Dispatches

Still Waters: Q&A with the Pope of Trash.

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Joe Dirt

Trash auteur and filmmaking icon John Waters has just added another accomplishment to his long resume, in the form of A Date with John Waters, a mix CD out this week from New Line Records. (You can read his hilarious liner notes here.) Since we already did a career-spanning interview with Waters in 2004, we decided to try something a little different this time, and convinced the legendary director to answer your questions. The results are below. Don't say Nerve.com never did anything for the people. Peter Malamud Smith

"What's the ideal date that this album soundtracks?" asks John, 24, from New York.
Well, we would rob a 7-Eleven, have a martini and come over to my house and listen to music, and I'd seduce you with my album.

That's a good answer. This is from Whitney, 22, in Boston: "In This Filthy World, you say not to fuck people you go home with if they have no books. I think this is wonderful and agree with it. But are there any books that if you saw them in someone's house, would immediately make you decide not to fuck them?"
The novelizations of the Rocky movies.

Lauren Burke, 23, from Chicago, asks, "My friends and I have made a couple T-shirts that we thought you might be interested in. One features a picture of Paris Hilton. Below it says 'She's no Edie Sedgwick,' which we stole from your 2004 interview with Nerve. Also, we have made matching Chicago Bears T-shirts that feature the three bears from A Dirty Shame. If you let me know your size, I would be happy to send a couple shirts to you."
I would say a regular large, and you send 'em where I get a certain kind of mail, Atomic Books in Baltimore. You can look them up online [We'll do it for you: 1100 W 36th St , Baltimore, MD. — Ed.]. It's a great bookshop, too, really radical books.

Jacob C., age 16, from Boise, asks, "I know you're a fan of the tabloids, and I was wondering if you've ever been in the National Enquirer or another one of our sleazier national tabloids?"
I have. My favorite time, though, was inadvertently. There was a picture of, what's her name, was married to Bruce Willis? Uh…

Demi Moore.
Demi Moore. The paparazzi got a shot of her, and she just happened to be carrying Crackpot, my book. And I was so thrilled when I saw it. That's my favorite time I was in the Enquirer. There was one article, I don't remember if it was the Enquirer, that said, "Is Johnny Depp Gay?" Because at the height of Pirates of the Caribbean they had to come up with something. They found some interview that we did twenty years ago, when we were doing Cry-Baby, where Johnny said, "I'm not gay, but if I was, I'd be with John." It was the most pitiful research they could do. I laughed about it, and I think Johnny would have, too.

Miss Blondage, 32, from L.A., says, "I would love to read Mr. Waters wax on a bit about porn and all the obscenity bullshit."
Unfortunately, some hetero porn today is obscene. I forget what they call it, but they just show loads of come in girls' asses, which is really unsafe. As an AIDS activist I find that appalling. That is obscene to me, because it's a snuff movie. I'm also kind of amazed at the "extreme blowjobs" genre, where they hold girls' noses and fuck their mouths, and the girls are puking and stuff. Now there's a gay one called "Gag the Fag." Which made me laugh out loud when I saw the box, but it is rather extreme that this has become a genre of porn.

Someone who didn't give his name writes, "I seem to recall a John Waters quote to the effect that a Puritanical education in Catholic schools was a good thing, and that he was grateful for his own conservative upbringing because it made sex dirty and shameful and therefore more fun."
Well, I sort of said that. I said that being brought up Catholic makes sex better because it will always be dirty. I went to a Catholic high school, Christian Brothers, and it was terrible. They discouraged every interest I had. I wish I had quit school at sixteen. I would have made one more movie. It may be different today, but when I went there, it was the opposite of what's supposed to happen when you go to school. When you go to school, you're supposed to be inspired. It was the opposite. So I certainly am not glad I went to that Catholic school. I mean, I'm not sitting around pissed about it, I don't care, it's over with, but I certainly have never been to a reunion and have no desire to.

