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Talking Trash with John Waters

HONCHO editor meets the reigning monarch of camping in Hollywood
In his newest hysterical sin-ematic send-up, John Waters, a self-proclaimed friend of porn, pays tribute to HONCHO readers. or at least to guys like you and me who jerk off to porn regularly and who aren't afraid to defend our freedoms even when tranced-out on endorphins. In one scene, a group of porno theater-regualars stop in mid-wank to chase away the teamsters pursuing a renegade band of filmmakers. In Waters's wicked world, horndogs are heroes.

Steven Dorff (who incidentally is porn-star material in my professional judgement) plays title character Cecil B. Demented, an unstoppable radical fimmaker. In a world where art has lost its edge, reality is his muse. Need a death scene? Shoot someone. His loyal band of actors risk life and limb (and get tattooed and branded) for their art. In between loads of masturbation humor and a love scene with a gerbil, a Hollywood diva, played by Melanie Griffith, is kidnapped and forced to act in an underground film. When you see CECIL B. DEMENTED - and you will - this will all make a kind of sense.

John Waters's queer sensibility (if that phrase can be applied to work so uniquely his own) has long ago moved from underground film festivals to strip-mall video stores across the country. According to the filmmaker himself, schock for schock's sake is a thing of the past. But for the poisoned minds of America, there's the world before PINK FLAMINGOS and the world after.

I talked with the charmingly twisted Mr. Waters about the allure of Brawny paper towels, the smell of a serial killer, and a future filled with celebrity cumshots.

DM: So even though CECIL B. DEMENTED is not John Waters, you both have a committed group of actors around you.

JW: Well, I think he has a good crew, certainly a dedicated crew that would do anything for him. Even though I've worked with people for 30 years I don't expect them to die for me. But the setting-the-hair-on-fire thing came from the old thing when I asked Mink to set her hair on fire for PINK FLAMINGOS. She quite properly declined, but at thte time I couldn't understand it. She said, "How are we going to put it out?" And I said, "Just squirt a fire extinguisher on you." And that's exactly what happens in this movie. But Mink wisely declined because shw would have been scarred today. Which I guess is why Divine won the Battle of Filth.

Is the fact that you can get people to do things like that, I don't want to say a turn-on, but that's one of your strengths, you're an actor's director in that sense.

I'm an actor's director, but I didn't ask Melanie Griffith to really set her hair on fire. Basically it was a stuntwoman and completely done in the most Hollywood kind of way. But I'm not flexing my power like Steven is, like "Prove yourself one more time" and all that kind of stuff. I don't do that, but I see the humor in that cult-like behavior.

And that is a part of a real cult, if you were in some kind of kamikaze cult where it's an honor to die for your beliefs. I'm always obsessed by people who are like that. I'm not. Even though I do expect loyalty from friends, not to that level. So certainly, you're asking me, do I get off on the power...

No, not necessarily the power. I just mean in terms of having your wishes realized. I'm always amazed. For my living, I tell people to pull down their pants and the DO it.

Yeah. That isn't so surprising to me, because when I say set your hair on fire, they know they really don't have to se their hair on fire. But they have to act like their hair is on fire. Now Alicia Witt had to certainly NOT put a gerbil up her ass, but she had to act like it, and that is brave. You know what I'm saying, a lot of people get to pages in the script and, real or not, they slam it shut. [laughs]

But others trust your vision.

What's amazing to me is when you're on a movie set and you see teamsters and you think, Isn't this amazing that they have a job because of something I thought up at my little table?

That's what shocks me: that when your'e making a movie all of these people have a job because of some lunatic idea I thought up at my house.

But that's what we like about the movies. Something strikes you funny, you write it down and it ends up in your next film in some way.

It does, yeah. Or anything I see certainly has been based on so many things that have happened in one way, but are completely exaggerated and taken out of context.

Are there run-ins with censors in your career that stick out in your mind?

Oh, with the real run-ins in the long run the censors were my best press agents, whenever we got banned in the old days. but that was a different time. Now that doesn't really work because young people don't want to see something controversial. It's amazing to me. If something gets a lot of controversy now, it's not like you make a beeline for it - which I certainly did. You know, I sat through the dreary I AM CURIOUS YELLOW just for a shot of beaver, which was the last thing I really felt like lookin' at...

[both laugh]

We actually have spinsters who look at every single page that I create. And the problem that I experience is when I catch myself censoring myself. Every once in a while, I don't run a photo because I say to myself, I'd better not run that image because I'll get shit about it.

Well, you have to worry about legal - literally legal - reasons about federal offenses and mailing stuff. I say that in the movie, that the only real outlaw cinema left is pornography. There's nothing left that has not been co-opted and any minute it will be co-opted by Hollywood. In the next ten years, a major star will cum on film probably.

