Yesterday, the Gawker office was graced with the presence of legendary director John Waters, who’s promoting the rerelease of his 1970 movie Multiple Maniacs. The delirious movie, which features Divine being raped by a giant lobster as its centerpiece, has been restored by the Criterion Collection and is being distributed by the illustrious Janus Films. Thus, the king of bad taste meets the epitome of cinematic refinement. Waters told me the seemingly unholy union made sense.
“When I was young in Baltimore, I would go down to the three art theaters: The Five West, The Seven East and…the other one, there were three of them,” Waters explained. “And they would always show art films and serve espresso coffee and they were always from Janus Films. It was Bergman, but Bergman was porn in Baltimore sometimes. They would cut out the dialogue and leave the tit scenes in. And Bergman had vomit too. These were really important. So Janus Films [restoring Multiple Maniacs] isn’t irony anymore, it’s coming complete circle to where I started. I always said I wanted to make exploitation films for art theaters and I did.”
Waters has stories for days (he’s been touring his one-man show “This Filthy World” for over a decade now), and he shared generously during our conversation, which lasted nearly 30 minutes. Some highlights:
On whether Waters’s cast of Dreamlanders, especially Edith Massey were in on the joke or playing it straight:
There was no joke about Edith Massey to me. I thought she was an outsider comedian. Edith didn’t care. She just liked being in movies and she worried constantly about saying her lines, remembering her lines. I think Michael Musto said you can see her thinking of her lines before she says it, and you can tell in all my movies when she has a line coming up because her head starts moving right before like a Bobbit doll. But that’s part of her charm. In on the joke? I think the whole thing was group madness that she was happy to join because she really worked in that bar, Pete’s Bar, where we filmed it… She just liked that she was in movies. She joined up with us very easily. She was our Gracie Allen. She was the crazy grandmother...
Even with my later movies, I said to Tracey Ulmann, “Don’t ever wink to the audience. Play it as if you believe every line.” On Multiple Maniacs, they did believe every line. You should have been scared of us then. But no, I agree with that, and that’s why Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is so great.
On the enduring shock of Multiple Maniacs, almost 50 years after it was made:
You’re seeing it in a time capsule. You know it was made a long time ago. The people who saw my movies grew old with the people in them. Mink Stole, Mary Vivian Pierce, they’ve been in all of them, up until the end really. I think that distance makes it very strange to try to imagine. Because even I watch it and think, “What was I thinking about? Oh my god.”…I’m proud of the fact that most things that were thought of as transgressive 45 years ago are pretty tame today. And this is not. You can hate it, but I don’t think anybody can say it’s tame.
On reality TV perverting some principles that were visible in Waters’ early work, like Maniacs’ Cavalcade of Perversion, and Pink Flamingos’s “filthiest person alive”:
I hate reality TV... I don’t think I’ve ever made fun of my characters. To me, reality TV looks down on them and asks you to feel superior. I don’t think I’ve ever done that in one of my movies. You can hate my movies, but I don’t think anyone could say I’ve humiliated… well, I guess you could say, “Divine ate dog shit.” But Divine ate dog shit for art. It was a Dadaist moment… It was for politics in away. Against the tyranny of good taste I was raised with. Thank god my parents taught me all the rules to break. It was in defiance of movies like David Lean. He was our enemy.
On gay culture:
Gay is not enough anymore. It hasn’t been for a long time. In Provincetown, I always think that hetero people should have a parade because they’re the minority. But it all depends on where you are. In rich colleges, can gay people say they’re discriminated against? I think straight people are. In some maybe less fortunate neighborhoods, it’s still a problem. That’s where gay parades should be. Not Manhattan. In the deepest town where they’re hassling gay people.
On whether he’s ever used Grindr:
No, that would be a joke. I have seen [profiles] that used to be like, “Come over, we’ll watch John Waters movies and have sex.” I thought I should just say, “Hi, I’ve got ‘em all.” But no, I don’t… no. Grindr, what a great name, though. That was a brilliant name the way it’s spelled. But in Provincetown, I see people dancing in gay bars looking at Grindr. They don’t cruise anymore.
On bathroom bills:
Everybody’s [talking] about the transsexual bathroom law. To me, nobody should shit in public. Shit at home. It’s disgusting. Gay, straight, trans, anything, fucking shit at home. Don’t go out, it’s repulsive.
I don’t [have them] anymore, they’re gone. I gave ‘em away a lot. And then the owner of the popper company committed suicide, which I felt bad about. Years ago… I haven’t been doing poppers much lately.
This is about being funny and that’s a very serious subject to me. She was denied parole, and obviously I don’t agree with that. But Leslie and her lawyer are the best people right now to talk about that… I think I’m not going to comment on that right now. I’m very thrilled that the parole board were as brave and correct as they were, and if you read her hearing online, which it’s available, I don’t think anybody would think that it wasn’t very real and legitimate and she deserves a second chance, except for the victims who have the right to say exactly what they feel.
On whether he’ll make another movie again:
Who knows? My last movies didn’t make money, my last two books did, so I signed a two-book deal. I’ve got work for the next five years. Two more books, plus I do my Christmas show. I’m going to 20 cities. I do my “This Filthy World” show. I’m doing it in Fire Island Saturday night. I have a job, yeah...
I have 16 movies out. You know where to find them. They’re not hard to see. They’re on TV. You can rent ‘em, you can download ‘em. If I never make another one, I have spoken.
You can watch our entire conversation here: