(1998) dir. Steve Yeager
Ah, John Waters…gotta love that guy.
Divine Trash is a documentary focussing on Waters’ early career, up through Pink Flamingos (1972), his inspirations, his coterie, and the tale of how he became a filmmaker. It’s an engaging piece, with good footage from both “back in the day” and current (current at time of shooting) interviews with Waters and many of his gang and stars. Notably, of course, Divine (a.k.a. Glen Milstead), Waters’ muse, is missing from the “current” interviews due to his passing in 1988, though the film does spend a good deal of time appreciating his uniqueness.
Mainstream media, which Waters has now penetrated to the extreme, with both Broadway and mainstream Hollywood remakes in musical form of his 1988 film Hairspray, Waters appearances on The Tonight Show and The Simpsons, he is a recognized face and character. No longer making films with great frequency or depravity, he has altered the mainstream by his very presence and his filmography. He has changed things, and changed his own work, and the mainstream is still the mainstream. Pink Flamingos is still quite subversive even now. The fact that he got his start showing these films in church basements is a little beauty of subversion and yet acceptance.
His influences, from the foreign art films of the 1950’s and 1960’s, the camp gore films of Herschell Gordon Lewis, and the “underground” films of Andy Warhol, the Kuchar brothers, and Kenneth Anger, are fascinatingly subsumed in his work. It’s also amazingly cool and fun how he brought his group of friends to be his cast of strange characters, keeping the settings in his locality, Baltimore, MD, and his acceptance and respect by the local community.
I have a friend who introduced me largely to Waters through his own love of Female Trouble (1974). I really can’t recall enough about all of his films that I’ve seen. But I am inspired to queue up a couple of these now.
It’s a great thing to be appreciated for one’s work and influence in one’s own time. And Waters’ position in our culture is something that should not be underestimated, even if his role of today is more of a coy and witty bon vivant than filmmaker. It’s also quite interesting to consider how far radical some of his work really was.
Long live John Waters!