Nearly three decades ago, John Waters had a vision. This vision was vile, perhaps even foul, but it was a vision nonetheless. What the filmmaker described as “pot-humor” evolved into a legacy of notoriously bawdy films, highly revered as cult classics. From his first critically acclaimed film, Pink Flamingos (1972) to his most recent film A Dirty Shame (2004), Waters maintains a consistent formula of shtick, sex and the raunchiest language you’ve ever heard.
An exhibitionist at heart, Baltimore’s native son takes delight in everything that makes us squeamish by offering audiences a brutal, often times outlandish look into society’s underbelly – the crude, the oversexed and the downright ugly. Waters shamelessly flaunts the human body in all its horrendous, gut-wrenching glory. Unlike many filmmakers, Waters doesn’t shy away from harsh ratings from the MPAA, which accounts for the fact that several of his films proudly boast an NC-17 rating. Rather than relying on the box office for means of success, John Waters markets himself as a connoisseur of quirk a truly transgressive icon that aims to provoke and bewilder you.
In the midst of all the raunchy, finger-lickin’ filth, there are underlying themes of
female empowerment. In a way, Waters utilizes sex to instill his characters with an
overwhelming sense of independence, allowing them to be as filthy as nature intended. Rather than conform to society’s rigid concept of normalcy, Waters’ characters express a total disregardand perhaps contemptfor all that is “normal”. They represent the total antithesis to all that is dull, and revel in doing so; hence Divine’s character in the infamous Pink Flamingos haughtily boasted and defended her title of “The filthiest person in the world”. Society grossly inhibits our ability to indulge in the perverse, causing these debauched fantasies that are incidentally liberated by these outlandish characters that Waters creates.
Coincidentally, men are usually portrayed as incompetent morons with insatiable sexual appetites in Waters’ films. Waters proves to be a firm believer in big hair and even bigger mouths, often featuring malicious females as his leads.
Divine, the 300 lbs. drag queen starred in a handful of Waters’ films and has proven to be a force to be reckoned with. Often times, Divine is regarded as the poster child of cult films – stand aside, Frank n’ Furter. This delightfully foul diva clawed her way to the top, swallowing steaming heaps of dog feces along the way. Essentially, Divine epitomizes all that Waters has come to stand for.
Despite his iconic status as a subversive filmmaker and artist, Waters has delved into the mainstream in recent years. Crybaby (1990) featured Johnny Depp during his heyday as a teen idol. Waters most recent film A Dirty Shame (2004) included Johnny Knoxville, someone who also made his claim to fame exhibiting all that is vile on MTV’s Jackass.
After being adapted into a play and later, into a feature film fresh and revamped with the fresh faces of today’s teenage celebrity, Hairspray (1988) has gained attention in recent years. While his newer films don’t have the same, grittiness as Female Trouble (1974) or his first feature, (appropriately titled) Mondo Trasho (1969), they certainly maintain a standard of gross-out appeal and sheer silliness, making his films more accessible to modern audiences.
These films are definitely worth a second (or third) look. You may find yourself
dumbstruck, wondering if you really did just witness someone having sex with a chicken or if your eyes are deceiving you. Society’s conditioned us to reject what we deem as impolite, yet John Waters unapologetically transcends the border between obscenity and art. Waters snubs our stifling society by offering an alternative, granting us a generous amount of what we depraved humans craveinbred convicts, full-frontal nudity, bestiality and feces. We’re inclined to indulge in the obscene, albeit in the privacy of our own homes.