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John Waters in Ypsilanti - March 11, 1998

Review by Joe Blevins

I just got back from John Waters' lecture in Ypsilanti at the Pease Auditorium. It was fantastic! I went with my best friend and his girlfriend, which was great because I didn't have to drive. Along the way, we listened to music by Little Richard, Chubby Checker, and Link Wray to get us into the mood. Since we stopped to eat (yes, we got chicken), we were barely able to make it there on time. Fortunately, I didn't miss a second of this near-religious event.

The place was pretty crowded, and anticipation was definitely in the air. The only downer came early on when the woman who introduced Mr. Waters said that audiotaping the show wasn't allowed. (I quickly shut off my tape recorder and hid it in my jacket.) When Waters himself entered the auditorium, he got a standing ovation. I felt like shouting "Filth forever" at the top of my lungs, but I restrained myself.

His opening line was: "You make me feel like David Niven."

The speech itself was largely anecdotes from SHOCK VALUE and CRACKPOT, but he had some new material, too. He talked about his early influences -- William Castle and Kroger Babb -- and also how the library was one of his hang-outs as a youth. He said most of the people he knew had their first sexual experiences at a library. Mostly, the presentation was a chronological re-telling of his career as the Pope of Trash -- from HAG IN A BLACK LEATHER JACKET to SERIAL MOM. He told all the familiar stories about the stars and the circumstances behind the making of those wonderful movies. A poignant moment came when he noted that it had been ten years since Divine's death.

Other topics during the presentation:

* He suggested a "Hooked on Books" campaign which would show compulsive readers going through withdrawal when they run out of reading material. "We need to make books as cool as drugs," he said.

* He talked about attending a trial for a nurse who "shoved turds down her patients' throats." He said he was the only trial-watcher there, and it was really embarrassing.

* He mentioned "The Diane Linkletter Story" and got off on a tagent about "instant movies." He suggested instant movies could be made about "Eddie Murphy and the Chick with a Dick" and "Monica and the Presidential Load."

* He said the NC-17 rating really helped the PINK FLAMINGOS rerelease. He was shocked and delighted that PINK had reached #2 on the video sales charts this summer, placing it between JERRY MAGUIRE and THE ROCK. FEMALE TROUBLE will be rereleased soon.

* He mentioned a serial killer whose last request was to have a nude Ricky Schroeder sit on his lap in the electric chair. Waters said that moment was a lot like FEMALE TROUBLE. "He's Rick Schoeder now, though. He's a little big for that."

* His new movie, PECKER, will be coming out "in the fall." He talked about his struggle with the MPAA to keep that title. He defended the title on the grounds that the MPAA had already approved such titles as FREE WILLY. He won, of course. Waters says that people who really talk dirty don't use the word "pecker" anyway. "Nobody says, 'Suck my pecker.'"

* He did a hilarious bit about the Porno Oscars, where Jeff Stryker appeared with his exposed penis jutting from his tuxedo. The winners all did teary-eyed acceptance speeches, and the categories included "Best Blow Job." Recent porno titles, Waters says, include: "Das Butt" and "Schindler's Fist."

The lecture itself lasted an hour. Then there was a question and answer period...

* I got to ask him about his feelings on the Catholic church. He said he was glad he was raised Catholic. I said the church wasn't scary enough anymore. He agreed and said I should protest.

* Someone asked him about Jean Hill. Waters said Hill has health problems and that he only sees her at Christmas.

* Someone asked him to name his least favorite celebrity, but Waters refused to answer because "I'll say it, and then I'll probably wind up sitting next to them somewhere."

* Someone asked him about his most memorable filmmaking moment. "That's a 'Reader's Digest' question," he said. He then added that it was probably filming the dog turd scene from PINK FLAMINGOS, mainly because he's had to talk about that scene over and over again.

* Will Mink be in PECKER? Yes! And Waters noted that Mink now has her own web site. Groovy.

* Someone asked him about a "retarded" Baltimore film critic who used to say very nasty things about Waters' movies. Waters said that he used that guy's quotes in his ads, and that the critic himself is now retired.

* The last question was about whether he has more or less control as a filmmaker than he used to. He said he got a lot of resistance from the studio bigwigs when he made SERIAL MOM but hardly any with CRY-BABY or HAIRSPRAY. He said he detested focus groups and insisted that the testing for PECKER take place in Manhattan, where the people understand his movies.

After the show, there was an autograph session. I got him to sign a pamphlet called HOW TO PRAY THE ROSARY. He asked me, "What is this I'm signin'?" When I told him, he was only mildly surprised. I also gave him a portrait I drew of him. "This is a good one," was his reply.

All in all, a fabulous night. A trip to the moon on polyester wings...