Call for Music Writers... Rock, Indie, Urban, Electronic, Americana, Metal, World and More

 
Film
Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA

Politics and Porn


Whether you think he has “sold out” and gone “mainstream” in the latter part of his career, or whether you think he maintains some sort of indie “authenticity” and that his work has simply evolved, one thing is certain, John Waters is an icon of U.S. cinema. His trademark perversity, edgy sense of humor, and over-the-top plots, combined with pointed, often acerbic, social and political critique have won him a devoted following and international acclaim. And he proved to be just as delightful, and often just as outrageous, as his many films.



Todd Ramlow:

My first question is the obvious one about self-referentiality. While it’s clear that Cecil is not you, but a superhero you have created, it seems to me that in Cecil B. DeMented and in Pecker there are parallels to yourself and your own career that haven’t been a part of your previous films.



John Waters:

Well, they couldn’t be two characters more completely different from each other. I get the question: it’s the first question everybody asks, “Are you Cecil B. DeMented?” “Are you Pecker?” I mean, am I Divine? Am I Serial Mom? I guess I’m all of them in some way. They are all characters that I would like to be their friends. I mean, I would collect Cecil B. DeMented scrapbooks if he were real, I would have been in his movie or gone to his trial. I would visit him in prison. I might smuggle him in drugs. Certainly I can’t deny that yes, we ran from the police when we were young, we stole equipment. The best was when we would run out of a costume budget, and we would go to Bloomingdale’s, buy an outfit, have the actors wear it, and then take it back the next day, with make-up and perspiration stains all over it. At the same time, my father loaned me the money to make Mondo Trasho, so I didn’t have any “cinema abuse” in my family as Cecil did. And hopefully I am not as much of a megalomaniac and have a little better sense of humor.



Cynthia Fuchs:

I was at the Cannes Film Festival when Paul Shrader’s Patty Hearst premiered, and to this day I remember some interview where you said that Patty Hearst was your “favorite celebrity.”



JW:

I was obsessed by her. I had been to her trial. She didn’t know me and I didn’t know her. She later said to me that it was because of people like me that she went to prison. She was right. Because I wanted her to be someone she wasn’t. I wanted her to be Tanya, this left wing, rich girl gone bad. What she was was a victim that made the right decision to stay alive. When does it end? She served her time, yet it will never, ever, end. She doesn’t think it’s funny, what happened to her. She never used to sign autographs when she was asked for them. I mean, why? She was a kidnap victim. But now that she’s been in four movies she signs them. It’s true. It has given her freedom to sign autographs. It gave her, finally, a way to have some sort of pleasure from this celebrity that she didn’t ask for when it happened.



CF:

It also seems that she represents a sort of celebrity that people now seek through talk shows or reality TV.



TR:

And “celebrity” applies to Cecil B. Demented on a number of levels.



JW:

Although I don’t think in the movie he ever talks about celebrity. He never gives and interview or talks about press coverage. Although they watch themselves on tv all the time, and use that as a springboard for their terrorism.



TR:

Part of what makes Cecil successful is that everyone is watching, even though he sees himself as an independent filmmaker. How does that speak to your relationship to Hollywood?



JW:

I don’t know that I’m an independent filmmaker anymore. I’ve made Hollywood movies, I’ve made independent movies, and there is very little difference in what you go through. Well, Hollywood pays better. That’s the real difference, in your paycheck. Hollywood is looking everywhere for the next weird little movie. It’s trying to find the next Pink Flamingos that was made in East Bumfuck, America. But they certainly weren’t looking for it when I made it. They still have to spend a million dollars to market it though. That’s the difference, there is no real time for word of mouth.



CF:

Does the festival circuit serve that function at all?



JW:

It starts the buzz. But the buzz is much more critical [than it used to be]. It’s the [magazine and newspaper ] editors who decide how much and what they are going to cover. The arts editors decide how much space you are getting in a magazine. Does the general public really know what is a hit at Sundance? No, because they can’t see it for two years or something.



CF:

Do you think the internet alters this scenario at all?



JW:

Well the internet has totally fucked up marketing, because internet journalists all sneak into test screenings and write up reviews. Press agentry is all about controlling the press, and they can’t with the internet. The internet is the great outlaw area of the moment. The only things I hate about internet press are those interviews you have to do where they type everything in directly. I hate that. It sucks any spontaneity out of the interview.



TR:

In Cecil, there is that great scene where Honey says: “Family is just a dirty word for censorship!” I am wondering how your movies, which have such a queer aesthetic, relate to the mainstreaming of gay and lesbian politics and culture?



JW:

Well, I am gayly incorrect sometimes, you know? I don’t always feel comfortable in gay culture, too many rules. My biggest fans in the beginning were gay people that didn’t like gay people, gay people that went to punk rock clubs, and hippies that hated other hippies. That was my original audience. So gay people have always been a huge part of my audience. But, I don’t always feel attuned with gay culture. I am against all separatism, I think it’s completely defeating. When everybody gets together I want to hear everybody’s worst night, not just gay people’s. I know gay people’s worst night. Gay people need to use humor as terrorism. ACT-UP began using that. We need gay terrorists like the yippies, or that sort of thing, to humiliate their enemies. It’s great activism and it really, really works.



TR:

To me, in some ways your films function as an antidote to things like the Millennium March on Washington and the Human Rights Campaign, which are all about family and respectability.



