Sunday, 16 November 2014

Reunion with the Prince of Puke: John Waters at Southbank Centre 11 November 2014

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[John Waters - the "filth elder" of us all  - made a triumphant return visit to London on Tuesday 11 November 2014 when he brought his This Filthy World: Filthier and Dirtier show to The Royal Festival Hall. I've been regularly contributing to Beige magazine lately and they asked me to do a scene report. You can also read this on their website]

Trust John Waters to lure the freakiest, queerest crowd assembled at The Royal Festival Hall since punk diva Siouxsie’s 2013 Meltdown comeback gig. Or the last time Diamanda Galas performed there. Or in fact since the last time Waters brought his acclaimed one man stand-up comedy show This Filthy World to town.

In his tight, rapid-fire ninety minute set, the veteran cult filmmaker turned raconteur regaled us with dirty stories like a joyous bad influence toilet-mouthed uncle (albeit an exceptionally elegant uncle clad in Comme des Garcons). [Note: I've since been corrected that Waters' ultra soigné suit was by Belgian designer Dries Van Noten!]

Outing himself as a Lana Del Rey fan, the trash auteur admitted contemplating coming onstage and serenading us with her entire Ultraviolence album while maintaining direct eye contact in an act of creepy performance art - but chickened out. Waters suggested David Lynch should produce the dysfunctional ice maiden’s next album and argued Lynch would be missing a trick if he doesn’t invite her to appear on the 2016 Twin Peaks reboot.

Perversely, Waters loves tarnished pop idol Justin Bieber even more now that he’s on the descent, admitting he’d love to cut an album of duets with him like Tony Bennett’s and Lady Ga Ga’s.

Recalling his childhood, Waters described how in kindergarten he’d tell his mother stories about the peculiar little boy in his class who never spoke to his classmates and only coloured with black crayons. When Mrs Waters enquired about this kid to his teacher at a PTA meeting, the teacher exclaimed, “But that’s your son!”

Anecdotes about the making of his notorious midnight movies were inevitable. Waters called outrageous late maverick actress Susan Tyrrell - who loved freaking out the squares by loudly announcing she possessed “the pussy of a 12-year old girl”- one of the most terrifying women he ever met.

[Tyrrell, of course, played Ramona Rickettes in Waters' 1990 film Cry-baby. He mentioned the cast also included the notorious, troubled and frequently violent sex kitten Joey Heatherton. He talked about Heatherton being arrested in 1985 for physically assaulting a clerk at the passport agency office – and then just recently attacking a neighbour whose noisy juicer machine was disturbing her. “Don’t fuck with Joey Heatherton!”]

When his elderly mother asked about the subject matter of 2004’s A Dirty Shame (Water’s last film to date) and he replied, “Sex addiction”, she wearily sighed, “Maybe we’ll be dead before it comes out.” His father shrugged “It was funny but I hope I never see it again.”

Waters cited viewing putrid 1945 “sexual hygiene film” Mom and Dad at an impressionable age as a key influence on his own sensibility. An embryonic example of sexploitation cinema, it played in Baltimore’s grindhouse theatres for eight years. Starved for a glimpse of female nudity, the men in the audience actually masturbated to close-ups of childbirth. Waters said seeing this set him on his path as a filmmaker.  

The tone sweetened when he fondly reminisced about his two much-missed leading ladies, Divine and Edith Massey. Explaining Divine’s persona as hybrid of Jayne Mansfield and Godzilla conceived to scare hippies, Waters described filming his 300-pound drag starlet crawling through mud on a pig farm in 1969’s Mondo Trasho. Once the cameras started rolling two of the pigs spontaneously started fucking. It wasn’t in the script, but it added to the magic. “Divine turned the pigs on!” he marvelled.

Admitting he still wakes up surprised that Divine is dead, he revealed that actress Mink Stole, his casting director Pat Moran and himself have bought burial plots together adjoining Divine’s and dubbed the area Disgraceland. Waters urged everyone to come and fuck on their graves when they’re dead: “We’d love it!” His is actually a double burial plot and Waters suggested if any rabid fan wanted to dig-up the remains of either Pier Paolo Pasolini or Jean Genet and re-bury them next to him, he’d appreciate the tribute.

But let’s face it, we come to John Waters for filth and he didn't disappoint. Most middle-aged straight men “are bears without even knowing it,” he argued. Waters is an unrepentant connoisseur of poppers. When he throws “popper parties” uncomprehending straight guests unsure about the mechanics of taking amyl nitrate have drunk it or stuck it in their asses. “We need popper education!” He skewered what he sees as the dysfunctional S&M relationship between humans and their pets: dogs are “doomed to suffer human caresses ...your cat hates you!” And he taught us kinky new sexual slang. A “blouse” is an effeminate top. [Note: he also lamented no one uses the expression "basket" anymore!]. As for “blossoms” (also known as “rosebuds”), do a Google image search if you’re feeling brave but perhaps not from your office PC.

/ The photos below were taken by Mia of Amy Grimehouse /

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Further reading:

My 2010 interview with John Waters for Nude magazine

My 2011 reunion with the Prince of Puke

When John Waters brought his Christmas Show to Royal Festival Hall in 2011

Full scene report from the Amy Grimehouse 12-hour John Waters Filth Fest on 29 March 2014

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