Tag Archives: film directors

Love, Pain, and the Whole Damn Thing by Doris Dörrie

German literature monthDoris Dörrie is one of my favorite German filmmakers (Cherry BlossomsNobody Loves MeAm I Beautiful?), so I was delighted when I discovered a few years ago that she was also a published author, and, what’s more, that some of her work is available in English. This makes her a perfect read for German Literature month. Back in 2011, I read her wonderful novel Where Do We Go From Here? , a very funny look at how a middle-aged couple seek Enlightenment in various ways. In Dörrie’s short story collection: Love, Pain and the Whole Damn Thing, the theme is the toxicity of domestic life and in these 4 stories, we see people altered by suburbia and routine go off the rails in spectacular ways.

love pain and the whole damn thingIn the first story, Straight to the Heart, a young impoverished, seemingly unconventional music student named Anna, who has blue hair and plays saxophone in the park, accepts an offer from a middle-aged dentist named Armin to become his mistress. To Armin she seems both exotic and approachable:

“I sense an excitement that unfortunately has been missing in my life for the most part until now.”

She understood at once. “What sort of excitement is that?” She smiled because her blood suddenly began to course faster.

“The excitement of just for once becoming a different person than you already are–because of a second person.” Now he was grinning. “An illusion. But so much more intriguing than reality.”

He installs her at his country farmhouse with a year’s contract and pay of 2,000 marks a month. The relationship is awkward at first, but Armin is an attentive and considerate lover. The couple make a trip to America together, and Anna gets a brand new red fiat for her 21st birthday. But all that is unconventional about Anna dries up with the routine of domesticity, and the story’s focus is what happens when Anna realizes that the contract will not be renewed.

The second story is Men, and if you’re familiar at all with Doris Dörrie’s fabulous films then you will recognize the title. In this story, middle-aged Julius Armbrust, who “designed packing concepts,”  is told by his wife, Paula, that she is having an affair with the very scruffy, penniless Stefan. Julius has had many affairs of his own, but after hearing the details, Julius feels threatened:

Was the same age, he was, she said. Name? Unimportant. Occupation? She didn’t know exactly, something in the artistic line, she hadn’t asked him, the most important thing after all was that … That he was good in bed? After that, she had nothing to say to him.

While Julius heads to the office every day, Paula spends time with her lover, a man who drives an old Beetle, and Julius begins spying on the couple. Julius disappears from Paula’s life, using a fabricated affair as an excuse, and he reemerges and reinvents himself as Stefan’s new roommate. Men argues that we lose our identity in the day-to-day grind of making money, paying bills, and holding down tedious 9-5 jobs. Over the years, our relationships stale and we lose sight of who we used to be.

Marriage is also examined in Paradise, my least favorite story in the collection. In this story, the relationship between a long-married husband and wife shifts when an acquaintance from the past re-enters their lives.

My favourite story is Money. This is the tale of a married couple, Carmen and Werner Müller, in debt, hounded by consumer-driven teenagers, and facing losing their home, who turn to a life of crime. This is really a very funny story with some twists and turns. The emphasis is on humour and proletariat reclamation:

Carmen Müller, thirty-five years old, married to Werner Müller for fourteen years, two half-grown children, Karin and Rainier, with a house, a car, television and VCR, a deep freeze, but no vacation for five years now and debts galore, Carmen Müller, cleaning lady with fourteen years experience, she thought to herself as she wiped up the flooded bathroom where a hose on the washing machine had burst during the night, while Karin aloofly scrambled over her, heading for the mirror and ardent application of her make up.

I am my children’s employee.

Karin and Rainier are critical of their parents, and Karin tells her mother that they “could do a little better job keeping yourselves up.” That criticism comes easily and doesn’t stop the teenagers from seeing their parents as living, breathing never-empty wallets. Carmen and Werner are now “fat and flabby,” and Werner hibernates in the bedroom with a terminal case of depression. He works in a toy factory which produces war toys, but, according to Werner’s boss the business is crashing:

“Our specialty is war toys, after all, and orders have been… this whole peace movement thing has played havoc with us. We’ve got to rethink things, here, look at this” –he pointed to small plastic men meant to look like policemen, while down the belt next to them little barbarians rolled. “Those are the demonstrators, and these are the police. The game’ll be called Battle at the Reactor, and if that doesn’t sell, we can close up shop…”

While in Men, one of the characters reinvents himself, in Money, Carmen and Werner undergo a transformation with hilarious results. Leaving suburbia (Carmen doesn’t know what to pack for “the underground,“), and their ungrateful children behind, they embark on a life of crime. Through these stories we see stale relationships worn out by time and familiarity, and husbands and wives who lose sight of who they really are through the day-to-day drudgery of working lives. Doris Dörrie’s mischievous, spirited take on domestic life shows us how people hang on to the familiar and the comfortable, and yet once they’re set loose, things may never be the same….