Absolutely no doubt.

So that's the only thing left. And that still in many states illegal because of prostitution laws. So it is the only way left to break the law with film - except for snuff movies, which I dont' belive there ever was such a thing, that was just thought up by censorship people.

And the ones that did "exist" were all faked anyway.

So, you know, a long time ago I gave that up. I'm just trying to make the next John Waters movie. I retired from the Shock Racket a long time ago. I'm not sure that if you're only trying to shock that it is that clever - it can be very commercial now and very successful. I still like some fo those movies, I'm not against those movies, but I don't feel a real part of it. I feel like my early movies broke some ground where you legally get away with that because then there was no law that said you couldn't eat shit. That's the only reason I did it. As soon as Hollywood put gore and frontal nudity in their product both sexploitation and gore movies were over. They really don't have them anymore. They're in Hollywood movies. There really is nothing left. Cecil says that in the movie, "there's nothing left but this" meaning ultimate reality, which certainly has not really happened. Where you go out on the street and force people to be in your movie. Although, I sort of forced some people to be in my movies, we would pick up people in buses and have the buses just leave them there out in the country and there was no way they could get home. You know, certainly very un-SAG friendly situations. But now we hire a huge amount of SAG people here. So I'm not trying to go back to those days at all. I mean, I'm trying to make a comedy about whether or not it's possible to be a radical filmmaker anymore.

What you're doing still shakes them up, though. What about the Politically Correct gays? You know in MULTIPLE MANIACS when the character says, "Come and see the two queers kissing?" I have a "Naked Straight Guy of the Month" in one of my magazines and I get more flack from the gay community about that.

I think that's great. I think you should have naked convicts every month and show their parole cards for what they did. The bigger the crime, the bigger the picture.

I have a Thug-of-the-Month, Hitchhiker-of-the-Month, Straight Marine Genitalia...

I like your magazine the best. I've never been gaily correct. Expecially when in pornography they all are shaved and are twinkies and come from LA. I don't know who they're sexy to.

My big mission is to change the body-shaving trend in this industry. It is so 1980s. Nobody wants that look anymore. Everyone I've ever met has said, "Will you ask the porn stars to stop shaving their nuts all the time?" We're sick of that diet. I drive the models crazy making them wait before photoshoots as their pubes grow back. most of us want to look at men. Are they going to cut their balls off next?

I don't get it. My favorite pornographer of all is a guy named Bobby. He has about fifty tapes out. They're all marines. Some of 'em he blows and some of 'em he gets to jerk off and some fo them fuck themselves. He does Andy Warhols' BLOWJOB for real. He's the only true auteur left. He really should win the porno Oscar.

That's like the Dirk Yates films. What's hot about them is that you don't knwo what's going to happen next.

And some of them are better looking than any porno stars you've ever seen in your entire life. A friend sends [the Bobby tapes] to me and they're framed like Andy Warhol; he [keeps the camera] on the face. it's really the only pornography I watch anymore.

There's no voyeurism left. I try to do that in the magazine. Where the model is not looking at the camer in every show. We should be watching them, not them watching us. Have you ever seen one of those hidden camera videos? My eyes roll back into my head. They are the hottest thing right now because they're real. Oh, and the guys from LA are plucking their eyebrows and even waxing their armpits now. They're alll starting to look like Celine Dion.

That's always been a problem with LA. I mean what's that country song that says, "Too ugly for LA, too stupid for New York." In CECIL B. DEMENTED when the porno fans save Cecil from the teamsters, the one porno fan, right before he has an orgasm jumps up and says, "to Cecil B. Demented, a friend of pornography" I feel that's what I am. I try every movie to give an interview to a pornographic magazine, because I think that's important. Porn is an outlaw cinema. They don't really have underground movies anymore. It is an entirely illegal as an industry, which I think deserves a great amount of respect in a way.

You can tell which producers who are doing it to get off, who are making porn because they like porn, as opposed to those who were doing it because they made money doing it in the 80s and are just coasting along, cranking out the same thing month after month.

Well I think the problem there is that unfortunately many of them find that whether a film is good or bad it sells the same amount. That will hold back all quality forever.

There are exceptions. Some stuff sells very well. But there are a limited number of people who buy this stuff, I agree. I love the idea that the die-hard guys in the movie were kind of like Porno Zombies with their dicks hangin' out...

Yeah, well that was a kind of Night of the Living Whackers.

What is the first porno that you ever saw? Was it a straight porn or something not porn that you got into?

I remember "One" magazine, but that wasn't really porno, it was in the late 50s, and it was like the first gay rights magazine. There was one store called Sherman's, and it was a big newsstand and they basically had things like VIM and Bruce of Los Angeles, that kind of stuff. Those were the first gay pornography I ever saw. And I love that store that later opened in New York next to the old Different Light...