Mariko from Denton, Texas, asks, "You've said there are just as many rules you rebel against in the gay world as in the straight one. What rules do you feel constrained by and what are you consciously rebelling from?"
Well, certainly, this gym-body look. Certainly. And in many ways some of the gay people are more middle-class than my parents. They want money, they want a fancy car, and the only thing they do that is at all strange is what they do in the bedroom. I mean, I don't think it's strange, but compared to what the middle-class does. Being gay used to mean being an outlaw, it used to mean you were bohemian, it used to be that you embraced your lunacy rather than trying to imitate the boring life of suburban middle America. I don't want to live there, gay or straight. I mean, sometimes it was more fun when a gay bar got raided by the police — at least something happened!

Mariko has a few more questions. "Who was the actor or actress you hated working with the most?"
I didn't hate any of them. I wouldn't have hired them. I have meetings before, and I can usually tell if an actor or actress takes themselves too seriously or doesn't have a sense of humor. And I know they'll never make it through me with a movie. It's hard to make my movies — we don't have a lot of money, we have to shoot them quickly, there's always a bond company looking over my shoulder. I'm very serious when I make a movie. I have to get it done. So I weed those out. I think I have a pretty good relationship with almost everybody that's been in my movies. I'm still friends with lots of them.

"Who had the best hair?"
I guess Johnny Depp had the best hair in real life. Debbie Harry always had pretty good hair. She always featured her hairdo heavily in real life. I would pick those two.

"What is the most filthy, vile, and disgusting thing you've personally ever heard of or thought of? Does the wide availability of subversive information on the internet play a role in this?"
Well, I think that's where I heard about blossoms, which I found especially repellant. Which is where men — well, I guess women, but I've only found men — have been fist-fucked so much that their anuses are outside of their ass, like a cauliflower. And they compare who has the biggest blossom. I found that fairly appalling.

Jesus Christ.
[laughs] I don't think that's been topped. I've heard about "ultimate nudity," which I don't know is real or not; some men, probably in Los Angeles, where it would seem to be more appropriate, have the skin of their testicles removed and replaced with clear plastic on the theory that it's more erotic to see how the sperm is made. I've never seen that, but I hope that's true.

Adri, 23, from Pittsburgh, asks, "What is the most disturbing thing you've ever watched in a film?"
There's a movie called In a Glass Cage that is more horrifying than Salo, which I think would come pretty close. I would never watch a real snuff movie, though. I don't like movies that show real violence. There's a movie called The Killing of America that has all sorts of footage that's really, really hard to watch.

This one is from Catie, 40, in New York. "In your opinion, how many more years 'til cable television starts airing live executions, and would you watch?"
They did! What do you think Saddam Hussein's was? I was at a skiing resort, over Christmas and New Year's, at a beautiful fancy dinner with people in couture and everything, and they were sitting there with laptops watching Saddam Hussein be executed. There was a real photo-op.

Brian, 23, from New York, asks, "Who's the most charming personal assistant you've ever had?"
Susan, the one that works for me now, has been wonderful. I've had a lot of them. One quit yesterday, actually. That's an odd question. That's a tough one. Susan has worked for me for a long time. Another woman named Tracy was fabulous. Colleen worked for me. A lot of them! I'm friends with all of them.

A devoted fan, Joe Blevins, 31, from Arlington Heights, Illinois, asks, "You've long championed the films of David Lynch. Have you seen Inland Empire, and if so, what do you think it's about?"
I'm dying to see it, and when I see a David Lynch movie I never care what it's about. Nobody does impenetrable better than David Lynch.
 
David B. says, "John, when can you hire me as a full-time helper with your movies? I live in Columbus, Ohio, and need a ticket out. I knew you would understand."
[laughs] Well, you can send your resume to Atomic Books. But I can't be responsible for your life! I can only be responsible for the nine-to-five job.
 
Dave, 21, from Milwaukee, says, "I was very disappointed to see that This Filthy World had been released exclusively to Netflix. Are there any plans for wider release so that fans can purchase a copy?"
Yeah. It's coming out, I believe in March or April, on DVD. It'll have a full release.

