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Q+A

John Waters

Deanna Staffo

By Lee Gardner | Posted 9/15/2004

A Dirty Shame opens Sept. 17 at the Senator Theatre.

John Waters is in hellóor at least, he says, itís about that hot in Los Angeles. He left relatively temperate Baltimore behind on a recent Monday to fly to California for a couple of days of press-junket interviews (Ďevery five minutes, all day longĒ) to promote A Dirty Shame, his new bawdy, blue-collar sex comedy, which the Motion Picture Association of America slapped with an NC-17 rating. But he sounds cool and composed on the phone from his lodgings at the Chateau Marmont, where heís been staying when in town for some 35 years. ďIt really reminds me of my old apartment at Temple Gardens,Ē he says, ďexcept itís in Hollywood instead of Druid Hill Park.Ē From Hollywood, he talked about Baltimore. (Lee Gardner)

City Paper: Who do you think is your audience at this point?

John Waters: For movies, I think itís changed a lot. When I go do an appearance now, like at a video shop, the average age is 25 years old. Which is great for me, ícause thatís the one thing youíve gotta do if youíre going to keep doing it decade after decade. You have to get the new ones, ícause your original fans donít go out much anymore.

I think itís just everybody that has sort of a weird sense of humor. Iíve always said I havenít changed, but the public has some. But I have no idea how this film is going to be received. I didnít count on the whole NC-17 thing, though I guess I get why it got it.

CP: In some quarters A Dirty Shame is being perceived as a return to the shock-tactic style of your earlier films.

JW: I didnít really sit down before I started to write this and say, ďThis movieís going to be more like my old ones.Ē I just made the next one. I wanted to do a sex comedyólike an old-fashioned exploitation movie [like the kind] that I grew up on. I hadnít done that ever. None of the other movies were really about sex. Pink Flamingos had some sex it, and whenever I have sex in movies itís ludicrous, but I had never made a movie with, as the MPAA says, ďpervasive sexual contentĒóeven though thereís no real sex in it.

Itís tricky to make a sex comedy today, considering half my audience died from AIDS.

CP: It seems like the standards for whatís shocking have changed so much in the time youíve been making films . . .

JW: But itís never the main thing Iím trying to do. Iím trying to make you laugh. And if youíre surprised, thatís good. Yes, eating shit was shocking, but I never tried to top it and I didnít in this movie, either.

To me, this movie is a comedy. Is it shocking? Thereís rude stuff in it. I guess I was surprised the first time I heard of some of these sexual underground thingsóďGod, really?Ēóbut I found it humorous, and it interested me. I always make movies about things I donít really understand.

CP: It was funny to see sploshing finally get its 15 minutes.

JW: Had you heard of that?

CP: Yeah, I had seen Splosh! magazine at Atomic Books.

JW: Exactly. Atomic Books is definitely an influence on this movie. I get a lot of my fan mail there, and I always go there looking for ideas.

CP: Have you seen The Brown Bunny yet?

JW: No, but Iím dying to. I know [director Vincent Gallo], and Iím doing a panel with him in New York in October. He is the bestópurposely an X rating, which is such a great way to fuck with the MPAA. íCause they made up the NC-17 to kind of rehabilitate the X, and no one wants an X except porn. Heís bringing the X rating back into art where it belongs. (laughs)

CP: But porn doesnít really get shown in movie theaters much anymore . . .

JW: But it does! There are only five movie theaters in Baltimore [City], and two of them are pornóthe Apex and the Earle.

CP: Thatís true. Have you been keeping up with the recent beef between the Senator and the Charles?

JW: Iím Switzerland. (laughs) I refuse to get in that one.

CP: You say that New Line just wanted you to make a John Waters movie. This sounds like a strange question, but do you ever get tired of making John Waters movies?

JW: No, thatís what I always want to make. Theyíre just comedies, American comedies. Theyíre all filmed in Baltimore. Theyíre all about a particular neighborhood, which is the very first thing I cast in my movies since Hairspray. Hairspray was Highlandtown, Cry-Baby was West Baltimore, Serial Mom was Towson, Pecker was Hampden, Cecil B. Demented wasówell, I donít know where that was. This one is obviously Harford Road. . . .

I donít know how to make another kind of movie. What am I going to make, a Scorsese movie? I donít read other peopleís scripts and I donít wanna make a script I didnít write. I guess thatís the only way I could not make a John Waters movieóthe script is what makes it a John Waters movie.

CP: Do you still smoke?

JW: No, I donít. Actually, Iím on dayóI have to look, I have it written down hereóIím on day 615. I smoked five packs a day until I was in my 40s, then I quit for eight years. Then, I donít know how, because I thought I would never smoke again, I somehow had one. And then I smoked every Friday night for a yearóFriday only, which became complete torture. And then I didnít smoke again, and then in Switzerland one Christmas, I smoked for four days, and I havenít had one for 615 days.

I canít smoke. I was never an alcoholic, I was never a drug addict, but that I am. The [12-step] meeting A Dirty Shame? I would have gone to one of those for smoking.

CP: Have you heard about the Atlantis?

JW: I heardóitís closing! I heard that it might reopen on Eastern Avenue, which would be even better. Although, no, nothing could be better than [next to] the prison. But I think itís a matter of economy. I think itís going to be a titty bar. More money for tits than dicks, I guess.

I love the Atlantis. Iíve taken so many out-of-towners there. New Yorkers love it, ícause all the places in New York are high-pressure, like hookers. You canít have fun. This place you can take 10 people, you can take girls, you can take anyone. I still go there. Itís terrible, terrible news.

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