 Translated by John E. Woods.

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Filed under Dörrie Doris, Fiction

The Retrospective by A. B. Yehoshu

A. B. Yehoshu’s elegant and compulsively ruminative novel The Retrospective examines the tricks of memory, the slipperiness of motivation, and the many versions of the ‘truth’ –all through the life of aging Israeli film director Yair Moses. Moses once had a solid, collaborative working relationship with screenwriter, Trigano, a former student, but this relationship was irrevocably ripped asunder during the filming of their seventh film,  The Refusal when the female star, and Trigano’s lover, Ruth, refused to perform a scene. Moses took Ruth’s side against the screenwriter, and Trigano never worked with Moses again. This incident, seemingly trivial in nature, marked a turning point in the lives of Moses, Trigano and Ruth. Now decades later, Trigano has vanished into obscurity, Moses has become an acclaimed film director whose style–without Trigano–is vastly different and more accessible, and Ruth has become Moses’s companion and sometime lover. The uproar over the scene that Ruth refused to perform is buried deep in the past, and yet it offers an apparently simple explanation for the rupture, and forms an established narrative for why Trigano, Moses and Ruth’s lives took a completely different direction. But there’s another person missing from Moses’s past, and that’s Toledano, the cinematographer who gave the films a branded look. While Moses mourns the fact that Toledano who died some years previously is absent from the festival, he only has painful memories of Trigano.

the retrospectiveWhen the story begins, Moses is invited to a retrospective of his films in Spain to be held in the pilgrim city of Santiago de Compostela over the course of a few days, and Moses and Ruth arrive tired yet ready to perform for the audience and hosts.  Oddly, and Moses begins to suspect it’s no coincidence, a painting which hangs over the bed in the hotel room depicts the same sort of scene that was cut from The Refusal and led to the rupture between Moses, Ruth and Trigano. Moses is initially surprised that only his first films, now dubbed in Spanish, are represented at the festival–after all, some of these films he’s almost entirely forgotten and he considers them his early work–not necessarily his best. 

For part of the novel, the story seemed, for this reader, to be about Trigano–a man whose absence creates an abyss in the lives of Moses and Ruth. Although he is not present, we see slivers of his talent, personality and his trademark “mystical and symbolic touches” through the films Moses watches during the 7-film retrospective. But there’s yet another intriguing aspect of this novel, and that’s the way three men: scriptwriter, Trigano, director Moses, and cinematographer Toledano all love Ruth in their own fashion, and make her the centre of their lives even as they fail to see her as a human being but as a “character” to be fashioned (by director Moses), worshipped (by cinematographer Toledano), and even to be a representation of ideas (by her lover, screenwriter Trigano). Moses has buried his damaged relationship with Trigano and its painful memories in the past, but now for the film retrospective, he’s forced to remember their working relationship, and he even finds himself forced to explain some of Trigano’s more obscure symbolism to an audience of enthusiastic film lovers.

And even though many years have gone by with no contact at all between the two, Moses still feels the stump of amputation, and he believes the screen writer feels it too, even if he is too proud to admit it.

After all, once they parted ways, Moses continued to make feature films, first from screenplays written by others and later, as success favored him, from scripts he wrote himself based on original ideas or adapted from books. Whereas the screenwriter’s output was confined to short esoteric films, and then, when his new collaborators proved incompetent and saddled the productions with financial problems, he stopped making films altogether and went into teaching.

Sometimes Moses feels a vague desire to get back in touch, but he never does. Reconciliation after a serious breakup is harder than smoothing feathers after an argument. when they ran into each other at public events, at festivals or symposia, they barely exchanged more than a few empty words. Moses had at first believed that Trigano left him because of the affront to his professional dignity, but when he saw that the writer had left his friend and lover too, Moses understood that Trigano’s pride was injured not only be a director’s excessive indulgence of an actress repulsed by a twisted script but also by the extreme kindness of another man to a distressed woman whom Trigano regarded as his own.

