Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Reflections on ... John Waters' Role Models (2010)

(In preparation for swapping my creaky 8-year old PC for a gleaming new laptop, I'm combing through and sorting old files of ancient photos and documents and deleting crap. I came across this review I wrote of John Waters' 2010 book Role Models. It appeared on the alternative art and culture Nude website at the time, but that was yanked down a few years ago now, so I'm posting it here for posterity). 

There’s an illuminating anecdote in Prince of Puke John Waters’ new book. In 1957 aged 11 he shoplifted a Little Richard record.  Sneaking it onto the hi-fi at his grandmother’s house, Waters felt a spasm of pleasure at the horrified reaction when The Bronze Liberace started wailing “Lucille”: “In one magical moment, every fear of my white family had been laid bare: an uninvited, screaming flamboyant black man was in the living room.” His impulse to épater le bourgeois was already seething even in childhood.

Role Models profiles the various personalities who've warped the wworld-view of cinema’s trash virtuoso, encompassing people from fashion, music, pornography, literature – plus a former member of the Manson Family. Most interesting are the freaks from subterranean Baltimore who anticipate the gallery of grotesques from Waters’ films:  a teenage drag queen called Pencil (“rabidly enticing despite his repellent packaging”); Zorro the alcoholic stripper who’d stumble onto the stage already naked snarling, “What the fuck are you looking at?”

Waters shares his thoughts on modern art (“Isn't that the job of contemporary art? To infuriate?”), his ideal death (spontaneous combustion), a social history of his favourite squalid Baltimore dive bars, his philosophy of success (“True success is figuring out your life and career so you never have to be around jerks”),even his beauty tips (his signature moustache is augmented with Maybelline Expert Eyes in Velvet Black eyeliner).

For Waters, reading Tennessee Williams revealed, “There was another world ... a universe filled with special people who didn't want to be a part of this dreary conformist life that I was told I had to join.” For many of us, Waters himself has served a similar role. Trenchant but generous, Role Models reads like missives from a wise uncle for the maladjusted who counsels, “Make friends with your neuroses.”

All of the above photos are swiped from the current issue of i-D magazine. It's a must-have, featuring a lovingly-done interview and fashion spread / homage (by Alasdair McLellan) to cult cinema king and “the peoples’ pervert” John Waters shot on location in Baltimore. It incorporates portraits of Waters, his great regular character actress Mink Stole, a shot of Divine’s tombstone and a fashion model clad in Miuccia Prada’s spring/summer 15 Miu Miu range (inspired by Waters’ 1974 masterpiece Female Trouble) and styled to evoke bad girl Cookie Mueller (1949-1989). The hair and make-up people nicely capture Mueller’s tousled beehive hair-do and winged Brigitte Bardot-style black liquid eyeliner – but the model is considerably softer-looking than the actual tough-as-nails Cookie, and doesn't have Mueller’s home-made tattoos.

Read my epic 2010 interview with Waters here.

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