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.)
Greg Gorman

Credit: Greg Gorman

Yesterday, the news was full of analysis of the Oscar snubs and simplistic assumptions about the members who make up the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. The go-to numbers cited were 94 percent white, 77 or 76 percent male, and an average age of 63 years old. There was this essay in the Daily Beast the day before. Friday morning, CBS offered this reportNumbers make for nice television, but they can be deceiving. Sometimes they invite too much speculation and those interpreting them in knee-jerk fashion can project a lot of speculation. Some have gone as far as accusing AMPAS members as racist because of the Selma snubs in the major categories. We said good things about that film in this blog (50 years after the Civil Rights Act, Selma remains a timely film — a film review). Individual rights no matter race, sex or religion is important to us, and it’s a fine film, indeed. However, even we agree the movie creaked with some faults in craft and storytelling. This writer’s issue was with its overwrought film techniques, especially involving abuse of slow-motion for emphasis that condescends to the audience. I wouldn’t be surprise if some voters were turned off for the same reason, and it has nothing to do with race. However, the best explanation comes from the longtime great Oscar analyst and film historian Mark Harris in Grantland.

But looking beyond the numbers, one of probably an array of other arguments against all these protestations comes from a gentleman I interviewed yesterday morning: legendary cult film director John Waters. He’s about to visit South Florida to perform “This Filthy World, Filthier and Dirtier” at the Shock Pop Comicon in Fort Lauderdale. After we spoke about his one-man show (the full story is coming in a few weeks to Pure Honey Magazine, another publication I write for). I had to ask him about his role as one of those men in the numbers noted above. “Yeah, I’m an old white man,” he said speaking over the phone.

Though he warned me that the Academy is strict about members talking about their nominees and I said I would never ask him to break the rules, he laughed it off, telling me incredulously, “Why not? I would!” Then he offered some films he put his singular power behind without skipping a beat. No surprise: all of his picks feature directors known for controversy and pushing boundaries.

anne-dorval-and-antoine-olivier-pilon-in-xavier-dolans-mommy

“I nominated movies like Mommy [Xavier Dolan] and Abuse of Weakness [Catherine Breillat],” he admitted. “I don’t think I’m picking the easiest ones to like. I’m tellin’ ya, of all the movies that were nominated, my favorite is this thing called Wild Tales [Damián Szifrón], which I was thrilled got nominated for best foreign film from Argentina, so I would urge everybody to see that movie. It’s a great movie.”

This is but one version of the vote by one of the majority members. Waters, of course is a unique case. William Burroughs, a man who understands genuine shock value and its place as representing reality, hailed him as “the pope of filth,” after all. But it provides an important lesson against generalizations, not to mention the futility of it. The take away: it’s pointless to assign generalized assumptions to a set of numbers, especially if you don’t know who’s behind them.

We’re not gonna defend the Oscars, ever. We’ll ride their coat tails to hype movies we like and dismiss them when its merited, but we’ll always argue against generalizing. There is an individual behind every thought and decisions like Oscar contenders. That’s why we have always aimed to celebrate the independent ethos. Pick your own favorites.

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 February 14 (go here for tickets). Also, the Miami International Film Festival recently announced that Wild Tales will open this year’s festival on March 6. Ticket information can be found here. And here’s the trailer:

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