Gay Pleasures.

Really great idea. Like how the Japanese made every Yuppie re-buy their record collections with CDs. They specialized in going out and buying your first pornography. Which was a really good idea. I don't know why it didn't last longer. But the problem is that "your first pornography" sounds really good to you until you actually see it. Sometimes you find that it didn't hold up.

It's funny, though, that the guys that we were first attracted to, we chase for the rest of our lives. The vintage stuff is so hot right now. Like I said the voyeurism is often missing in the new stuff.

Yeah but it's hard to imagine a Peeping Tom now. Everyone is such an exhibitionist. What would a Peeping Tom do in the year 2000? I think it would be very frustrating. "Our windows are open."

They peep at themselves. Anyway, the context is important too. I mean, porn is where you find it.

You're right, I mean in a way, there is a paper towel that you can jerk off to. What's the guy that is like a big clone with the big mustache and the muscles? Brawny paper towels. They're the only paper towels you can jerk off to. It always makes me laugh when I see that in the supermarket imagining, I bet there is somebody somewhere who has done that.

We jerk off to all kinds of things.

When you look at the Brawny paper towel guy he looks almost like Tom of Finland drawing for housewives.

I worked at HONCHO for two days and a letter came to the office from a guy who said that he got an erection when he saw a nun crushing cardboard boxes. I knew I was really going to like it here.

Catholics always have the best kind of imaginations... because everything was wrong. Everything is dirty to them. Things you can't imagine. Before you've ever thought about sex they've already told you all these hideous things. So everything is sexual in a bad way - which makes sex better.

Yeah, life must be so much better that way. I remember one gentleman who could only get off on photos of guys in yellow bathing suits climbing over rocks. It's so specific, which makes satisfying everyone a real challenge.

You see classified ads like that that are so ludicrous, that you can't imagine people actually put these in. There's one I always see in Frontiers that makes me laugh. it goes: "here's my address the lights are on at this hour, come into my hosue and fuck me..." I mean, has anybody actually done that? Wouldn't a burglar come in? It just made me laugh right out loud.

There's an actual burglar fetish called harpaxophilia. Most people set it up with a partner to have him crawl throgh the window in a cat burglar suit and tie you to the bed and fuck you or whatever.

What I'm saying is a real burglar might come and say, "I ain't fuckin' you, but I'll take your wallet."

I know one guy who likes to get pickpocketed. He sets it up with the trick that the payment is in the cheap wallet he just bought and when the action is over, his wallet is gone and he goes home and jerks off thinking about that. Isn't that hot?

I guess in your line of work you meet more people with interesting stories like that.

Yeah, it's always fascinating. but harpaxophilia is not to be confused with hybristophilia, which is falling in love with a known criminal. Like all those women who get their hair done when Manson has his parole hearings.

The most I ever saw of that was the Night Stalker when I went to his trial. He had so many groupies. And he would have sliced their breast off and slit their throats in one second if he could have gotten over that rail. He was also famous for his B.O. I mean, who wants to be killed by someone with really bad B.O.? That's like really depressing. [laughter] He did wear sunglasses with a certain charm. Ramirez. Before he would come in the window they would be like, "Where is that B.O. coming from?" and then it would be him...

I wonder how he was actually able to sneak up on somebody to kill them?

Because they would be unconscious from the B.O. I guess. I read something today, I think in the New York Post, some sexual poll they had about what turns men on. Something like 21% of men said that they were turned on by "breast odor" - I never heard that term in my life!

Must be those earth mother types that they like. You know, with heaving, sagging breasts. Boobs, not titties. Implants are absolutely out now.

In porno they are, yeah.

I watched BOYS IN THE BAND again the other day. It is kind of great in the creepiest way.


Only now can we view it from the safety of history. And sort of get over the homophobia.

I don't know. Homophobia from a gay person watching it? What kind of homophobia are you talking about?

I like it now.

I like it now, but you can certainly cringe. In the same way that a Black person might cringe at... what's that spiritual movie called? GREEN PASTURES? Where God is black and has a cigar and wings. You know what I mean... like Amos and Andy.

Well BOYS IN THE BAND is strictly for well-adjusted adults.

I'm 35 and I snuck glances at it when I was growing up and it was profoundly depressing to me. I remember being horrified: is that me?

I saw it in the middle of the hippie yippie years. To me then it was horrifying. It was like [shudders]. But I knew people like that. I rebelled against them. They were to me then almost as much of the enemy as straight people. Not in the sexual sense of the word. straight value-wise vs. hippies.

It can still give you cramps.

But it certainly is a movie that reflects the truth in some circles. Yeah, I think it's a good movie. Or good play.

