Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Wading in with John Waters

I've been a busy little bee lately but I found this piece in my archives that I never got to use in print back in October '04 when I worked the "Dirty Shame" junket and thought it should’ve been because, hell, it’s John Waters unadulterated. He’s such a smart and funny being...

Although he's been given handles like the "Tzar of Trash," the "Lord of Lewd" and then some, over the past four decades John Waters has diligently plumbed the depths of bad taste with irreverent aplomb. His talents are unleashed on films like Female Trouble, Pink Flamingos, Hair Spray, Serial Mom and Cecil B. Demented-- check it out...

Q: So when did you get into writing the story for A Dirty Shame?

JW: I think when I was, like, 8 years old I started thinking this one up. [laughter] Because all the nuns told me we'd go to hell if we saw these [types of] movies. So, I remember those movies and got obsessed by those movies and pretended I owned a dirty movie theater and then went on -- in Polyester the main character, Divine's husband did own a dirty movie theater -- sexploitation movies, such as a genre, I grew up with the drive-in and the Rex Theater in Baltimore. I even went and visited the owner of the Rex in a nursing home this year and he showed me his scrap book from those days which was so great -- and all his fights with the sensor boards. So, it all lead to wanting to parody this genre of movies, like a woman in trouble where a doctor tells her to see the birth of a baby --- all that kind of stuff, that's what lead to it. And I read a book called the erotic minorities in high school. That was by Dr. Lars Ullerstam, I remember -- in that it had dictionaries of sexual subjects that I'd never heard of. And the Marquis de Sade, really, who did it in The 120 Days of Sodom, I guess. I read that in like tenth grade. I thought: "Wow!" It is a great book. First of all, how many authors have an entire sex life named after them?

Q:How did you decide which kinds of sexual deviance you were going to depict? Some of them I'd never heard of before like "Roman Showers?

JW: That, I'd never heard of either -- I got that one out. Thank God, I'm not the only one.

Q: Yeah, but how did you decide upon showing something about it?

JW: [I chose] Ones that were joyous and ones that weren't against women and that weren't mean-spirited -- that could be funny and were safe. That was a really important thing to me, that if I was going to make a movie encouraging these sex addicts, in a way, I had to have sex addicts that did safe sex. Because I couldn't do that irresponsibly and these sex acts were ones that used to be thought of as really neurotic behavior but now are "responsible." And real sex [these days] is "irresponsible."

Q: Johnny Knoxville mentioned repression bringing out your sexual fetishes.

JW: Yes well certainly, when you're brought up to think sex is dirty, it will always be better. Because dirty sex is better. I liked doing it "illegal" it was more fun to me when [being] gay was illegal. I mean I'm glad that it isn't now but just think: every time you had sex, you broke the law. Now that was a certain fetish right there. Where today, the words that Lenny Bruce went to jail for are on sitcoms. I'm questioning how can freedom go? Can tolerance go too far? Do we really care about the rights of adult babies? I don't know if I do, to be honest. When does it become "the last cause?" I'm trying to make fun of political correctness with that. Like when Big Ethel goes: "I can certainly judge that!" Everybody [in the audience] secretly thinks that. The other weird thing that I found out in all these fetishists is: there's no humor on their web sites. They're dead serious about it. I think it's pretty hard to be dead serious about being an adult baby -- you better have a sense of humor!

Q: Did you visit any sex addict meetings for research?

JW: I didn't because I thought that that would be condescending and I didn't think that I had to [go]. The 12-Step program is like the same in every one. "John Waters shows up to a sex addicts meeting." It'd be on “Gawker” in like ten minutes. I feel that, basically, if I was a sex addict, I would go to them for the same reasons that they did in the movie. I'm not against 12-Step programs, they've saved many of my friends' lives but at the same time, I know people that are addicted to meetings but they aren’t alcoholics and they go all the time. It's their whole life, and they're obsessed by it -- I make fun of things I like, basically.

Q: When you were writing A Dirty Shame and you were getting into the minutia of the characters' specific fallacies that you poke fun at, did you find yourself having to explain to the actors like: "this is what a payday is...?"

