Discarded Images

Portrait by Greg GormanJohn Waters ruined my life like four times — bodily, once, bouncing me to some pavement outside a speaking engagement where I was so drunk I bled through my hair, and psychologically over and over and over; Watersworld is bad poison like punk rock and silent films that makes little kids think the world is different than it really is. Trash? All life is trash, always and forever. But still: ugly people always find true love in Watersworld, and what a gift to humanity that is.

OC Weekly: What's the last best worst thing you saw?

John Waters: The Michael Jackson trial — every day I looked forward to it. I'd look at the television even when it wasn't turned on and just know it was there. And I'd feel happy.

Your art makes me sad.

That's okay — like, sad for what reason? Nostalgia? Melancholy?

Yeah, those two.

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After seeing Waters' exhibit,
Rebecca Schoenkopf urges
him to stick to filmmaking

The Pope of Trash
Greg Stacy previews Waters'
films screening at OCMA Well, to me they are discarded images, images that are forgotten — they're not images that the original directors wanted you to go see, or they're certainly juxtaposed into a completely different narrative. I'm trying to make new movies out of old movies. But it's not sad to me because I never used a movie I didn't like. All the source material is things I secretly worshiped. Or it's sad like the Alan Smithee series — you look at those shots and think that when the director filmed it, he didn't know that it would turn into a horrible experience. It's based on the ludicrousness of show business — I'm not sad that I'm in show business, but I actually think some of my work is about how regular people are sad they aren't in show business.

Maybe that's why I'm sad.

You're sad you're not a movie star.

I am sad that I'm not a movie star.

Or maybe you've been in a movie that flopped, or that was liked for bad reasons.

Tab Hunter says you saved his career.

I was with him last night! I didn't think his career needed saving. He was a very iconic actor to me — one of the main reasons [Polyester] was successful and popular. He was very brave to do that movie — to make out with Divine. People couldn't believe their eyes. Things have surprising endings.

Are you sad that the world of your early films has been all used up?

Are you asking if there's still trash? Like if there's any good new trash?


Magazine-wise, the Enquirer is as good as it always was. But at the same time, everything is infected by irony. A lot of my source material was never meant to be ironic. I don't think I'm treating it ironically because I do like it — if there's any irony, it's in making you like something you didn't like. To me, there's still great exploitation film: the Final Destination series is a great series, and I'm in the Chucky movies, so I believe in that.

People are pretty much ready to let you do anything you want now, right?

Cinematic immunity, that's what I call it — I'm amazed what I can get away with. The police used to harass me!

Did you get arrested?

Oh, yeah, but I never did hard time.

Do you feel like you missed out?

No, there's enough jail in my life. If I was in jail, I'd work in the library — write letters for other prisoners.

So everybody loves John Waters now.

I once gave a lecture at VMI — everywhere in the world is pretty much the same now. People that would hate me or hate my movies never bother me. People bring their kids to meet me: “Can you help me? They're really crazy!”

John Waters 911?

Yep, they say it a lot to me. I tell them basically to make sure your kid is the bad influence. Don't let other kids be a bad influence on them.

What does it take to touch your heart these days?

I had my biggest signing ever at Amoeba Records in San Francisco, and people were waiting in line nude. That was something new — it made you think of lines in a new way. If you've seen it once, you can imagine it everywhere.

Do you enjoy your autumnal years?

I couldn't be much busier — I'm having a good time. I get up at 6:30 a.m. and leap out of bed.

You don't wake up screaming every day?

No, if you like your work, that's the best tranquilizer there is.

I need some tranquilizers.

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