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High & Low
An interview with filmmaker John Waters, appearing in town this week By Jason Shawhan

Nashville Scene

JUNE 6, 2002


Given that sex and violence and even Dogme 95 aesthetics have all been co-opted by Hollywood, what defines independent film for you?

Well, I'm not so sure that independent film and Hollywood are even different anymore. I guess the difference is that the director doesn't have to go through quite as much testing and marketing, and it doesn't have to play in every theater. But Hollywood is looking for [indie films] now. Each studio has a classics department, and they usually don't know how to do it too well' because it's marketing. Independent film knows how to market properly, how to get the audience that will come to see it. And the studios, no matter what they say, really don't know how to do that.

You've said that the one thing Hollywood knows how to market is big-budget summer action pictures.

It's amazing to me. I wish I knew how to do it, because the general population that goes to see every big summer blockbuster its first weekend does not seem to realize that they have the option of not liking it. Which is brilliant marketing--it's more like brainwashing. The "event picture" is something that independent films should never
try to do, unless it's because of controversy.

Speaking of event pictures, how are people in Baltimore reacting to The Sum of All Fears, where they blow up the city?

I think Baltimore will be proud to be blown up in a Hollywood film. I mean, I haven't seen it, so I don't know. Tom Clancy still lives here, so I guess he can say that he was honoring it. But I don't know how they're going to react. I think there is a hysteria about it; people will get confused when they hear that it's in a movie. In real life, there are always people who get that mixed up.

Do you think there's anything sacred in modern society?

Oh, sure. Sex in America is still hated. And in Europe they hate violence. It's very hard for Europeans to get comedies about violence, and it's very hard for Europeans to imagine how uptight all Americans are about all sex.

What did you think of Baise-Moi?

I didn't see it. I heard negative things about it--that it was just trying to be shocking for shock's sake. But I haven't seen it, so I shouldn't say. To me, the best shocker of the year is The Piano Teacher with Isabelle Huppert, [which is] really a shocking, great art movie.

Baise-Moi does the whole Intimacy thing, with hardcore penetration onscreen.

Well, I saw Intimacy, and it looked silly, in a way, to see the head of the Royal Shakespearean Company getting a blowjob. I always thought it would be good until I saw it. Maybe it's like when I thought that heroin should be legal, until I saw that park in Switzerland where it was Night of the Living Junkies. It was the Woodstock of junkies, and I was, "Well, yeah, this doesn't work either." Sometimes you have to see it to see if it really works. Now, Fat Girl, I think it really worked in. But that didn't have actual penetration, I don't think. It had hard-ons, but then I read recently that it wasn't the real dick, that his dick was in a fake dick.

Speaking of art films, on the back of the DVD for Bruno Dumont's L'Humanité, there's a quote from you calling it one of the year's best films.

I love that movie.

More art films should market themselves that way.

I always still like the art films. You know, [in] my guilty-pleasures column years ago in Film Comment, I picked all art films. People think that I would choose all trashy films, but they don't realize that I am weaned on art films.

What you think about doing DVD commentaries?

Well, I do them, obviously. I've never listened to my own; I'm not that much of an egomaniac. I don't understand--why don't the other people get a chance? Why doesn't, I don't know, the editor get a chance to say, "Oh, this hack couldn't match a shot," or perhaps an actor going, "Ooh, look at this, I'm really good in this scene." Why is it always the director? I think they ought to try the people who do craft services, or the marketing people, or just have everybody talk on it.

Given that there's no real theatrical midnight movie circuit anymore, do you feel that the whole "direct-to-video" thing is an equivalent to that?

Well, as soon as home video was beginning, that pretty much ended midnight movies, because people could have their own midnight movies with their friends and smoke pot and do whatever they wanted in their house. I think the DVD is a new thing, more of a class act. It's the new hardback book. You walk into someone's house, and you look at their DVD collection to see if you'll sleep with them or not.

I don't know if there is an equivalent of the midnight movie today, because it's become so democratic. You can see movies anywhere; you don't have to move to New York or L.A. to be cool anymore. Everywhere is cool. So basically, I think if there ever was going to be a next midnight-movie craze, it will somehow be on the Internet. And the next underground lunacy thing will come from there. Some kid or some computer-whiz lunatic filmmaker will figure out how to cause a sensation with his movie on the Internet.

What is your favorite recent scandal?

Well, I was very impressed by Johnny Walker Lindh. I think he's the new Tokyo Rose. I believe he will get completely off, although he single-handedly brought grunge back. With a good lawyer and a lunch, and a short stay in a mental institution, he could be a model. I'm following his career with great interest. And I'm not sure what's
going to happen. It's a fascinating story to me because it is a new way to be a juvenile delinquent. The father said on Larry King, "Y'know, I'd like to smack his butt." And I thought, "What? He's punished? Now he can't use the car for two weeks?" It is a story ripe for satire, only people are so touchy about it. I think his villainy is incredibly exaggerated, probably. I think it would be the same as a kid running off in the '60s to find a spiritual leader and finding Manson or Jim Jones. But I think the family has a good team of lawyers, and they don't really have much of
a case. Well, that is not exactly a scandal, but I certainly follow it. I mean, there haven't been that many good [ones lately]. Dionne Warwick on pot, that was "stop the press!" I guess that's the last
show-business one, right?

Yes, but it was a great story.

Yes, because she's so unhip. I never would have given her that kind of credit.

At least we know how the Psychic Friends Network got started.

Yeah, they were just hallucinating.