John Waters is celebrating a milestone birthday today. The influential filmmaker and beloved raconteur, who was proclaimed “the Pope of Trash” by no less than William S. Burroughs, is turning 70! Where does the time go?
Although Waters, who’s given us such inarguable classics as Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble and Hairspray, hasn’t directed a feature film in eleven years, he’s kept busy writing books, being commemorated with prestigious retrospectives at New York’s Lincoln Center, as an in-demand guest on talk shows and lecturer and an upcoming honor from Lambda Literary for the org’s Trustee Award for Excellence in Literature in June. So this is the ideal time to rewind and think about just a few of the many, many indelible reasons John Waters has become America’s most beloved pervy uncle.
After making a number of no-budget renegade flicks such as the evocatively-titled Hag in a Black Leather Jacket (all starring his equally-legendary muse Divine), Waters first came to national renown with the 1972 release of his seminal Pink Flamingos. Seriously, this is required rite-of-passage viewing for gay folks. The clip below which portrays the delicate bond between an egg-loving mother (Edith Massey) and dog feces-eating daughter (Divine) is probably the only scene from the cult classic that we can post on this family-friendly site.
Waters has called 1975’s Female Trouble his favorite film and many critics agree that it’s his magnum opus. It’s certainly his most anarchic, quotable and deranged, as it features Divine raping himself and Mink Stole as the ultimate bad seed Taffy Davenport. It also offers the quintessential heartwarming Christmas scene below that should be de rigueur viewing around the holidays.
After a few years working individually, Waters and Divine reunited for 1981’s Polyester. For his send-up of suburban melodramas, Waters employed his first big star, Tab Hunter, and provided audiences with scintillating Odorama™ scratch-and-sniff cards that allowed fans to smell what they witnessed on screen.
The director’s most acclaimed film and his biggest mainstream hit was 1988’s Hairspray, a musical-comedy about racial injustice inspired by his own youth in Baltimore. Check out Waters’ cameo as psychiatrist who attempts to cure Penny Pingleton of being a checkerboard chick.
The success of Hairspray led to Waters’ biggest budget yet in 1990 with another teen musical-comedy, Cry Baby, starring Johnny Depp and a dazzling supporting cast that included Traci Lords, Joe Dallesandro and Iggy Pop. Note his still-timely use of mandatory vaccinations in the clip below.
Five years later, Waters lured another big star, Kathleen Turner, to play the lead in Serial Mom, inspired by his life-long love of true crime. In this scene (NSFW for language) Waters’ regular Mink Stole becomes unraveled by Turner’s continued prank calling.
It almost goes without saying that Waters gives good interview. Here he is chatting with Roseanne Barr (remember when she had a talk show?), discussing his 1998 comedy Pecker. If you haven’t already watched the film, which features a memorable supporting turn by Martha Plimpton and an educational bit on tea-bagging, check it out so you can tell your mom you saw John Waters’ Pecker.
The man knows about romance, too, and even released a compilation CD of his favorite date-night ballads. It features such previously-undiscovered gems as “Tonight You Belong To Me” and “If I Knew You Were Comin’ I’d Have Baked a Cake.”
Of course, there are so many other film and interview clips that celebrate the subversive artistry of this master auteur, but we can’t include them all so join us in wishing him many happy returns and tell us what you love most about John Waters in the comments section.