A few years after being kicked out of film school, director John Waters unleashed his unique talents on an unsuspecting public with 1973's Pink Flamingos, a film about the filthiest people alive that broke every rule of good taste and cinematic lighting. He went on to make the underground trash masterpieces like Female Trouble and Desperate Living as well as mainstream hits such as Hairspray and Polyester which firmly established him as a Hollywood icon whose over-the-top antics have changed the way the world laughs.

since another of his creations A Dirty Shame starring Tracey Ullman was released in the UK. John's been talking about cultural boundaries and taboos with OutUK's Ron Dicker.

Writer-director John Waters considers himself subversive to a point, having straddled mainstream and cult status through most of his career. But the watchdog has awakened in him to fight dogmatists on all sides. He was more than upset that A Dirty Shame, was tagged with an NC-17 rating for its US release which means no one under 17 was admitted.

The film is a romp about a suburban war between sex addicts and prudes. There is no explicit carrying-on, but one scene includes a lot of writhing from retirees and Tracey Ullman rotating on a water bottle.

John Waters.
Photo courtesy of Seth Kushner.
In his appeal against the adults only rating, Waters said he told the Motion Picture Association of America: "Is that bad if dirty dancing broke out in an old folks' home?"

It is not the just the madness to define decency that rankles him. He is not keen on anyone mandating the agenda of sexual orientation either -- especially his. He lives gay, votes gay and contributes to gay causes. His loyalty ends there.

"I'm gayly incorrect," he says. "I don't always buy the gay party line. I've never been to the gym. I've never been to the baths. ... In real life I have no desire to be married. That's for straight people. It's corny to me. I have no desire to be in the army either. I was glad they wouldn't let me in because I was queer. That's for lesbians we need in the army, not gay men."

He continues his bubbly rant as if he were in a smokey club full of first dates nursing their two-drink minimums. "I don't want kids. Gay people have more kids than Catholics. What's the matter? "

Waters' latest celluloid lunacy received tepid reviews in the New York Times and the New York Post, but he is probably not overly concerned because foreign sales protect him. He has found a comfort zone in the $10 million or less budget range. There is always a glitch in securing the financing, but it comes through, he says.

He made his first movie, Hag in a Black Leather Coat, on his parents' roof for $80 in 1964. By 1972 he'd turned low-budget morsels such as Pink Flamingos -- which featured the verite shocker of transvestite Divine eating real dog poop -- into midnight art-house staples.

A Dirty Shame is available from Amazon
Commercial crediblity came with such campy fare as Serial Mom, Polyester and Hairspray. The latter, about a chubby teenager who unites a community with her dancing, made him wealthier, too. Waters has an undislcosed share of the musical spinoff, which won eight Tony awards, Broadway's highest honour, and has mushroomed into touring shows.

He thought he was in an alternate universe when he saw the former U.S. President Bush and his wife Barbara dancing the twist at the show.

"They sat and watched two men sing a love song to each other," Waters says. "Maybe Hairspray will be the most subversive thing I do because it really crossed over."

Waters courts new audiences by lecturing on the college circuit and attending video store events. He finds his recent converts share the same outlook as those who have followed him throughout his 16-film career.

"It's gay people that don't like other gay people," he says. "It's black people that don't like black people. It's people who did not fit into their own minority."

In A Dirty Shame, Tracey Ullman is a sexually numb convenience store assistant who becomes uncontrollably horny after hitting her head in a car accident. She meets a tow-truck driver (Johnny Knoxville of MTV's Jackass") and joins him in a quest for sexual healing. "Let's go sexin'," they cry, joined by other supposed deviants, including a group of bears.

As in most of his films, A Dirty Shame is set in his beloved Baltimore. In real-life, he says, the city is far more tolerant and is in on the joke. It also remains fertile ground for the single Waters. "Baltimore has the cutest boys, still," he says.

Waters watches gay film but is not a champion of the genre. "I think there's progress in admitting there's bad gay cinema," he says. "I think that if we use our minority as any excuse for artistic success, we're separatist. I don't believe in separatism. The Gay Olympics? I don't get it. You're good, you're not good. Who cares who you f---?"

He is buoyant as he nears the end of his press duties, which means he can move onto his next project.

"I enjoy it still, even the agony of it," he says. "I'm not a sex addict. I'm a film addict."

A Dirty Shame is available from Amazon.


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