This is the established narrative of the events that took place many years ago, and it’s this narrative–honed to perfection–that helps Moses makes sense of the events that took place during the filming of his 7th and last film made with Trigano. During the retrospective, however, as Moses watches his early films, he’s forced to confront the artistic endeavors that he’s all but forgotten. In the very deliberate selection of the early films (the “marvelous ones,” according to the priest who organizes the retrospective) Moses “cannot shake off the suspicions that this retrospective was engineered by Trigano to compel him to defend the writer’s fantasies.” Moses senses the hand of Trigano at work, and after the festival concludes, he seeks answers through retracing the crucial moments in their collaborative careers.

As a film aficionado, for this reader The Retrospective was both an unusual and riveting read. We are taken slowly through the retrospective as Moses rewatches all seven of his early films and replays scenes from his past. Forced to confront an uncomfortable relationship he’d rather forget, he begins to question his version of events, and gradually his established narrative of what happened is dismantled. 

Memory, the ‘Truth,’ and motivation are not the only elements to be examined in this complex novel as through the lives of Trigano and Moses, we also see the destructive power of artistic differences and the role and responsibility of the artist in society. Rewatching and later retracing the early films, Moses comes to realize just how deeply intelligent Trigano was, and just how much of the symbolism and political content placed in the films by the screenwriter he initially missed. The book’s conclusion seems a little anticlimactic and disappointing–can’t say too much without giving away the plot. Luckily the ending didn’t undermine the power of the rest of this complex,  contemplative novel, but perhaps just how much we like or dislike Trigano and Moses and which one seems to be the worst, more difficult (insufferable) egomaniac may impact how we feel about the final scene.  This is a book that’s liable to generate a lot of lively discussion in book groups.

Review copy. Translated by Stuart Schoffman.

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Filed under Fiction, Yehoshu A.B

The Errol Flynn Novel by Geoff Nicholson

We both deserved more, something more difficult, more special. How much do you know about sadomasochism?”

Another entry in my Year of Geoff Nicholson, and if you didn’t know already, it’s Geoff’s 60th birthday next month. This read-a-thon is a way for me to say ‘thanks’ to one of my favourite authors who’s given me a lot of laughs over the last few years. Always grateful to authors who make me laugh and if they throw a little obsession and perversion into the mix, well so much the better, right?

the errol flynn novelThis time, I’m writing about The Errol Flynn Novel, a book I first read a few years ago and a book that was rather difficult to track down at the time. I loved it and immediately recommended it to several people who didn’t like it at all. So take that as a warning for what it’s worth. One of the complaints I read about the book is that it isn’t really about Errol Flynn. Actually, while that isn’t strictly true, I can see why this book, in common with other Nicholson novels didn’t get the right audience. Other readers appear to be offended by what is written about Errol Flynn. Well you can’t please all the people, etc., so suffice to know that I thoroughly enjoyed this strange tale.

So what’s it about?

The story concerns a failed actor named Jake who’s all but given up the idea of ever making the big time. This explains why he’s working in a photocopying shop when the story opens. Jake admits that he “wanted excitement, drama, money, love” so this is one of those ‘be-careful-what-you-wish-for’ scenarios. By the novel’s conclusion, Jake has far more excitement than he wants, lots of drama and some strange sexual encounters. Shortly after the novel begins, Sacha, an attractive girl from Jake’s drama school days walks into the shop. She’s making a career out of edgy art films, and Jake is initially not thrilled to see her as his loser life is in stark contrast to her acting career which seems to be a series of good moves. Jake is then rather surprised by Sacha’s offer to introduce Jake to Dan Ryan, an American who’s making a film about the life of Errol Flynn. If something sounds too good to be true, it usually is, and if Jake weren’t so desperate to have that elusive acting career, he’d probably have smelled a rat at this very first meeting:

“Look,” Ryan continued, “this is not going to be an expensive movie. we’re only talking about a few million dollars or so. Okay, that means we won’t be hiring Robert Redford, but it also means we can be free in a way Hollywood never dreamed of. We can be outrageous. We have the freedom to be weird. It’s important that you know what kind of director I am, Jake. I’m not a David Lean. I’m sure as hell no Dickie Attenborough. I’m more Andy Warhol meets David Lynch meets Peter Greenaway. Is that okay by you?”

