brown Bunny, but until he eats a dog turd, I think Flamingos is safe from being called quaint. The movie is campy and has a very pointed social commentary behind the obvious jokes, like “someone has mailed me a bowel movement!” It’s disgusting but utterly hilarious. As his first widely distributed film, Waters made sure he could never top himself. But his movies get funnier as they get tamer and more subversive.

I first found out about him from my Uncle Paul, who ran a few bars in Manhattan and Brooklyn in his day; Danny’s, a gay bar in Brooklyn Heights, was one of them. And Divine, or Glen, was a customer. I found the movie at Curry’s Home Video, our source for obscure movies back in the 80’s. It was a well-worn VHS tape. When I watched it I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. As a young snot-nosed punk who thought the punk scene was the most shocking rebellion against the criminally mundane bourgeois society, John Waters’ repertoire was a huge “been there done that.” He taught me that It’s a lot more fun to blend in and just be weird on the inside.

And the fucker is still funny as hell. This Filthy World meanders from his obsessions like trashy court cases and serial killers to his movies, but he injects enough humor to make it feel more like a Jim Norton show than a lecture. It’s been on Cinemax lately and is definitely worth a watch if you’ve got 90 minutes.