I mentioned over a year ago that I spent a lot of my childhood living in a house not far from where John Waters lived (and probably still lives). I do not live there anymore so I do not mind saying that I lived in the Tuscany-Canterbury neighborhood and it was maybe a five-minute walk to where Waters lived. The whole time I lived in the neighborhood, I never saw him. The adults told us that was where he was. When we went trick or treating, his house always just had a bowl out front. We were always told he was a recluse and not to bother the guy which we always respected. Now I know that’s not entirely true. After seeing Crybaby and Hairspray (his more kid-friendly films) I was a fan and I did not want to get on his bad side. Later, when we were chased out of a large apartment complex’s garden, we were looking for a place to play. One of our parents asked John Waters and we ended up playing in his back yard for a long time. It is still a fond memory.
John Waters was the king of stories about outsider culture. He talked about the cool or terrifying thing happening just beyond the borders of the establishment. That track record has influenced me for a long time in my life. Especially lately, I have been pushing the borders of what I know and exploring culture new to me. While Nikki Minaj may not have been new when I discovered her, her work was new to me and I was glad I found it. That spirit has also guided me to push against boundaries. John Waters created truly nasty (yet funny) films and was unafraid to get dirty, gory or to draw outside of the lines. It makes me less afraid to check out stuff that I might have been nervous about revealing I watched. I listen to pop music, I watch all ages cartoons and I enjoy some traditionally “girly” entertainment partly because of Waters’ displays. He also contributed to the dark and campy parts of my sense of humor.
This movie is John Waters’ one-man show from a few years ago, a show he toured but this performance was in New York City instead of Baltimore. While I would have loved if the footage on Netflix was in Baltimore, it actually worked out better. A large part of his show is him explaining why he loves my hometown of Baltimore and I could not agree enough with him. He talks a lot about the charm that Charm City has even though we are some of the craziest people. He talks about trying to be a rebel in Lutherville, the age old problems of trying to rebel against the suburban machine. I also found it funny that he pushed literacy since he’s from The City That Reads. Like Waters, I love Baltimore for all of its weird quirks and interesting people. His joy at talking about the city is the way I felt when I returned from New Jersey to the land of my birth and how I feel about the 410 every day that I wake up.
The majority of the rest of the show is about John Waters’ career which I have followed ever since I discovered him in the nineties. Of course, that is not remotely when he started. John Waters and his friends got started in film as crazy independent filmmakers. They made movies expressly made to screw with people. They were shown at midnight. Inspired by filmmakers like William Castle and Kroger Babb, he wanted to viscerally affect the audience. That is why Pink Flamingos ends with a drag queen literally eating crap and also why Eat Your Makeup has the same drag queen playing Jackie Kennedy during the infamous assassination. He hired an elemental drag queen named Divine and a band of misfits and they shocked the world. That attitude filtered into his later career as he brought so-called ‘real’ actors into the fold and made them into misfits too. Stars like Johnny Depp, Melanie Griffith, Edward Furlong and Kathleen Turner got to show different sides of themselves.
Overall, I loved this movie. While John Waters is not exactly a stand-up comedian, that was pretty much where his delivery was. He has a lot of fun standing on stage to tell some great stories and deliver funny one liners. He moves at a fast clip so you barely have time to recover before the next laugh, outrageous statement or gross out moment comes. There is nobody on Earth quite like John Waters and it is clear that he knows it. He is delighted by each reaction he gets even if it is revulsion, maybe especially if it is revulsion. He plows ahead at full steam and the crowd loves it. I am so proud that I come from the same city as this man.