What do you think about nudity in movies?

I'm all for it. But I don't use it that much. It's usually so awkward when you tell these movie stars to take their clothes off. I don't know. In my movies sex is always played for the laughs or the ridiculousness of it. For the perversion of it. The comic value of obsession. I don't think anybody has ever jerked off to my movies. Well, maybe somebody has, but they have problems of their own. I think that sex in my movies is too ludicrous to be erotic mostly.

Poking fun at the fact that we get off on stuff like that.

Yeah, I still think that 98% of peoplelook better with something on, with clothes on. Every time I've ever been to a nude beach it's been the most repellant people - the people you would pray would never take their clothes off. I said to David Letterman one time on the show that I had never been nude. Which of course is not true, but I am anything but a nudist.

It's still one of my favorite fantasies to be the only clothed person in the room.

Well I'm sure in your business, aren't you sometimes?

A lot. I get off on it

Yeah. It's like an old nudist camp thing, the only way you can come is to take off your clothes. I would think, you being the editor, if you took off your clothes they would think sexual harassment. That's what that would signal today right?


You know what I mean. When you're taking nude pictures today, the models don't say, "Well you have to be nude too."

It would be pretty hard to prove that I had sexually harassed somebody on a porn shoot. You know, now the big thing is Viagra - I refuse to give anybody pills and shit, because they could just drop dead.

They do poppers; don't people die from that?

No question about it. people die from that kind of stuff. You don't know what is wrong with this person or what allergies he has. But the models ask for that a lot - and what I do is not even harcore.

The young models need Viagra to get a Hollywood Loaf?

Well, it's just the easy way out... often it's a job to them ane they want to do it the easiest way and they want the photoshoot to be as quickly as possible.


Not all of the guys. Some of them really get into the shoot. There's a lot going on now with the fashion industry doing nudity. Terry Richardson and Steven Klein are using porn stars.

Yes it's true.

But the funny thing is, I'm using real people as models and getting away from the porn stars.

You can have the first art/pornography porn.

Some of the new porn stars are incredible though. People always want to see new guys, or course. I'm doing a Plushie shoot today. Have you heard of that? Guys take fur and wear it inside out dress up as tigger or something and have sex. Sometimes people just hump their stuffed animals until they come.

Very Mike Kelly. You ought to get Mike Kelly to do that shoot. Do you think that's real.

To some it is. I think there's a fasion aspect to being a Plushie now, though. People jump on board when other people start talking about fetishy stuff.

Yeah, but see, fashion takes the fun out of being dirty. I think even leather looks so silly at the beach. To me, if you're trying to be fashionalbe in something you do for sex it just takes everything away form it.

There's a part of it that is sort of hollow. If it is something you bought to wear outside of your dungeon at home, especially. What does all that preparation have to do with your glands? But leather is a defninite turn-on. I would never question what somebody else gets off in the end. To me the most intersting things are the things that you just discover on your own. When I was a kid we used to lay on one arm until it fell asleep and then when you played with yourself it felt like somebody else was doing it.

That's a good one [hearty laughter] That's a really good one.

But it worked so we did it. Totally fucked up our circulation and all of that, but it was worth it.

I just remember - it wasn't sexual - but where you would like crouch down on your knees and take 20 real breaths and then stand up and put your arms over your head. Somebody would squeeze you until you passed out and you would like trip for a minute... I used to do that all the time. That was getting high before we knew how to. But I don't remember it being sexual. I remember it being like doing a popper or sniffing glue.

That's hilarious. Are there aspects now of pop culture that you don't really get? I remember hearing you say one time that being stuck in a K-hole didn't sound fun to you.

I put that in the movie.

I know. I cracked up at that.

And Ecstasy. A drug that would make me love everybody sounds like not my kind of drug. I was more partial to like black beauties that made you hate everybody. that's like 80 people you hated for dinner: not my idea of what high should be. Special K. I've seen people in K-holes and it makes me laugh. Because it is like the projector with the film stuck. And I see it but I don't envy it. It's not something that I feel, "Boy I better find out what it feels like to bei n a K-hole." If I was younger I might try it. I mean, I don't have body piercings either but if I was 18 I'd look like a chain link fence, I'm sure. It just depend on where youa re in your life and your career. Some review already wrote that it was the first time a K-hole was mentioned in a movie.

That' the kind of stuff we look for in your films. They're time capsules. That's no small part of your achievement, the films are up-to-the-minute records of the era. But they become timeless. They'll always be pertinent for that reason. Especially FEMALE TROUBLE. It's a classic.

It's coming out again in November, a new release and a beautiful cleaned-up print. It's been unavailable for a long time.


DVD. Boxed set. All coming. I just finished the restoring. I've been holding it back... just like Disney kept back FANTASIA.