Where do old interviews go to die? Since 1988 they’ve gone into the MTV News vault, but we’ve been exhuming them to bring you these classic natterings. Here’s the latest in the series, which runs every Tuesday.
John Waters, the dean of ill cinema, started fooling around with a little 8-millimeter camera in the mid-1960s, shooting short films with titles like “Hag in a Black Leather Jacket” and “Eat Your Makeup.” Encouraged by his dismissal from NYU Film School (for smoking pot), Waters started cranking out such no-budget wonders as “Mondo Trasho” and “Multiple Maniacs,” both of which starred his friend Harris Milstead, an outgoing transvestite soon to be much better-known as Divine. Then, in 1972, Waters released the thrillingly gross “Pink Flamingos,” in which Divine did a famously terrible thing with a lump of dog poo. Waters became famous, in a sort-of way.
“Pink Flamingos” made Waters the king of sleaze, a title he cemented with the subsequent “Female Trouble” (1974) and “Desperate Living” (1977). But the trash-movie underground wasn’t big enough to contain his ambitions. He next wrote and directed the fabulous “Hairspray,” which made Ricki Lake a star and rocketed both Waters and Divine into the cultural mainstream. This was almost more shocking than anything else Waters had done up to that point. In 1990 came the similarly lovable “Cry-Baby,” starring Johnny Depp, Iggy Pop, and porn graduate Traci Lords. And then, four years later, “Serial Mom,” which starred a certified Hollywood diva, Kathleen Turner, and Sam Waterston, who was just beginning his long run as District Attorney Jack McCoy in the “Law & Order” TV series. This was where we came in.
We visited Waters in his home town of Baltimore, where he still lived, in an unassuming house with an electric chair in the front hall. He took us out for coffee. We talked about everything from “Serial Mom,” of course, to serial killers, a subject with which he was somewhat obsessed. He’s a droll and funny guy, as is clear in his many TV interviews and his fleeting appearances in other directors’ movies ranging from “Seed of Chucky” to Woody Allen’s “Sweet and Lowdown.”
In the years since that encounter, Waters has ascended to a level of showbiz legitimacy that surely even he never seriously imagined. In 2003, “Hairspray” was turned into a Broadway musical. It was a huge hit, winning four Tony Awards, and it’s still running. Last year it was joined by a musical version of “Cry-Baby,” which is now nominated for eight Tonys. What next? A song-and-dance “Serial Mom” would be a logical project. Probably not “Pink Flamingos,” though. I say probably.
Enjoy digging through The Loder Files? You’ll find more here, and there’s much more to come from the vaults — check back every Tuesday!