A night with John Waters

Amanda Marie Alvarado

Like any impressionable or traumatic event, everyone remembers their first John Waters film. Mine was in a film history course at a conservative Indiana college ‘- Purdue University. In a thematic section on shock, our class was asked to decipher how the film creates a sense of alarm in Waters’ ‘Pink Flamingos,’ starring the ever-popular transvestite Divine. Instead of focusing on the assignment at hand, many students found themselves in an uproar over the use of such a film in an academic setting. The academic chair, parents and even the Dean were contacted. It showed the power Waters’ work. In his Friday the thirteenth talk, ‘This Filthy World,’ Waters’ stated the goal of ‘Pink Flamingos’ as ‘testing limits.’ He was born to test society ‘- his parents, teachers, the Catholic Church and his audience. However, Waters’ films achieve more than just evaluating limits or grossing out his audience. His films teach viewers the most important lesson they will ever learn about film as a medium.

When this skinny older gentleman in a plaid jacket and dirty shoes stepped upon the performing arts stage it was hard to believe that this man was responsible for many cult favorites defined as the grossest, worst and most controversial films to be found. His thin black mustache may have been the only tangible characteristic one could identify with such a career. It was apparently a very nostalgic event for the director as he reminisced about his past films and his long time friend, Divine. Now 63, he revealed his purchasing of a graveyard plot nearby Divine. Although gaining in years, Waters is still alive in the medium. Currently he seeks funding for his next picture, ‘Fruit Cake.’ He lists the economy as one of the factors holding up this production.

Is there still an audience for Waters? Many people had never heard of the cult king until he was featured in a ‘Simpson’s’ episode on ‘camp.’ Waters’ character John owns a collectible junk store, which Homer visits. In the scene Homer questions John as to the value of his junk. John exclaims ‘It’s camp.’ Camp ‘- affection for tastes and objects considered vulgar or banal ‘- characterizes the celebrated motivation of his works. This ‘Simpson’s’ episode displays the junk society readily dismisses and even loathes. Waters’ gives these items a place of regard, but moreover, forces the audience to confront their own distaste in the ultimate form of self-awareness. Instead of allowing the self-indulgent audience to cast off whatever they find unacceptable, he asks us to give our eye’s wing ‘- an image shown in the ‘Simpson’s’ episode ‘- or free our eyes.’ ‘

By freeing the way we filter our existence a filmgoer discovers not only how they view the world around them, but why. Getting back to the Purdue University assignment, the study ‘Pink Flamingos’ makes the audience aware of how we create our own sense of disgust. For example, a couple supposedly has sex with a chicken in this film. However, upon closer inspection we see that it is audience inference and our ability to unite edited images that creates this form of bestiality. By examining this idea in film, an audience ascertains that societal limits are very much the same ‘- indoctrinated taboos that color our existence. If we free our eyes, audiences learn to think for themselves.

Furthermore, after viewers grasp this connection, we learn an important lesson – how to be true cinephiles. Like any love ‘- for a friend, a lover, a family member or any item of one’s passion ‘- one must attempt to understand and love it for its essence. That means coming to the person or item without agenda and seeing it for all its glory, limitations ‘- its quintessence or core. Only then can one claim to really understand the object of their affection. It is amazing that a seemingly average man with a pencil mustache can bring such a realization with filthy films.