“That’s fine by me,” I said.

” And look, in the end it may not be a movie about Errol Flynn at all, not the Errol Flynn who actually lived. It may be about ontology and iconography, and sensuality, and fame, and myth, and, of course, death. And you know what it’s going to be called? The Errol Flynn Movie.”

I don’t know about you, but I’d be a bit nervous about that speech–a speech which rather uncannily is a mirror image of the novel itself. Jake certainly is a little uncomfortable with Ryan, but he’s also never been in a film before. Perhaps all directors are nuts. While his concerns are mostly silenced by a large cheque, Jake does have the wit, however, to ask to see the script. There isn’t one. Well, at least not yet, but Ryan’s harried, slightly neurotic wife, Tina is desperately trying to produce one. To Jake’s astonishment, he lands the leading role, and armed with Errol Flynn’s biography, film stills, videos, recording and a gossip mag, he begins to ‘discover’ the man he’s supposed to portray in the film.

Naturally since this is a Geoff Nicholson novel, things go downhill from here. Ryan not only wants to make a film about Errol Flynn’s life, but he seems determined to live parts of it. As the film is made, things spiral increasingly out of control until… well … until they devolve completely.

One of the frequent themes in Nicholson’s novel is obsession, so in The Errol Flynn Novel, we see a multi-layered obsession with Errol Flynn. Director Dan Ryan is so obsessed with the exploits of this iconic star  whose life is wrapped in myth, scandal and rumour, and Ryan wants to make the ultimate film, an ‘interpretation ‘of Flynn’s life, yet where does fact and fiction end? And where are the demarcations of reality and fiction in Ryan’s head? Can Ryan be so gregarious, such a larger than life personality that his actions mask  … insanity?

Throughout the making of the film, Jake of course must act and dress like Errol Flynn, so this involves no small number of costumes and feats of daring (which are very funny if you’re not Jake). Jake has researched his subject, and so the novel is full of Errol Flynn trivia as well as Jake’s inevitable comparisons with his own pathetic life.

No don’t get me wrong. I’m not some sort of sexual inadequate. I have had my fair share of sexual partners, although you could debate whether or not it was a fair share. I am not one of those men who feels he has to make a lot of conquests, and I certainly don’t see why you would want to have sex with someone who didn’t want to have sex with you, and I’m definitely liberal enough to believe that women are entitled to say no and be believed. On the other hand I do wish that rather fewer women had felt free to say no to me over the years than actually have.

Nicholson excels in creating these peculiar situations that spin out-of-control and morph into total whackiness, and in this humorous novel, a film that’s supposed to be a bio-pic of Errol Flynn becomes a formless homage of the very worst aspects of Flynn’s life and a vehicle for Ryan’s obsession. Insane scene after insane scene is shot by a devoted cast while Tina, Ryan’s harried wife attempts to churn out a script. Eventually Jake sniffs that there’s something fishy afoot, but he has no idea just what he’s got himself into….

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Low Budget Hell: Making Underground Movies with John Waters by Robert Maier

Although film is an important part of my life, I’ve never nursed a secret desire to be involved in film-making at any level. I’ve always thought that while films are great to watch, making them would be hard work. That thought was recently endorsed by reading Robert Maier’s entertaining memoir, Low Budget Hell: Making Underground Movies with John Waters. The title is a slight misnomer as while the author did indeed work with John Waters, the so-called Pope of Trash for a number of years, he also worked on other low-budget films, and the book covers Maier’s long involvement with film-making both pre and post John Waters. Robert Maier currently teaches film at Gaston College in North Carolina so that should give a hint about the direction the book takes. 

Maier began working with John Waters in 1973 when he was 23 years old and this was the beginning of a “hair-raising eighteen-year ride through the world of low-budget, underground filmmaking.” He worked on Female Trouble, Desperate Living, Polyester, Hairspray and Crybabymoving from soundman to line producer.” He also directed a 30 minute homage to Edith Massey (the egg-lady) called Love Letter to Edie. Maier has a long list of film credits to his name–too many to mention with the exception of the cult classic slasher film, The House on Sorority Row. Just reading the salient facts of Maier’s career was enough to convince me that I wanted to read the memoir.

