John Waters: "I find it incredible that bad taste is universal"

There is a man who, long before the dirty and depressing story of the series TheWireshowed the world how the most depraved corners and characters of his city look, sound and even smell, a lost point in the middle of the east coast of the United States called Baltimore (Maryland): the disgusting protagonists of pink flamingos (1972), the filthiest family that ever existed; the residential streets away from all darkness where white families lived in the sixties like Tracy Turnblad, the plump girl who led a dance for racial integration in hairspray (1988); and the substandard dwellings where the vulgar but also very tender gang members of the fifties multiplied and did their thing. crybaby (1990), all of them films suspended in a state of grace between provocation, parody and nonsense that, over time, have established themselves as cult titles and have elevated their director to the altars of junk culture.

That man, John Waters (Baltimore, 76 years old), travels for the second time in his life to Spain, where he will act as godfather of the X edition of the Rizoma Festival and offer his monologue false negative on June 7 at the Alcázar Theater in Madrid. A day later she will go to Barcelona, ​​where she will talk at the CCCB with the singer and actress Samantha Hudson about the cliché in musical taste within the Primavera Pro programme, in a direct broadcast that will be broadcast on streaming in Youtube. Just as the unknown who enters the capital of Maryland can look to his movies to find his way, Waters is clear about the vision he hopes to find when he lands on this side of the ocean: “All my expectations are placed on Pedro!”, laughs in a Zoom audio conversation. “What I saw the other time was exactly like being in a Pedro movie, and I also had lunch with him, so the experience did not disappoint me at all.”

Before starting the interview comes a warning from the organization of Rizoma, an international film and intertwined culture festival that was the same host that welcomed the artist on his previous visit to Spain, in 2011: extreme formality is requested. “John is ultra punctual” are the exact words. Indeed, several minutes ahead of the agreed time, the talk has already begun. “I hate when people are late,” confirms the artist, with that recognizable musical voice of his. “In fact, being on time is late.” If it’s almost 1:00 p.m. on this side of the screen, that means it’s not yet 7:00 a.m. in Baltimore. Still, he sounds as clear as can be. “I don’t believe that the second mouse gets the cheese,” he says, referring to the English anti-saying that responds to the proverb that “the early bird gets the worm (but the second mouse gets the cheese)”.

So here is an icon of auteur cinema, famous for his penchant for transgression and extravagance, with a fame preceded, and deserved, by his coarse characters and his scatological filth, revealing himself as a diligent early riser, a dedicated professional that by 12 noon —he details it himself— he has already channeled the course of the day. He could seem contradictory, at least opposed to the expectations about his character that could be generated, given the sloppiness that governs his work. But that’s something he doesn’t care about. Or, at least, “not so much anymore”. “In the old days, when my first movies came out and they didn’t know who he was, people thought he lived in trailers with drag queens and dog shit. But I think then they realized that I’m a hardworking person and that my job is to come up with weird things that make people laugh. And that is something I take very seriously.”

To fulfill his mission, Waters has practically touched all the sticks. He is known above all for his eccentric films, but he has written essays (in Spain they are published How to screw it up, My role models, Carsick Y Advice from a know-it-all), he takes photos (he is represented by the Marianne Boesky gallery), he acts in a good number of series and films (lately he has appeared in The wonderful Mrs. Maisel, Search Party and the documentary The Andy Warhol Diaries) and in Madrid he will go on stage to perform a one man show where viewers will see all those creative John Waters in action: the filmmaker, the writer, the actor, the artist. “They are going to see them all because in my show I talk about everything: covid, movies, fashion, my parents…”, lists the icon with the Little Richard mustache, that boy queer Raised in a profoundly Catholic family that, from both crushing him with the manners of political correctness, ended up producing an international idol of bad taste. “In a way, it’s like a crazy group therapy session, even though it’s completely scripted and rehearsed,” he insists on his professional ethics. “It’s not me talking nonsense.”