Steve, 38, from New York, says, "Name one movie not made by you that you would love to see turned into a Broadway stage musical."
Any Russ Meyer movie, certainly. Beyond the Valley of the Dolls would probably work.

Roger Ebert…
Unfortunately, I'd have to give him a plug. He's not very kind to me.

Oh, really? That's too bad.
See how professional I am?

That's good. Maybe he'll reconsider. Joe Blevins, again, asks "I admire the way you've diversified your career over the years, and are now a director, writer, actor, commentator and artist. Do you have any plans to diversify further, perhaps trying your hand at documentary filmmaking or prose fiction?"
Tell him thank you. A novel would be the hardest thing ever that I secretly would like to try one day. I just got a job offer to be a disc jockey. That's a new one. I'll never believe that you can have too many careers. When one isn't working you can go to the other one. So, who knows? I would like to write a novel. A documentary? Actually, all my films are documentaries, if you've ever been to Baltimore.
 
Someone named "Mistress R" asks, "Do you ever plan on releasing your earlier films, such as The Diane Linkletter Story and Eat Your Makeup? They look really cool."
Well, no, because there's music-rights issues. I didn't even know you had to pay for music when I made those movies, and now they would cost so much money that it would be almost impossible. Those movies are closet movies — they stay in my closet, where they're going to have to live.
 
"What are your thoughts on the Hairspray re-make?" asks Naomi, 30, from Germany.
I'm excited about it. Are you kidding? First of all, a passive income is something that I've never had, and it's quite lovely. I'm in the movie — I play the flasher in it, and I was on the set, I was with Mr. Travolta while he got in drag. I have high hopes for it.

Someone known only as Muzmuz asks, "What are the cast members of The Simpsons like off-camera?"
Well, I was only there a day. You do a table read, where everybody reads through it once, and then each member of the cast goes to a different microphone around a room. It's kind of like a radio show. They were lovely, and seemed very happy to have me there. I was really proud to be in it. There are many people that only recognize me from that, and come up to me and say "Weren't you on The Simpsons?" More than all my movies put together, I'm sure.

Mariko, again, asks "How do you go from making a movie like Pink Flamingos to Serial Mom? If you're going for shock, I don't think anything can surpass Pink Flamingos."
I would never try to surpass it.

"What dictates the level of shock value you're going to reach in your filmmaking process? Is it cultural, is it financial? Do you just need to take an artistic shower sometimes?"
Well, shock value was never the main thing I was trying for. I was trying to make you laugh at your ability to be shocked by anything. And Pink Flamingos was made the year pornography became legal. It was the end of the '60s. It was a joke! What is illegal anymore? What can't you have? I never tried to top that. And if I had, I think I wouldn't be working today. I think you have to constantly reinvent yourself, and the thing that I'm proudest of is when I go to a signing, the average age is twenty-five. They weren't even born when I made those movies. I'm very proud that I have been able, each decade, to cross over into a new audience. If you stay doing the same thing, you can't do that.

A reader named "disunstrung" asks, "From what you've seen, is Baltimore still as trashy as it's ever been, and what other U.S. cities do you see as up-and-coming as far as trashiness is concerned?"
Well, I think the Baltimore that they're speaking of, and the one I make my films about, is vanishing, as it is everywhere. I mean, real-estate porn is in Baltimore, yuppies have moved here — which is good for the city. And there are still neighborhoods here that are still pretty amazing, that inspire me. But it is probably vanishing. Another city that I think. . . I think Philadelphia is pretty good that way. Philadelphia would be the closest to Baltimore in some ways. I always think of MOVE, an organization that I'm still fascinated by.
 
Yeah, that's an interesting story.
People forget that story, people don't remember the MOVE people. I do. Every day, I think of the MOVE people. I think of Sue Africa, the only white girl in MOVE.

Maybe you should make a documentary. That would please Joe Blevins, from Arlington Heights.
To make a documentary about the MOVE people? Maybe. I think people have already made them, but Sue Africa, she'd be a good one to make. The life of Sue Africa. I'm not sure how wide the appeal of that would be, but I'd sure be the first in line.

 

To order A Date With John Waters, click here.