He's made bad taste a true art form. In light of his recent birthday, here's our choices for John Waters' 10 Best Films.
Before Johnny Depp became a billionaire buccaneer, he was making archaic career choices like this. Waters, fresh off the success of the PG-rated Hairspray, wanted to continue to explore his peculiar past, and did so with this mini-musical pitting the cool kid "Drapes" against the white bread "Squares". With some amazing signature songs and a brilliant cast (including '50s icon David Nelson, former kidnapping victim Patty Hearst, and notorious underage porn star Traci Lords), it should have been a massive hit. Instead, it was misunderstood, left to be rediscovered once its star hit the high seas.
4. Desperate Living
While the last act of this film is severely flawed, the opening ten minutes are perhaps the greatest thing Waters has ever committed to celluloid. Severely stressed Peggy Gravel believes the entire world is out to get her, and her rage-inspired rant, complete with nods to Vietnam, are priceless. As a matter of fact, this material is so witty, so well-worked within the confines of Waters world, that you can't help but get caught up in the dementia. Once we get to Mortville, and an out of her element Liz Renay (a stripper with a definitely diva problem), things slow significantly.
Anyone who is a fan of Waters' amazing memoir, Shock Value, remembers the story of the Nicest Kids in Town, otherwise known as the Committee of dancers on the syndicated Buddy Deane Show. From the discussion of their look and personas to the steps they mastered, it had the makings of a fantastic film -- and in 1988, Waters delivered just that. The PG-rated comedy would come to be the director's biggest commercial 'hit.' The film didn't do all that well initially, but as the source for a successful Broadway musical and movie, it definitely left its mark.
2. Pink Flamingos
This was a real toss-up. Many consider this to be the ultimate Waters experience, from the insane set-up (Divine is vying for the title "Filthiest Person Alive" against the nogoodnik couple Connie and Raymond Marble) to the many sickening set-pieces. Yes, this is where bad taste met undeniable art, resonating far beyond the dark dimensions of his previous film forays. Edith Massey's Egg Lady alone makes up for the many unsettling excesses. Granted, this will probably be the movie Waters is best remembered for. Our number one choice, however, is far more fun...
1. Female Trouble
Imagine everything that makes Pink Flamingos great, and then add in a Charles Manson-inspired storyline about Crime as Beauty/Fame. Season with some of the greatest characters and dialogue Waters has ever created and you've got one memorable masterpiece. Though it lacks the shocks of its forbearers, Trouble takes the titles as the filmmaker's finest hour. It's also the moment where Mink Stole, a solid player in Waters' work, comes into her own. As supposedly "retarded" daughter Taffy, her every line is hilarious. But this is Divine's shining moment in the Dreamland dynamic, and she's outstanding.