Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Birthday John Waters

John Waters was born on this day in 1946, meaning he turns 64 today. Really? Is that all? I guess there's some merit to starting one's career so young after all; his first film was made in 1962, when he was 16, making it seem like he's been around forever... Which, in pop culture terms at least, he has.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketAnyway, that first movie of his was entitled Hag in a Black Leather Jacket, and Waters claims it was shown only once. Gawd! Now, of course, I'm dying to see it. It was followed by Roman Candles (1966) and Eat Your Makeup (1968), about which Waters has spoken but which has never been shown commercially. Divine appears in the latter film as Jacqueline Kennedy, in a replica of the pink Chanel suit and hat the First Lady was wearing the day the President was shot. How come, in the age of DVD, these aren't available?

Waters' work in the 70s was a barrage of trash, much of it fabulously funny; the trashiness had eased off by 1981, when he made Polyester. Moving into the 80s and 90s his films have become more mainstream (as he, in his own words, 'became a better filmmaker') they are still a smack in the chops to society; Cecil B. Demented (2000) is especially subversive, and its commentary track (released six months before 9-11) features Waters' take on a then-unknown terrorist named Osama bin Laden.

Once, in 1992, when I'd just bought it on VHS, I watched Hairspray every night for a month; when I bought it on DVD I watched it five times that first week. Even more so than Woody Allen, John Cassavettes, or Robert Altman (with their European influences) I think John Waters is the quintessential American auteur. He has loyally set all of his films in Baltimore, and despite the fact that he consistently portrays it as a shithole, I'd go there in a second given half a chance - just for the opportunity to visit the locales made famous by his movies.

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