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In that concoction of genres through which he has traveled, the assault on the novel was still missing to be able to speak of Waters as a total artist. This 2022 has settled the matter by publishing Liarmouth: A Feel-Bad Romance, the story of “a woman who steals luggage at airports”, which will soon land in Spain. “[La protagonista] is a con artist on the run whose daughter is trying to kill her while she is trying to kill her mother. It is quite complicated. She is a road movies and it’s pretty crazy. It’s one of the craziest things I’ve ever written,” she teases. “I think that this novel was my first great challenge, and that my two previous books already were. In carsick told the story of how I hitchhiked across America by myself at age 66, and to Tips from a know-it-all I took LSD again at 70 after 50 without ever trying it to see what it was like. In other words, I like to challenge myself. I’m thinking about what’s next.”

Harris Glenn Milstead in 'Pink Flamingos'.
Harris Glenn Milstead in ‘Pink Flamingos’.

He may not know what the future holds, but he is clear that there are hoops he won’t go through. “I have never participated in a team sport. And I can promise I’m not going to,” she laughs. “Although it is true that I did that Nike ad [en 2019], but that’s as close as I’m going to get.” If for posterity to which he acknowledges he aspires he had to keep only one piece of his entire production for which to be remembered, Waters would choose black comedy The Mommy Murders (1994), where Kathleen Turner plays a perfect American mother and housewife who is recycled as a serial criminal. “I think it’s my best film, what happens is that Divine doesn’t come out”, she comments on the drag queen of the impossible eyebrows that starred pink flamingos and other of his films, played by his childhood friend Harris Glenn Milstead, who died in 1988. “So I’d better do a double feature with The Mommy Murders Y Female Trouble (1974), which is one of my first films and it’s very crazy and also Divine comes out”.

It often happens that artists compose works that they themselves would like to enjoy, and that seems to be the case with Waters. “I like to collect art that hides its talent, that laughs at talent. That makes me stop to think and that at first it annoys me, but then I accept, ”he details about his personal interests. “And I love European movies that make you feel bad. I don’t like movies that make me feel good. I already feel good. Every once in a while I like to leave a movie pissed off.” In addition to going to the movies, like any neighbor’s son (he insists that he is a person “just like anyone”), he also spends his good time on the Internet. Of course: he doesn’t have Facebook — “because I’m not interested in your releases” — or Twitter — “I’m not going to give away my material, I need it for my shows”—. “I try not to read the pejorative comments,” he confesses, “but when I see them I laugh, because I’m not used to reading negative things about myself. And they are such miserable and ridiculous things that do not make me feel too bad either.

Venerated in Europe, where ethical and aesthetic canons are different from those of his native USA —deep down, the veiled protagonist of his works, always in the eye of the target of his sarcasm— the truth is that Waters feels the same surrounded by the public wherever he goes. “I find it incredible that bad taste is universal, it’s very funny,” he says, although he points out that there are countries “like Italy” (and here Spain could be added) “that always dub movies and change the titles, so it’s more It’s hard for American movies to catch on.” Despite the cracks that open with the translation, the pantheon to which the proclaimed “Pope of the trash” (Burroughs dixit) has precisely in Pier Paolo Pasolini one of his deities. “My Holy Trinity is him, Jean Genet and Andy Warhol”, she specifies. “I think they hear all my prayers.”

If among those prayers was to become a benchmark of popular culture, his pleas have been well attended. “Sometimes when I walk out on stage and people cheer for me, I think: are they doing it because I’m still standing? It’s fantastic. I’ve been doing this for 50 years and I always thank my audience, especially the international one, because I find it incredible that they know who I am”. It is only thanks to that audience, he says, that he has been able to develop a desired career “for which no school encouraged me.” As a teacher of life, this is his advice for those who want to follow in his footsteps: “I would tell them not to be afraid of rejection, because in show business they will always reject you at the beginning. Keep trying, because it’s better to have bad reviews than no reviews. Bad reviews hurt more at the end, when you’ve been at it for a long time, but when you’re young you can turn them around. So I would tell them to get the attention of the press. You have to learn to deal with the press: you can’t hate it if you work in the art world. It’s an absurd way to start.”

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