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John Waters

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“I feel like Uncle Remus every time a kid comes up and says, ‘Tell me about the time Divine ate dog shit.’”

John Waters and Bob Shaye
by Eric Gladstone
March, 1997

Call it another glorious chapter in the saga of the American Dream. John Waters, once the most outrageous and marginalized of film directors now enjoys almost ‘living legend’ status. The Baltimore native who dared to make an obese transvestite (Glenn “Divine” Milstead) his star player, and who took bad taste to new heights (or depths, actually) made his first splash with Pink Flamingos, a low budget trailer trash tale which climaxed with Divine munching doggie doo.

Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of its first screenings, New Line Pictures, the company which first established itself with Flamingos, is rolling out the, um, classic, for a re-release with previously unseen footage added in April, 1997. Waters and Fine Line prez, Bob Shaye, sat down for an intimate chat with myself and a handful of other reporters at this year’s Sundance festival. Here are the juicy bits:

Q: Who first came up with the idea of a 25th Anniversary re-release?

JW: Well, I tried to pitch it to Bob at Cannes. I said, “Let’s do a low-rent Belle Du Jour.”

Q: Was it always the idea to add the new footage?

JW: Yeah, because I knew I had the footage. I hadn’t seen it, but I knew it was up there. I was amazed when I saw it because I didn’t remember shooting some of it. I showed that murder scene to Mary Vivian Pierce and she said she didn’t remember shooting it.

Bob: I remember making the trailer…

JW; I know, Bob made that trailer, that’s his voice on it. When I first went to New Line, there were maybe six employees on University Place. And Divine used to come in the office in full drag, walking though. We didn’t have big promotional budgets then. There were no ads, ever, for Pink Flamingos. There was one little ad in the Village Voice. No “print marketing.” But I would make Divine wear that outfit and ride the subways and hand out flyers. People would run from the subway cars! But it was effective advertising at the time!

Q: Is there any way you measure the influence of Pink Flamingos, or see it resonate in current culture?

JW: Well, I feel like Uncle Remus every time a kid comes up and says, “Tell me about the time Divine ate dog shit.” I’m very flattered when kids come up and say, “I made a movie because of you, you’re the first thing I saw…” But the weirdest thing is now they say, “My parents saw your movies.” Boy is that different. It’s very touching to me. My parents have still never seen Pink Flamingos, and my father paid for it! I paid him back, too, with interest…

I’ve always said if I could brag about anything I’ve even done it’s that I made trash maybe one percent more respectable. I always wanted people to laugh first. This movie was made kind of at the height of a cultural war. It was the year porno first became legal. It was a very different time than it is now. But [at the screening] last night, people laughed at the same places, they moaned at the same places, they covered their eyes at the same places. The same as 25 years ago, so not that much has changed, even though there is hardly a cultural war going on right now, I don’t think.

Bob: The real strength of the movie is when you tell people the story of it, not to denigrate John’s filmmaking skills. But what he managed to include in the story is so off the wall, that even when you tell people what they’re going to see today, it has that peculiar duality of repelling and detracting at the same time.

JW: And the weird thing for me was that, it was kind of normal for us at the time!

Continued at Pt. 2

Read more

–FF–

Copyright 1997, ECG

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