JW:

I don’t want to get married or have children. I know you have to fight for it, but I personally don’t want it. I don’t get it. I mean I never wanted to be like everybody else. I don’t think gay people should. I liked it when the public was afraid of gay people, when families ran at the sight of a drag queen. Gay culture seems to want to say: “We’re just like everybody else.” I’m not. Speak for yourself!



CF:

Melanie Griffith is kind of drag queeny in this film.



JW:

Well, it’s a different look than Revlon! It’s an old tradition in my movies that the star gets there and sobs when they see their costume. That scene where they give her her makeover and she says, “Oh, my god. I look terrible!” and everybody applauds, is true: that always happens. Everybody asks, “How did you get Melanie to do this?” Well, she had no qualms with dialogue or anything. She didn’t mind saying the rudest stuff. She spent three days in a porno theater with all the extras jerking off around her. Movie stars have to reinvent themselves, if they’re in their forties. We don’t have forty-year-old women movie stars. No women star in movies, except Julia Roberts, and she’s not forty. Computer effects and men are the stars of big budget movies.



CF:

How does Stephen Dorff embody the film’s youthful, “outlaw” aesthetic?



JW:

I always knew it was going to be him. I had this picture that I tore out of a magazine of him on the toilet with bleached hair that Greg Gorman took. I had seem him in other movies, and he’s a good actor in the first place, but I knew he could play Cecil without ever winking at the audience, that he could play it completely for real without seeming to go, “Get it? Get it?” Then I met him at Squeezebox, a “hetero friendly gay club” in New York. I love that they advertise like that: it means three quarters cool gay people, and they play punk rock, which gets rid of all the disco rats that don’t like it. And the cutest straight boys. If I was a straight boy I would go there, because all gay men usually have really smart, pretty women friends that are horny.



CF:

It seems that using younger people is part of your evolving aesthetic, though they’ve always been a core audience for your films, as well.



JW:

Well, you know, when I’m working, I want to see a lot of cute, sexy young people, plain and simple. Everyone always talks about “crossover,” and the only crossover to me is to be able to continue to attract a young audience. I have “youth spies” that I buy drinks in bars, who tell me what’s cool so I don’t have to go out at five in the morning to some club. You need youth spies. In the record industry, they’re called A&R managers. I love working with young actors who are not unknown, but are really into making the movie. I pick the ones that I know I will get along with, you know, I don’t pick the brats, the ones who’ve gotten too much success too early, who are assholes already. The only real celebrities who act like assholes are mid-level, whose careers will be over in two years anyway.



CF:

Doesn’t the industry encourage such behavior?



TR:

There is a sort of mythos that has evolved, particularly around young actors, most likely starting with James Dean, that movie stars have to be self-destructive when they get a little bit of success.



JW:

Well, that’s why some people say Cecil B. DeMented has a happy ending, because he dies. If you’re a film revolutionary death is a definite plus. I mean, a 70-year-old Che would be pretty depressing.



TR:

And a 70-year-old Fidel Castro . . .



JW:

... is depressing! He’s a dumb fascist; he didn’t train anyone to take over. The day he dies, Cuba will be a resort again in like five minutes. He hasn’t trained a successor.



TR:

We were talking after the screening of Cecil we went to, and we noted how much we love that fact that it’s the action adventure and porn fans who come to the aid of Cecil and the Sprocket Holes.



JW:

Well, they would do that, even though the real action fans are probably right wing. And the porno fans are true outlaws, it’s the only outlaw cinema left. I went recently to the big video convention, the “normal” one, because all my videos are coming out in this boxed set. But then I also went to the porno convention, and all the fans were like, “John! We love you!” I did feel like Cecil B. DeMented: I wanted to shout out “Friends of porno!” I was given so much porn there I had to mail it all home. I like the idea of genre audience, because there is no such thing anymore. Even porno theaters are only for the really poor, who can’t afford a VCR, or for public sex, which is rare these days. Even karate movies, if they make them, are big-budget Hollywood movies.



CF:

Which leads to the question of venue. Porn has adapted to straight to video. But to make underground films available to audiences, aside from festivals, what are the venues?



JW:

There’s the Chicago Underground Film Festival, and the one in New York. But the films are all really violent, I must admit. The new underground is obsessed by violence that even makes me uptight. There certainly is an underground, and [the people in it] hate independent movies for being too whiny. But there isn’t yet a commercial place. There are lots of underground places, but they are not even as commercial as the first midnight-movie houses.



CF:

Porn can’t even be “transgressive” anymore, if it ever was.



JW:

Even in straight porn, according to the Adult Video News, they’ve finally started using rubbers, but they still come in mouths. Which seems a little bit ill advised.



TR:

Porn also goes back to my question earlier about gay and lesbian politics of “normality” and “respectability.” To me, gay male porn from the ‘70s is much more interesting and arousing because of the variety of body types displayed and the sex acts performed. It’s not so scripted, and everyone is not so buffed, and shaved, and pretty.



JW:

I like the amateur porn. Bobby is my favorite director. All those Marines. You should check out a few tapes, he’s the best. Bobby gets them all. He’s a busy boy, I tell you. And these Marines are so cute and so stupid. The films are really like Andy Warhol’s Blow Job. They are just him and the Marines. He’s my auteur. The only director I really look up to today is Bobby. He’s been around for a while. I think he was involved in that whole Camp Pendelton mess a few years back. You can hear them in the background in the hall, waiting for a blowjob, banging on the door.

Comments
Now on PopMatters
PM Picks
Announcements

© 1999-2014 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters.com™ and PopMatters™ are trademarks
of PopMatters Media, Inc.

PopMatters is wholly independently owned and operated.