Hide your kids. Hide your wife. John Waters has escaped from Baltimore.
On Friday, Waters will appear at the University of Southern California for a discussion and screening of his classic Pink Flamingos. If you scored tickets you're in for a treat: by this point, Waters is almost as well known for his lectures as he is for redefining Hollywood's relationship to bad taste.
The event is sold out, but don't worry. USC Cinematic Arts professor James Egan, who will moderate Friday's discussion, has come up with the next best thing. His latest book, John Waters: Interviews, traces the director's evolution from juvenile delinquent to America's foremost camp icon.
When Egan first met Waters, he was a 23-year old recent Amherst grad, a private-school educated politics junkie with an eye on Capitol Hill. One night, he followed a friend to a birthday party for the famous drag queen star, Divine. “The first thing I saw when I entered was Edith Massey [Pink Flamingos' Mama Edie] bent naked over a pool table,” Egan said in a recent interview with LA Weekly.
Waters invited him to see Demon Seed, a film about a computer who impregnates Julie Christie. “My brain was twisted the moment I walked through that door,” Egan said, “and it's been twisting ever since.”
Thirty-seven years later Egan is a film professor, not a politician, and he and Waters are still close. That intimacy shows through in this meticulously curated collection, which provides a perfect platform for Waters' famously aphoristic wit. For example:
5. On Sex:
“The best thing I ever heard about sex was that Walter Matthau's wife wrote a book where she claimed she thought she invented the blow job. She had never heard of it and she said, 'I've got to tell people about this. This is really good.' We need some new sex acts. Actors should think up new ones. That's an improv exercise.”
4. On Divine:
“Divine always believed he was a millionairess, even when he didn't have a penny. He was really fiscally irresponsible. When his landlady was away one weekend, Divine paid an auctioneer in full black tie to auction off all the landlady's furniture in his apartment, antiques and stuff, to cover his rent. That's how he would think. He had to sneak back into P'Town [Provincetown] for a long time, after she called the police.”
3. On Blasphemy:
“I'm not sorry I was brought up Catholic, because I think it gave me that especially warped view of things that all Catholics have — and thank God for that world view! I think it makes you more theatrical.”
2. On film school:
“I went to New York University, very briefly. I got kicked out in 1966 — marijuana, which was a big scandal then. It was in the Daily News. I never went to classes anyway. I lived by stealing textbooks and selling them back to the bookstore. When I got kicked out, I went home. NYU recommended extensive psychiatric treatment.”
1. On his career as a visual artist:
“We know the delightful, wonderful, great thing about the art world is that you have to appeal to about three people. Which is such a relief to me. And the three people you have to appeal to are especially moody and snotty. I love that. I'm so for that.”
Waters often says that his films don't mean anything, and that they exist solely to make audiences laugh. Egan doesn't buy it. “To me he's our Aldous Huxley, helping us to find our way through this maze of media,” he said. “We're laughing and we're also learning.”
You don't have to take his word for it. Waters and Egan plan to tour the East Coast in the coming weeks, stopping in Manhattan, Cambridge and Baltimore. Can't make it? Well. There's still enough time to rent Polyester and Cry-Baby before Interviews drops in November.
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