John Waters on how he stays shocking

February 11, 2015

John WatersAs the legendary director and author John Waters prepares to head down to South Florida for a new version of his monologue “This Filthy World” now called “This Filthy World, Filthier and Dirtier,” many have wondered how much filthier the director of Pink Flamingos can get. The question of what one can do when nothing’s shocking anymore has long followed Waters, who famously capped off Pink Flamingos with a shot of his longtime friend and muse the drag superstar Divine chowing on genuine dog poop.

If that stands as the high-water mark of shock when you think of Waters, you are doing a disservice to much of his later career. In the nineties, during the rise of political correctness, Waters excelled at pushing the standards of what’s offensive with films like Serial Mom (1994) and Pecker (1998). Speaking via phone from his San Francisco home, the 68-year-old Waters brought up his last film, 2004’s A Dirty Shame, as an example that he never stopped challenging the limits of good taste. “I mean my last movie got an NC-17,” he said, “and I lost the appeal, and I was fighting censorship once again with the MPAA [Pink Flamingos received an X-rating when it was released in 1972].”

One thing that became apparent in talking with Waters is that he has a witty and profound grip on what it means to be shocking. Subversion is this man’s stock in trade. “You know, I never tried to top Pink Flamingos,” he noted, “but yet I just did a kiddie version of Pink Flamingos [Kiddie Flamingos]. It was an art piece, but it may be the only way left to surprise people, to make something thought of as very transgressive, which I’m thankful Pink Flamingos can be called that, to become completely innocent, and then the audience is the perverted one, not the people in it.”

Asked whether he feels younger filmmakers are pushing the boundaries of good taste the way he might have as a young filmmaker, he replied coyly, “That’s not the only thing they’re doing. I think Hollywood — not that I’ve been an influence — but now Hollywood makes $80 million gross-out comedies, which usually aren’t funny. So if it’s trying too hard, it never works. If that’s the only thing you’re trying to do, is shock somebody? I always try to surprise people and make them laugh, and after Pink Flamingos, I never tried to top that in the gross-out thing, you know, with the ending of Pink Flamingos. I won. I still won. I don’t think anything has unseated the end of Pink Flamingos, which Variety called the most vile, stupid, horrible film ever or whatever, so I think I still have that title.”

For much more on my conversation with John Waters, including what he thinks of gay marriage, his “crazy” decision to hitchhike across America and the comicon crowd who he will perform to at Shock Pop Comicon, jump through the logo for Pure Honey Magazine below:

pure honey

I also wrote this when the Oscar nominations came out:

John Waters on his quirky Oscar noms as “an old white man”

Hans Morgenstern

John Waters will perform “This Filthy World, Filthier and Dirtier” at Broward County Convention Center, 1950 Eisenhower Boulevard, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, as part of the Shock Pop Comicon on Feb 14. Tickets (that’s a hot link).

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

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