The View From Here

Edinburgh Film Festival -- John Waters

Michael Bonner

Last night, I went to see John Waters' latest, a part memoir/part standup act called This Filthy World, followed by a Q+A with the director. It was, as you might expect, all in pretty poor taste, as camp as a row of tents and very, very funny.

Waters particular brand of shock and sleaze has, perhaps inevitably, somewhat dated. Looking back at his career -- going for over 40 years now -- you could easily be forgiven for thinking there's something quaint now about Waters' trashy, punky output. After all, is the idea of Divine eating dogshit in Pink Flamingoes any more shocking than the sight of Jason Biggs' humping an apple pie on his folks' kitchen table in American Pie? Times and taboos have moved on.

For a man once hailed as "the pope of trash" by William Burroughs, here's Waters coming off the back of a Tony Award win for Hairspray: The Musical, itself recently turned into a film starring John Travolta. It says much about his trajectory, how he's gone from scatalogical provocateur and scourge of the Right to having hit Broadway musicals made of his movies.

This Filthy World, shot over two nights in New York earlier this year by Curb Your Enthusiasm's Jeff Garlin, is basically a memoir in the guise of a standup routine. We get anecdotal snapshots from early life, then a chronological run through his movies, all manner of colourful tales, digressions and deviations delivered along the way.

Of course, it's very funny. However tired Waters films may feel now, the man himself remains a wonderful character. Rake-thin and immaculately turned out in a black blazer with white piping, his balding head and pencil moustache lend resemblance to a giant, well-groomed tortoise. Sure, his spiel -- serial killers, drugs, porn -- is slightly creaky now, but Waters still has a very engaging manner about him, he's unfailing polite and charming, even when discussing the most abhorent subjects his twisted imagination can conjure up.

The Q+A is good fun. He talks about his parents -- now both in their 90s -- and their response to his movies. After explaining to his mother that his last film, A Dirty Shame, was about sex addicts, she said: "Oh, well, I might die first." It's a brilliantly delivered anecdote, tossed off in a sub-Coward way, very underplayed, perfectly judged. There's some heckling from a couple of girls down the front, who clearly believe they're the world's biggest Waters fans which entitles them to shout randomly out during other questions. Waters is quick with the acerbic put downs, at least.

The best story involves a guy Waters met in a bar, who sells deer meat for crack. A filthy world indeed.

Anyway, off now to see the new Chan Park-Wook, I'm A Cyborg But It's OK, and later there's an American indie I want to see, In Search Of A Midnight Kiss, and Kurt Cobain: About A Son -- a doc assembled from over 25 hours of interview tapes Cobain did with writer Michael Azzerad.

I'm also somewhat suffering today from Edinburgh's progressive licensing laws. It's great to know that you can engage in civilized conversation about Warren Oates at 3 in the morning over a pint.

See you later.


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