There’s something wonderful about the way film Director John Waters’ films hold up a mirror of American society. With their elements of camp, filth and debauchery, his films become cult classics and inspirations for filmmakers everywhere. Born and raised in Baltimore Maryland, Waters’ love affair with film began at the age of 16, when his grandmother gave him an 8mm camera for his birthday.
John Waters’ influences range from Walt Disney, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Ingmar Bergman and Federico Fellini- but Waters enjoyed exploitation movies just as much as the more classic fair. He enrolled in NYU but was kicked out of his dormitory for smoking. This didn’t deter Waters from filmmaking; he simply went home to Baltimore, gathered his friend and began making shorts. Water’s filmmaking troupe became known as the Dreamlanders.
With the help of his Dreamlanders, Waters went on to shoot Mondo Trasho, Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble and Desperate Living. But it wasn’t until Hairspray that Waters achieved mainstream attention. A comedy starring then newcomer, Ricki Lake and featuring Sonny Bono, Debbie Harry, Jerry Stiller and his muse and Dreamlander, Divine; Hairspray revolves around a pleasantly plump teenager who pursues stardom by becoming a dancer on a local TV show and finds herself an activist against racial segregation. In 2002, Hairspray was adapted into a musical and won eight Tony Awards in 2003.
In 1990, Waters created a parody film of teen musicals, Cry-baby, starring Johnny Depp, Iggy Pop, Traci Lords and Ricki Lake. This story of star-crossed lovers from different sides of town also went on to become a Tony Award winning musical; first produced at the La Jolla Playhouse in California.
All Waters films are of the dark satirical variety, including Serial Mom, Pecker, Cecil B. Demented and A Dirty Shame. Thematically they poke fun at the intricacies of American culture and its ideas of accepted social norms by exposing and glorifying the more taboo aspects of its culture. Take a trip to the Nuart Theater in West Hollywood for the Rocky Horror Picture Show and you’ll see a short No Smoking film shot by Waters and starring Waters, complete with his trademark pencil-thin mustache.
In addition to filmmaking, Water is also a journalist, actor, writer, conceptual artist and bibliophile. John Waters owns some 8 thousand books and will happily tell you someone who doesn’t own books is not someone you should have relations with. He is a gay rights activist and openly gay himself.
Although it has been some time since Waters has made a film, he has been working on a book about his experiences hitch hiking across the contiguous U.S. Like his films, it’s sure to say something campy, poignant and a bit filthy and debaucherous about American Culture.
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