John Waters: Oscar Wilde’s Heir?

 Here’s the article on John Waters from The Spit Take magazine. And here’s an earlier draft that’s roughly the same:

            Genuine wit is so rare in American culture that it is well worth the cost of a ticket to see filmmaker and author John Waters do a revamped version of his one-man show, “This Filthy World.” Perhaps best known as the director of such cult classics as Pink Flamingos and his breakout mainstream hit, Hairspray, the 67-year-old former underground provacateur has been embraced by mainstream arts institutions and late-night television shows.  Indeed, as anyone who has seen him on television or read his  books knows, he is at heart an amusing, quick-witted conversationalist and writer more akin to legendary British wits such as Stephen Fry and the swishier Quentin Crisp than anyone on this side of the pond since Gore Vidal. 

                So while his original appeal to his fans stems from his reputation as the “Pope of Trash,” a  purveyor of  shock value and the bizarre low comedy  of his films, underlying it all is man with a fine mind who crafts witticisms and anecdotes that unfurl seamlessly on stage.  But he is not a gut-busting stand-up or story-teller, although he still won regular laughs from  a packed house at the refurbished, re-opened legendary chitlin’ circuit Howard Theatre in Washington.

              Some of his fans, including me,  missed the first part of his 90 minute show because he was mistakenly rushed onstage a half hour before his 8 p.m. start time. Yet as I entered, he remained unmistakable: dressed in a checkerboard gray-and-black suit and bow-tie while sporting his trademark pencil-thin mustache, he was winding up in his sardonic, understated way a commentary about an obscure gay homosexual subculture of men who display explicit online photos of the results of anal fisting. “It’s called  blossoming,” he said dryly. “You can Google it,” but he doubted that we would want to.

              It also was a reminder that no matter  how many elevated circles he travels in — including serving  on the jury at the Cannes Film Festival – he is aware of the oddities and dark corners of “this filthy world” in a way that few other artists know. With 95 percent brand-new memorized material, though, his delivery at times seemed rushed. Yet he didn’t lean on bad taste to win his audience with behind-the-scenes tales of his film career and his acerbic commentaries on  political correctness and social trends. At one point, in talking about his film Cry Baby,  he decried the passing from the scene over the decades of true rebel role models from juvenile delinquents to punks: “What can you be today: a hacktivist? You’re sitting home in your parent’s house, they’re leaving food outside the door and you’re shutting down the governments of three countries. The problem is that there’s no style about it…except poor posture.”

                    That’s a bon mot that might have been written by Oscar Wilde. But only Wilde’s unlikely heir, John Waters, would dare to describe a hairy gay man  — “I thought his back was a hedge,” he quipped — in Provincetown for “Bear Week”  pushing along a “completely retarded” ( he apologized before using the term) 12-year-old girl in a baby carriage. “Was she having fun at Bear Week? Diane Arbus would have run from this photo,” he observed. “Then I had this terrible thought in my mind: Was she his ‘dick magnet’ for the weekend? I can’t stop thinking about it– and I hope you can’t either.”

             John Waters, no matter how respected these days,  is still proudly  wearing his crown as the “Pope of Trash.”






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