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The Filthy World of John Waters

“Indifference is the devil”.

A love letter to John Waters, by Stromo

Image courtsey of Devlin Wallace

Image courtsey of Devlin Wallace

I first stumbled upon the works of John Waters in my mid teens, when I discovered one of his films being shown late on channel four. It felt seedy and somewhat wrong, watching ‘Female Trouble’ at 2am, on a school night. I was openly disgusted yet enthralled at just how good at being bad it all was. The horrific acting, the camp dialogue, the garish costumes, the cheap vicious sets. It was so hard to watch. I instantly loved it.

I name checked him in the credits and put a face to his name shortly after ,when I saw him being interviewed on a late night talk show. His appearance was so bizarre and memorable. I loved his trademark sleazy pencil moustache – a look he’s retained since the early 1970s – he had the most hideous outfit on and his humour was so dark that I noticed a lot of the audience squirming. I revelled in it.

It was blatantly obvious to me that this man was gay. But a different breed of ‘gay’.  So far removed from the safe Asexual gay figures I was used to seeing in the media. John Waters had a rock n’ roll, punk feel to him. He truly didn’t seem to care what people thought. He said what he felt, no matter how shocking and controversial. It was refreshing. Finally a gay figure that wasn’t sanitised.

Never one to hide his sexuality, he first appeared on the cover of an underground U.S gay magazine in the early 70s and credits the gay community with being his first initial core audience.  Although he has said he cringes at the designation of ’gay film maker’. He believes his work should be judged on the output, not the fact that he happens to be gay – no one should be defined by their sexuality. His work may be littered with sex and sexuality, but there’s never been an intention to make a ‘gay movie‘.

His work is championed by people he believes are ‘outcasts from their own minority’.

This for me is an interesting quote.  I am gay, but yet don’t feel connected to the scene. I do understand and champion the fact that actually having a ‘scene’ is great. But for me it can be quite limited commercially. I find delight in live music, performance art, lyrics, film, theatre. I’d rather spend time enjoying those, than letting loose on the dance floor to Lady Gaga each weekend.

Most of John Waters works fall into the ‘cult classics’ category. From Divines iconic stomach turning roles in ‘Pink Flamingos’ and ‘Female Trouble’, to Kathleen Turners career turn around role in ‘Seriel Mom’ to his forays into musicals with ‘Hairspray’ and ‘Cry Baby’ – the former was recast and remade for the ‘High School Musical’ generation in the mid to late 00s. Ironically lapped up by middle America, if only they’d known who penned this satirical take on racial segregation in early 1960s Baltimore.

I find it sad that my generation of gay men seem to worship and crown various current celebrities as ’gay icons’ when they are seldom in fact gay or have done much for the community

There’s a host of openly gay artists within the media, who aren’t given the proper thumbs up from the community at large. John Waters is one of the last true great ‘gay icons’.

I’ve digested just about everything he’s written and filmed. My band (Cha Cha Heels) even takes it’s name from an iconic scene in ‘Female Trouble’. His left-field humour is so macabre, that I revel in peoples reactions to it. They may detest his work, but he’s gotten a reaction.  Indifference is the devil.

On top of directing, writing, producing and his sideline in comical fine art he occasionally performs a spoken word show and tours globally with it, which is aptly entitled ‘This Filthy World’.

The only world I’m interested in living in.

John Waters – a true ‘gay icon’.

John Waters BW

Recommended works

Pink Flamingos (Film – 1972)
Female Trouble (Film – 1974)
Shock Value (Book – 1981)
Crackpot – The Obsessions of John Waters (Book – 1987)
Hairspray (Film – 1988)
Cry Baby (Film – 1990)
Seriel Mom (Film – 1994)
Role Models (Book – 2010)


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