Robert Maier began working with John Waters for the film Female Trouble (my second favourite John Waters film next to Polyester). Waters had just completed his infamous film Pink Flamingos, and Maier was working at the UMBC (University of Maryland, Baltimore County) film department. John Waters was “hungry to find people who would help make his next movie,” and Robert Maier worked in the department with all the equipment. But their relationship went beyond being in the right place at the right time. John Waters, Divine (Glenn Milstead) and Robert Maier all “grew up in the Towson, Maryland area” and “even had a few friends in common.” So it was only natural that Waters and Maier developed both a personal and a working relationship.

The memoir gives the reader some brilliant behind-the-scenes glimpses of the making-of some of John Waters’ films. My personal favourites come from the filming of Female Trouble:

Dealing  with the public on Female Trouble was always exciting. There was no such thing as a film permit in Baltimore. Except for John’s films, no one could remember when a film had shot in Baltimore. Everyone thought it was way too ugly for glamorous movies. Being on the guerilla film crew, watching the shocked, bewildered bystanders was a hoot. One memorable shot was Divine “modeling” on a busy Baltimore street. He was in full drag wearing a shimmering blue sequined gown, with a big hairdo and Van Clarabelle make-up. We filmed him from the window of a slowly-moving car, so bystanders on the street were clueless. Their reactions were as if Divine had been dropped from a flying saucer and was having an epileptic fit. Not a soul would think it was a scene from a movie.

And if you’ve seen the film, that scene of Divine happily tripping along the streets of Baltimore, is one of my all-time favourite film sequences. It really has to be seen to be believed. Half the fun is Divine, and as Maier points out, the other half is watching the reactions of bystanders. 

In another section, Maier describes an earlier scene from Female Trouble:

The Christmas tree scene, where Divine beats up his parents, topples the tree, stomps on his presents, and then runs away because he didn’t get cha-cha heels, was a memorable location shot. The runaway setup required our small crew to perch behind a bush outside the house. We had a very small profile, so the neighbours had no idea a movie was being shot in their quiet neighbourhood on that cool Sunday morning.

When Divine burst out the front door, howling at the top of his lungs, in his sheer neon-green nightie, we saw neighbors peeking out their front windows, wondering what the hell was going on. The next set-up was even better when Dawn’s father flew out the door screaming, “Dawn Davenport come back here! You’re going straight to a home for girls. I’m calling the juvenile authorities right now!”

Well with those sorts of descriptions, it’s easy to imagine what happened on a formerly quiet Baltimore street in the wee morning hours.

Low Budget Hell is full of these sorts of hilarious memories and details, but there are some reminiscences that aren’t so funny. Maier describes John Waters unflatteringly as a harsh taskmaster, driving the non-union film crew all day long with no lunch break and with the mantra “dollar, dollar, dollar.” Maier comments on Waters’ film style and more than once compares him to Ed Wood while acknowledging that he was “fascinated with how John worked.” Maier recounts grueling schedules and the incredible personal sacrifices made along the way. As his career shifted from working with John Waters, he  shares rich memories of Jean-Michel Basquait and the Coen Brothers who slept on the floor of his editing offices while they made Blood Simple

I’ve read almost all of John Waters’ book (I have a few autographed copies) and I’ve also read two books about Divine: Not Simply Divine by Bernard Jay and My Son Divine by his mother Frances Milstead, so I wasn’t too surprised that while John Waters made bigger budget films (through New Line Cinema), Robert Maier didn’t make a smooth transition to the more lucrative big-time. A few sentences have a bitter edge, and that’s perhaps inevitable. After finishing the book, I stopped and asked myself how I’d feel if I’d had the same experiences and I concluded that I’d feel about the same.

This is a lively, unique memoir for fans of low-budget cinema or for those who want a behind-the scenes look. The memoir shows film-making as a hard, sometimes cut-throat field where those willing to step on others or shift the shit to someone else thrive, and while the book doesn’t directly ask: ‘just how much are you willing to sacrifice to join the ranks of the extremely wealthy and fabulously famous?’ the question is there, nonetheless, on every page.

Review copy read on the kindle.

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John Waters: Conversations with Filmmakers ed. James Egan

“I’ve always wanted to sell out. The problem is that nobody wanted to buy me.”

