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.)
John Coplans catalogue, 1970, from the MBC Archive

John Coplans catalogue, 1970, from the MBC Archive

We at Independent Ethos are extremely supportive of the Miami Beach Cinematheque and its Speaking In Cinema series, which would not be possible without funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The series has brought some excellent filmmakers to Miami since it began earlier this year, and we helped out with its inaugural event (An Interview with ‘Hide Your Smiling Faces’ Filmmaker Daniel Patrick Carbone in ‘Miami New Times’). We’ve covered them all because, frankly, it is damn exciting to consider movies thoughtfully for an hour (sometimes longer) in such a setting with some amazing guests.

This month and next — the month known in Miami Beach for one of the biggest art festivals in the world: Art Basel – Miami Beach — the Cinematheque has begun screening some rare films by Andy Warhol thanks to The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, PA at the Carnegie Institute. The four films are all about Golden Age Hollywood starlets and their scandals recreated in the experimental and exploratory way only Warhol could have made. The Velvet Underground, Edie Sedgewick and famous drag queens are all collaborators. The films include Harlot (1964), Lupe (1965), More Milk Yvette (1965), and Hedy (1966)*.

Discussing the films with depth and knowledge will be our old Miami friend and compatriot on WordPress Alfred Soto (check out his terrific blog Humanizing the Vacuum). He will lead a discussion with director/producer Tom Kalin and Claire K. Henry, Senior Curatorial Assistant and project manager of the Andy Warhol Film Project at the Whitney Museum of American Art. I corresponded with the out-of-town experts via email ahead of their visit and wrote an article for the art and culture blog of the Miami New Times, “Cultist.” Among other topics, we discussed common misconceptions of Warhol’s film work, and I even asked them for a personal favorite of the the four Warhol films screening at the MBC (it turned out to be unanimous). You can read the result by jumping through the link below:

cultist banner

But, as always, there was more. Asked what mainstream filmmakers can learn from the work of Warhol, Henry declared that indeed they have already learned a tremendous amount. “The commercial success of The Chelsea Girls in 1966-67 paved the way for more radical filmmaking,” she notes, “both in subject matter — Midnight Cowboy (1969); A Clockwork Orange (1971); Pink Flamingos (1972) — and in technique — Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai Du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975); Memento (2001).”

She deferred to Kalin for more on this notion. Though he was rushing to board his plane to Miami, he offered, “Sometimes in mainstream cinema a pop star crosses over and becomes a screen star. This blurring of the lines — the synergy between music and movies for instance is very Warholian. The Exploding Plastic Inevitable was ahead of its time and the boundary pushing of his expanded cinema like Chelsea Girls still resonates in this era of ‘multiplatform storytelling.’ Also Warhol’s superstars, mere mortals transformed by the magic lens, anticipate today’s preoccupation with reality, real faces.”

Tom Kalin 2

Finally, since Speaking In Cinema also tries to go off topic to discuss film in general, it was worth asking Kalin, what he is up to as a filmmaker, considering this writer is only familiar with his work as a feature filmmaker of 1992’s Swoon and 2007’s Savage Grace. “In addition to my feature narrative work, my films and videos include short experimental work, installations and collaborations,” notes Kalin, who is also a professor at Columbia University. “Recently, I have been collaborating with musician Thomas Bartlett (Doveman) on a series of projects. We premiered My Silent One at REDCAT in Los Angeles in July. You can read a bit about it here and here.”

He also pauses to note Warhol’s own influence on his work. “Of course Warhol famously was a key figure in the combination of film and live music in his work with The Velvet Underground, and like many filmmakers, I have been inspired by this work. I also have just made a new short film for Visual AIDS’ 25th Anniversary of Day Without Art. The film is called ‘Ashes’ and features the voice of Justin Vivian Bond.”

Finally, for those curious about his feature work, Kalin offers: “I’m developing two new features, one of which is about a crime in a small town, my first feature set in present time.  I will shoot summer 2015.”

Hans Morgenstern

Director/producer Tom Kalin will join Claire K. Henry, Senior Curatorial Assistant of the Andy Warhol Film Project at the Whitney Museum of American Art and “Humanizing the Vacuum” critic Alfred Soto for the Knight Foundation-sponsored series “Speaking In Cinema” to discuss the films on Thursday, November 20, at 7 p.m. A meet-and-greet party at the Sagamore Hotel ends the night. Tickets for all the Warhol screenings and the event can be found by visiting mbcinema.com.

*The films in the retrospective are from the Collection of The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh. Contribution The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. © 2014 The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, PA., a museum of Carnegie Institute. All rights reserved.

(Copyright 2014 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)