JW: No, I tried to put it in the dialogue sometimes -- I did explain it [in that way]. Except for the one scene where I purposely took the most obscure ones and I don't explain what they are - that's up to you to find out. Dorothy, you have to find out for yourself. But certainly, I have it in the dialogue a lot. When Johnny's walking her through the sex garage he does explain what some of them are and they talk back and forth. That always rememinded me of Fellini's satiricon -- when they were going around -- and there was a porn movie called "The Sex Garage" by Joe Gauge, so I'd always remembered that. So all these influences come in. When she say's "My Axis of Evil" or "Discover the Oyster" -- that's [based on] a famous M.F.K. Fischer cookbook -- it's an obscure reference. I like to throw in obscure references to see if anybody gets them.

Q: Are all of the fetishes real?

JW: Yes. I didn't make them up. But neuters, aren't real. Neuters I made up although, didn't we just have a Neuter convention? [the RNC] It seemed like a decency rally to me. I think they both seemed like decency rallies, unfortunately. This "all American" scary cheering. There were real decency rallies in Baltimore and all over the country after Jim Morrison supposedly exposed himself. The one in Baltimore turned into a race riot. [laughs] It was really ludicrous, because it was supposed to be about "there are good young people, we're not all hippies." It was really terrible and it ended decency rallies really fast -- that trend was over in a minute.

Q: How did you arrive at finding Selma Blair for this part?

JW: Selma's such a good actress... I knew that she'd worked with Todd Solondz and that she’s taken chances on the roles she’s picked -- very much like Johnny Depp. I think she's going to have his career because she refuses to be an ingénue. She likes to play something very different. She didn't get upstaged by those tits. I'd like to know another actress who could not be upstaged by them -- and she still looked good in them, I think. She still looked kind of sexy in them, I thought. And the teamsters really thought so.

Q: Was the David Hasselhoff thing always in your mind?

JW: We didn't film that until after the whole movie was over because I wanted to get the exact shots that we knew [we'd need]. Because I knew that when I talked a celebrity into it we'd have to be over there the next day to shoot it before their agents changed their minds. So, then I found out that we're shooting David Hasselhoff and he grew up two miles from where I grew up. He had a sense of humor about his celebrity. I do -- everybody in it does -- and that's what these movies are about: how much fun it is to be in movies or to be famous in a weird way. Everyone wants to be famous but I have no patience for people that complain about it.

Q: So what do you think about the return to "blotchy form" for John Waters?

JM: I don't think it's a return. I don't know that it is so different from the other ones except maybe the rating. And it's continuous and it's because it's sex, because it's about sex, [that] it's a more volatile subject matter. But I would hardly call Cecil B. Demented a "mainstream feel-good-fuzzy Hollywood movie." Imagine trying to get that movie made today. Oh God, would that be impossible and it was also made with French money so that'd really piss everyone off today.

Q: Did you expect the NC-17 rating? Was it the language?

JW: I didn't expect that. I didn't know that I'd get that at all, I was kind of amazed. And I did the appeal and I lost [because of] “the blatant sexual matter." So in other words, I don't know any other non-explicit NC-17 American comedy, I think it's the first. It means you can't even talk about sex. You don't see any sex in this movie.

Q: Did you see The Brown Bunny? That got an "X."

JW: No, but I'm dying to. He [Vincent Gallo] didn't get an X, he gave it one which I love, the anarchy to do that. Because they really hate it when you do that because you're allowed to give a film an X but they made up the NC-17 so people wouldn't do that -- so I loved that he did that. It was really good. Really a way to fuck with them.

Q: Was the release of this movie timed to coincide with election season or no?

JW: That's accidental, I mean I think it can't hurt. I think that there is a sexual war going on now. But I think the elections going to be even scarier. It's going to be an exact tie -- even more than last time -- and I think that even one vote, which means neither will accept it and there'll be anarchy.

Q: You've been associated with "trash" but how has the industry changed or has it? Do you think irony gets blurred now?

JW: I don't even know what that [trashy] means any more. Well now it's just American humor. Is this movie trashy? Is this movie ironic? I think irony's over. I said that in Pecker and all the editorials went "irony's over" and I'm like, "I said that two years ago!"

...see? Funny, yo...Laters...

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