Public Radio interview
about the 25th Anniversary of Pink Flamingos
with John Waters, Spring 1997
What was your favorite bad review of the film?
I think "like a septictank explosion, it must be seen to be believed" kind of sums it up. The Detroit Free Press said that. Variety was pretty good, "beyond a doubt the most stupid vile film in film history," or something like that. That was good. But at the same time the one that helped the most was Fran Lebowitz who was at the time just beginning to work for Interview magazine, I think she was still a part-time cab driver, and she said "one of the sickest movies ever made and one of the funniest" and that was our real quote - that was what we used to sell the picture
It has an NC17 rating now.
Yes they had to watch it - the MPA board had to recently watch that movie which must have been deadly.
It was word of mouth that got everybody into the theater to see it the first time.
And the trailer which we can now see in this new edition, you say it was one of the first trailers for a film which never showed any of the scenes of the film.
Yeah, now today I think trailers are terrible they show the entire movie in order in five minutes long so why do you even have to see the movie? Usually trailers today make me say, well there's a movie to avoid. They do the exact opposite of the job they're supposed to do. In this movie, Bob Shayhu is now the CEO of Newline, a giant company, actually produced this trailer, and his idea was you had heard all the notoriety, and the word of mouth - don't show any of it - just show the shocked patrons or the happy patrons coming out of the theater.
Do you think the audiences of today will still be shocked as they were in 1972?
Well in a way maybe more and in some way because of political correctness. You don't see some of these scenes. You've never seen them since. I had a first and a last in Pink Flamingos. Noone wanted to imitate it. There was no reason to. They tried to find some law that would be against this. But you know the end of Pink Flamingos, it's not really illegal to eat that. It's not even a sin!
Why did you want to do it?
To have an ending that you couldn't not talk about. People joined this movie not for their acting career. It was like agreeing to participate in a cultural crime. That was the spirit. We almost after everyday looked over our shoulder to see if the police were going to come. Even after we showed it. It was a movie that our parents have never seen and they're still forbidden to see it. It was not made as most movies were made even though it was made very conventionally physically.
One of the inspirations for this film was a trailer park.
Yes. Trailers, you know - I drove across the country for the first time. I went to L.A. for the premiere of Multiple Maniacs, another film I had made and actually to attend the Manson trial. That was the reason I went to L.A. And I saw trailer parks everywhere across the country and I was amazed at how many of them there are, because people buy trailers and then anchor them in the ground. The whole point I thought of buying a trailer was that it has wheels on it so it was always odd to me. And trailers, I think it's fine. It seems like they're tornado bait to me though. I'm always afraid if it's windy - I run from a trailer park.
You have a trailer that figures prominently in this film.
Now, the film cost $10,000. Was the lion's share devoted to getting that trailer, setting it up and then setting it on fire?
Well, you know the trailer, Vincent Perenio who did the art direction told me a few days ago that his entire art budget for the movie was $200 and I think the trailer was maybe a hundred and then a lot of the stuff he found in garbage dumps, really. It was a movie that was made from thrift shops, garbage dumps and uh, really junk yards. That was where we got our props.
This trailer, when you do set it on fire, I mean who needs computer graphics? You linger lovingly on it, you have seven camera shots.
Some say I linger pornographically or they said it was pornography for pyromaniacs in one scene because the camera does linger on the fire. That was just bad editing on my part I just was so impressed that we burned this trailer up that I didn't throw out any of the footage. Every shot we got of it I made you watch. And I watch it now and it is truly ludicrous how long, how many shots there are. I keep thinking cut! cut! But somehow it's added a new twist to it. And when I read reviews that say I'm pathological about it and it's because I'm a pyromaniac I think, oh well, that's okay.
One of the things that American culture has to thank you for is introducing us to the divine Divine. Now what was he doing before you even met him. Did he have that, that look, that whole persona?
No not at all. He didn't go out of his house till he was 16 years old. He did his mothers hair every night and stayed home in fear of the other classmates who wanted to kill him. And he was kind of overweight, he was kind of nerdy looking in high school. He was not flamboyant. He was incredibly shy. And then when he became divine, and I knew there was that anger lurking in him, I knew that there was that lunacy buried in there and these characters that we dreamed up gave him an outlet for that. And he turned his anger into I think a style. Divine was a character actor. He never lived as a woman. He didn't want to be a woman. He sometimes played men in my movies. He was a character actor who specialized in playing insane women that I wrote for him. And later in life he used to see people who had beat him up in high school and they would come and ask for his autograph and he said he still couldn't really laugh about it because it was so painful what he went through. I mean the police had to take him home from school every day. And the teachers were equally mean to him.
What is your fasciniation with delinquent women?
Well it was freedom to me. I went to a very good, but very conservative grade school. It was the only school I ever actually learned anything in - except about style, and I didn't learn anything about style in that school. I learned style when I finally went to public school and saw cheap girls who wore pimple medicine as lipstick and had mosquito bites on their legs, and had stabbed other girls with rat-tail combs. You know, I was amazed. I watched these girls and they knew that I was their fan. We never met, but they did stuff for me. They were especially bad if they knew I was watching. And I actually turned that into a career.
The egg lady. The late Edith Massey.
A very sweet lady.
First of all - sweet woman. How did you meet her? How did she become part of your ensemble?
She worked in a bar called Pete's Hotel which was almost like a wino bar - well I mean, almost - it was a wino bar. Drinks were twenty cents. And we went there because any sort of behaviour seemed acceptable at the time. And Edith was the barmaid. And then after the movies came out she opened a thrift shop which was more an excuse to have a fan club headquarters. And her fans would come in and see her and she would sell pictures of herself for five dollars. And she was the only person I know that when she had her birthday she would charge you three dollars to be invited. But she got away with it because she knew what she was doing. The best review she ever got was in Newsweek and it said that she either deserves the oscar or a 24 hour nurse. I read it to her and she said 'I'd like both.'
You can't do a sequel because of couse we don't have Divine anymore, and Edie Massey is not around anymore and several members aren't around anymore.
But now I could do a sequel if I really had to, because I've written it. It's out in a book called Trash Trio. I always said that Anthony Hopkins should play Divine now, I think he'd be great. Maureen Stapleton as Mamma Edie. Eddie Fisher as the Eggman. Uma Thurman as Cotton. The Phoenix kid as Crackers. And Drew Barrymore as the flasher. I think we have everybody there. It's a good cast. We could do the sequel.
Thanks a lot John.
Thank you for having me.