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Shock or schlock, John Waters is still king

click to enlarge John Waters, a man of vision and tiny mustache.
  • John Waters, a man of vision and tiny mustache.

It says a lot about John Waters' increasingly weird legacy that his movie Hairspray -- which already morphed into the multi-Tony Award-winning musical Hairspray -- is being doubly adapted into another movie, Hairspray: The Musical.

Stranger still is that negotiations for direction of the new movie, which tells the story of a dance-crazed overweight girl in segregated early 1960s Baltimore, have included Adam Shankman, a choreographer whose credits include Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Wedding Planner.

This is either a sign of the surrealist, postmodern wake that follows Waters, or the bellwether of his joyously depraved influence on American film. Let's hope it's both. With a Broadway adaptation of his glorious 1990 movie-musical Cry-Baby also in the works, Waters has proven himself adept at squirming into the collective conscious.

In an interview posted on the Web site for his recent film, A Dirty Shame, Waters says, "I want Pink Flamingos to be an opera. I want Female Trouble to be an ice show ... I want them all to turn into something else, to mutate over and over, like germs, and spread further and further into the American culture."

This from the guy whose catchphrase during his Simpsons appearance was a joyously sibilant, "Zzzzap!" and whose most footnoted achievement was filming a 300-pound drag goddess eating dog shit.

The "genius of the gross" will be foisted upon the apparently less-staid-than-I-thought Fine Arts Center patronage on Thursday, beginning with a screening of Divine Trash, Steve Yeager's award-winning biopic of Waters.

The film, a look at Waters' early creative life and the Dreamland cast and crew that surrounded him through the making of Pink Flamingos, paints him as a focused and coolheaded showman. Single-minded in bringing his love of camp and trash to celluloid, Waters was a tireless promoter who learned the ins and outs of the business in spite of the content he produced.

During his 30-year reign as the Pope of Trash, Waters has been a lot of things to a lot of different people, from an amphetamine- and pot-fueled "post-Beat, pre-hippie" shock filmmaker to a beloved son of his native Baltimore; from a recalcitrant figurehead for the queer community to, most recently, a beloved champion of so-called "low culture" in highfalutin' circles.

Waters long has been delighted with taboos, and never has blinked at subverting the sacred. He took gleeful jabs at fetishists and "neuters" in A Dirty Shame, and created a dramatic re-enactment of the LSD-related apparent suicide of Art Linkletter's daughter Diane, filmed the day after her death.

Even in a world jaded by "Fear Factor" gross-out tactics and dead baby jokes, Waters' work inspires head-shaking. The force that gave the terms "bear" and "tea-bagging" to the general lexicon, he has done it with such jovial grace that his mother-son sex scenes and unabashed violence seem almost sweet.

-- Aaron Retka

capsule

An Evening with John Waters

Thursday, November 10, 6 p.m.

The Colorado Springs Fine Art Center, 30 W. Dale St.

Tickets: Log onto csfineartscenter.com or call 634-5581 for film and lecture package prices.

  • Shock or schlock, John Waters is still king

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