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John Waters


James Egan

Publication Year: 2011

The films of John Waters (b. 1946) are some of the most powerful send-ups of conventional film forms and expectations since Luis Bu-uel and Salvador Dali's Un Chien Andalou. In attempting to reinvigorate the experience of movie-going with his shock comedy, Waters has been willing to take the chance of offending nearly everyone. His characters have great dignity and resourcefulness, taking what's different or unacceptable or grotesque about themselves, heightening it and turning it into a handmade personal style. The interviews collected here span Waters's career from 1965 to 2010 and include a new one exclusive to this edition.

Waters began making films in his hometown of Baltimore in 1964. Demonstrating an innate talent at capturing the hideous and crude and elevating it to art, he reached international acclaim with his outrageous shock comedy Pink Flamingos. This landmark film redefined cinema and became a cult classic. Appearing in this and many of Waters's early films, his star Divine would consistently challenge gender definitions.

With Polyester, Waters entered the mainstream. The film starred Divine as an unhappy housewife who romances a former teen idol played by Tab Hunter. Waters's commercial breakthrough, Hairspray, told the story of Baltimore's televised sock-hop program, The Corny Collins Show, and how one brave girl (Ricki Lake) used her platform as a dancer to end segregation in her town.

From Serial Mom and Pecker to Cecil B. Demented, Waters continued to infiltrate the mainstream with his unique approach to filmmaking. As a visual artist, he was given a retrospective at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in 2004, which was shown at galleries around the world.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-viii

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pp. ix-xviii

I have known John Waters for over thirty-seven years now. I was twenty- four when we first met in Baltimore at a birthday party for Divine. My roommate at the time, Margaret, took me as her date. I had just finished college and was working at my family’s insurance agency. At the...


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pp. xix-xxii


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pp. xxiii-2

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Early John Waters and Hag in a Black Leather Jacket

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pp. 3-4

One of the students who marched in New York the other day to protest the war in Vietnam was John S. Waters, Jr., a nineteen-year-old Lutherville freshman at New York University who is better known in Bohemian circles here as the writer, producer, director, cameraman, and sound engineer...

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Artist in Dialogue

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pp. 5-25

John Ives: How did you feel when you first saw your own footage? Was it what you had envisioned?
John Waters: No. I thought it was going to be black, no image on it. (Laughs.)...

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Pink Flamingos & the Filthiest People Alive?

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pp. 26-37

Interview: Tell us the story of your life.
Waters: I’m from Baltimore, but I only live there when I’m making films. I’ve lived in San Francisco a lot, and Provincetown. I just came here from New Orleans, I was in Las Vegas. I move around a lot, I live in my...

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The Late Show Presents the Divine World of John Waters

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pp. 38-46

John Waters has been making films in the Baltimore area for the last decade. He has graduated from 8mm amateur films, embattling giant lobsters and pink flamingos for survival. Pink Flamingos is his most successful production to date and has become a cult classic. The film continues...

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“A Lot of People Were Upset That We Put the Baby in the Refrigerator . . .”: An Interview with John Waters

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pp. 47-58

In Provincetown, as in most small towns, everyone’s a star: a star for something. Hair, teeth, former lovers, athletic ability. We’re mythic, larger than life, like gods, which is terrifying and wonderful...

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John Waters in Provincetown

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pp. 59-70

We agreed on ground rules on the phone before I flew to interview him in Baltimore. No laborious discussions of his movies. He’d done that so many times before, and there’s already an excellent book, John Ives’ John Waters (Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1992), in which his career is analyzed...

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John Waters’ Divine Comedy

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pp. 71-92

A large part of me resists writing about John Waters; it seems a bit like paying attention to a demanding, bratty, suburban kid who’s already had as much attention as anyone ought to have. And in a period when the forces of repression seem to be closing in, Waters’ open defiance of...

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Still Waters

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pp. 93-104

In his leisure hours, writer-director John Waters is a noted aficionado of grisly criminal careers and court proceedings. As a rule, he acknowledges no peer in this pursuit, having once nearly proposed marriage, from the visitor’s gallery, to convicted Manson-family murderess Leslie Van...

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Waters: “. . . I’ve Always Tried to Sell Out”

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pp. 105-111

Somewhere in the core of the city rises a tall apartment building surrounded by one of Baltimore’s more fashionable ghettos. Nestled on the seventh floor of this architectural dinosaur and accessible only by an elevator resembling a gold festooned broom closet is one of the most visually...

