By Nate Storey
As the writer of the Cult Movie Colum, I have tried to inform and educate readers on the many cult films that deserve to be viewed by the uniformed and to steer people away from the unoriginal mainstream schlock that is often in theatres. Up until now, I have done this by focusing on the movies themselves, but I feel it is time to expand on the format I have previously used and begin to explore those that bring us the movies we love: the directors, the actors, and the writers.
I can think of no director more unique or timely than fellow Baltimoron, John Waters: the Pope of Trash.
Waters was born and grew up in Baltimore and its suburbs, and as such, has been twisted and corrupted (in only the best possible ways) by the city around him. Looking back on his childhood, he most fondly remembers seeing a wrecked car with real blood on it at a scrap yard and imagining car crashes. He has also subsequently been infatuated with true crime and would attend murder trials across the country until he began to be recognized.
All of his movies are set and filmed in Baltimore and reflect the oddballs and crazies that populate the city in real life, only slightly twisted by Waters. His characters—often played by several of the same group of actors—range from sex addicts to transsexuals to cross dressers to serial killer mothers to paranoid racists to flashers and shit eaters. One such actor was named Divine, a drag queen who was childhood friends with Waters. He was the originator of the character Mrs. Turnblad, who was recently portrayed (quite less satisfactorily) by John Travolta in the recent movie, “Hairspray.”
Waters’ movies have always found their way into the cult consciousness, often due to the purposeful bad taste and odd characters and plots. The most important of his films is “Pink Flamingos.” The film centers around Divine who lives in Phoenix, Maryland (incidentally just around the corner—almost literally—from my house) under an assumed name because she is infamous for being the most filthy person in the world. She and her family (son Crackers, with whom she shares an incestuous relationship and her mother Edie the Egg Woman, who is mentally ill and as her name suggests, is obsessed with eggs) are challenged for the title of Filthiest People Alive by Raymond and Connie Marble. The Marbles run a baby-selling ring in which they pick up hitchhiking women, have their servant impregnate them and sell the babies to lesbians, expose themselves in public, and burn down the trailer in which Divine lives.
Naturally, Divine is up to the task of “out-filth-ing” the Marbles. I will not reveal how she manages this, but it is sufficient to say that she is very, very, clearly the winner by the end of the film. Eating fresh dog shit tends to give one an edge.
While this is the penultimate John Waters movie, it is not for everyone, for obvious reasons concerning most people’s natural decency. Waters has also written and directed several more accessible, mainstream movies. Hairspray, for instance, is much less risqué while still preserving Waters’ quirky, twisted sense of humor. The movie spawned a brilliant musical adaptation on Broadway, which was in turn adapted recently into a movie in its own right. It is worth noting that a certain amount of the eccentric brilliance of the original is gone from the more recent movie, a much more PG affair.
Other forays into the more mainstream include “Cry-Baby” and “Pecker.” “Cry-Baby” is John Waters’ parody of teen musicals, especially Grease. Johnny Depp starred as a gang member who falls for a preppy girl. Like “Hairspray,” “Cry-Baby” features Watersian characters such as Depp’s character’s hick family and fellow “drape” Hatchet-Face, whose face looks like it was hit with the blunt side of a hatchet. “Pecker” deals with one man’s sudden shot to nationwide fame and the way it affects him and his offbeat family and friends.
Besides being a brilliant writer and director, Waters has also made several wonderful forays into the world of acting. He has cameos in each of his movies, including a hypnotist who tries to insure that a girl adopts her mother’s racist views, a flasher, and a pervert. He has also been Simpsonized in the episode “Homer’s Phobia,” and now plays “The Groom Reaper” on the Court TV show “’Til Death Do Us Part,” which chronicles marriages from the ceremony to the inevitable murder of one of the spouses.
A final and hopefully capstone-ing depiction of the sense of humor and thought process that is John Waters’. As a side project he has also compiled two holiday CD’s. A John Waters Christmas contains such songs as “ Here Comes Fatty Claus” by Rudolph & Gang and “Santa Claus Is A Black Man” by AKIM & The Teddy Vann Production Company. A Date with John Waters includes “I’d Love To Take Orders From You” by Mildred Bailey & Her Swing Band and “Johnny Are You Queer?”by Josie Cotton.
“To me, bad taste is what entertainment is all about. If someone vomits watching one of my films, it’s like getting a standing ovation. But one must remember that there is such a thing as good bad taste and bad bad taste.”
“I thank God I was raised Catholic, so sex will always be dirty.”
“Without obsession, life is nothing.”