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Hairspray Gets a “Shocking” PG as Waters Looks Back to ’62

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pp. 112-115

Last month, movie history of sorts was made when John Waters’ new film, Hairspray, was awarded a PG rating by the Motion Picture Association of America. “I was shocked!” gasps the writer-director of such impudent cult comedies as Mondo Trasho, Multiple Maniacs, Female Trouble...

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The Domestication of John Waters

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pp. 116-124

John waters looks up from the couch in his book-lined living room to glance fondly at his latest Christmas gift—a collection of tree ornaments bearing portraits of the Manson family. Then he gets back to business...

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He Really Can’t Help Himself

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pp. 125-134

John Waters, the eccentric and acerbic writer-director, stands in a claustrophobic little guest room upstairs in his sprawling Baltimore mansion, giving a tour and offering impromptu tips on being a sterling host...

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John Waters—Pecker

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pp. 135-138

GP: Help indie filmmakers. How did you pitch your new film, Pecker?
JW: It’s an R-rated rags-to-riches comedy about a goofy, cute, eighteen-year-old blue-collar kid who works in a Baltimore sandwich shop, takes pictures of his loving but peculiar family with an old broken-down camera...

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Demented at Heart

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pp. 139-146

Whether you love or hate his films, John Waters is an undeniable original, a filmmaker who continually surprises, and sometimes shocks, his audiences...

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What Price Hollywood?

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pp. 147-156

Fame—its construction, deconstruction, and ultimate absurdity—has long inspired the films of John Waters. From his earliest, Baltimore-produced no-budget classics like Desperate Living and Pink Flamingos, which created their own brand of stars out of Baltimore’s most eccentric...

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A Dirty Shame

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pp. 157-162

Set in the seemingly innocent Harford Road area of John Waters’ beloved hometown, Baltimore, A Dirty Shame tells the story of Sylvia Stickles (Tracey Ullman), a frigid middle-aged woman who is transformed into a raging sex addict after suffering a concussion on her way to work. Turns...

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Interview with John Waters

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pp. 163-174

JW: Here we are, joined in art, at last. (Laughs)
TS: Yes. Yes. You know, about twenty, twenty-five years ago in SoHo, there was a side of a building, visible to commuters driving back to New Jersey, that was used as an advertising space. And one day it was painted...

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John Waters

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pp. 175-187

Under normal circumstances, introducing John Waters would be a pure formality. He is easily the world’s most famous icon of cultural outrage and transgression. As a filmmaker, he has created a body of work that is widely recognized as one of the great treasures of American movie history...

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This Filthy World

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pp. 188-191

America has somehow come around to the way John Waters sees things. The director with the razor-thin mustache still lives in Baltimore, where he began his underground career in the 1960s making wild farces of fun and filth. In those early films, there were scenes of naked men on pogo...

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Love and Frogs: Dating John Waters

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pp. 192-199

Preparing to interview John Waters is an intimidating task. So many questions race through the mind: Will he be deliberately obscure? Will he bait me with his humor, only to laugh when I miss a reference? Will he reek of pretension, as so many film aficionados do? Will he, in other...

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Waters World

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pp. 200-210

In the annals of cinema, there are few Christmas moments more uproarious than the one launching 1974’s Female Trouble, as teen bad girl Dawn Davenport flies into a rampage after discovering the gift bestowed upon her by her parents is not the one she’d requested...

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Where Will John Waters Be Buried?

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pp. 211-227

JE: John Waters. Thank you for having us to your beautiful apartment in San Francisco for this interview.
JW: You’re welcome...

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John Waters, an Appreciation

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pp. 228-230

When Mr. Waters began his life’s work, his views were not those of the mainstream. That was the point. But a very strange thing has happened during the course of Mr. Waters’ career. The mainstream has changed...

Suggested for Further Reading

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pp. 231-242


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pp. 243-248

E-ISBN-13: 9781617031823
E-ISBN-10: 1617031828
Print-ISBN-13: 9781617031816
Print-ISBN-10: 161703181X

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2011

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Waters, John, 1946- -- Interviews.
  • Motion picture producers and directors -- United States -- Interviews.
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