I’m a die-hard John Waters fan, and for those of you poor lost souls who don’t know the name, he’s a renegade filmmaker who pioneered Trash Cinema or “Outlaw Cinema”  and earned the name the Pope of Trash while making some of the most outrageous films in the history of film. To quote John Waters: “You see bad taste to me is entertainment.” Are the film titles Pink Flamingos, Multiple Maniacs, and Female Trouble familiar to you? Well if not, what are you waiting for? Dash down to the nearest film rental location and grab some copies. Expect to find them with the porno because the people who judge such things don’t have a clue about what they’re looking at (I’ve also found Benny Hill in the porno section).

Years ago, the film critic Rex Reed, after watching one of my favourites, Female Trouble, made an immortal quote which is the quintessential response to a John Waters film :

Where do these people come from? Where do they go when the sun goes down? Isn’t there a law or something?

To address Rex’s quote, unfortunately there are laws and there are also opinions, and when John Waters, a man whose film characters blazenly “seem to revel in a fringe existence,” began his cinematic career using a camera bought by his grandmother for his 17th birthday, he made a number of underground/cult films which appealed to a minority audience and never hit the mainstream. Working in his home town of Baltimore with a handful of actors/friends known as the Dreamlanders (Divine, Mink Stole, David Lochary, Mary Vivian Pearce, Edith Massey), John outraged just about everybody in America. While John seems to be fascinated by unusual casting (such as Patti Hearst, Iggy Pop and Traci Lords), in more recent years, his  films have included other, more mainstream stars such as Kathleen Turner and Johnny Depp. I went to see Serial Mom and watched people leave the cinema in droves muttering disgust as the door slammed on the way out. Hilarious! They’d come to see Kathleen Turner and had no idea what a John Waters film was all about.

People seem to either love or hate John Waters’ films, and naturally, I’m in the former group. I came across John’s films at a period in my life when I desperately needed to see another side of life, and John showed me the underbelly of American culture through his films which featured characters who were perfectly comfortable being trashy, slutty, filthy, coarse and disgusting. In fact Waters single-handedly raised low-lifes to a new level of art:

What’s more, they [the films] view with undisguised relish the grisly depredations of weirdos, misfits, and rejects of every stripe: love-sick transsexuals, warty lesbians,  gleeful mass-murderers, black-market baby salesmen, psychopathic drag queens–the very scum of humanity. Aesthetically, they seek to elevate, by imitation, the most despicable examples: gore movies, skin flicks, soap operas, the society pages of Violent World, the National Enquirer, and Sleazoid Express. With the ten Most Wanted list as their social register, and Frederick’s of Hollywood as their Yves St. Laurent, these movies dedicate themselves to all that decent men abhor. (from David Chute’s interview Still Waters)

John Waters is an important figure in my life–someone to whom I have a large debt of gratitude for mental liberation. Don’t expect me to be rational on the subject of John Waters, and this goes to explain why I own all his available films, all his books (including several autographed copies), and all his CDs. He’s my guru–someone whose world vision matches my own–except for the issue of the Manson family, and on that topic we come to a parting of the ways.

But enough. What of the book?

The University of Mississippi Press has an Interview with Filmmakers series, and I was ecstatic to see John Waters added to the list. About time, I grumbled as I requested a review copy from Netgalley. Editor James Egan begins with an intro explaining that he’s known John Waters for over thirty-seven years, and he goes on to describe their first meeting:

The streets were foggy and empty as we made our way to a bar light hanging on a converted eighteenth century waterfront warehouse, You could hear the loud music blasting from within. I entered and encountered a scene right out of a Pasolini film. At the center of the smoke-filled room was the Egg Man, Paul Swift, completely naked and playing pool with fellow Dreamlander David Lochary. Leaning against the pool table with her back to me was a thin woman with beautiful straight black hair down to her waist wearing stilettos. When she turned around to look at me, I was stunned: she was actually a very ugly man.

I felt my brain twist trying to comprehend what I was seeing and then I felt a sudden sickness in my stomach. Before I could flee, Margaret grabbed my arm and dragged me to the bar to buy her a drink. There leaning on the corner of the bar was John Waters, twenty-seven-years old, surrounded by a coterie of admirers, puffing on a Kool cigarette and looking more like a young David Niven than the Prince of Puke.

The earliest article is from The Baltimore Evening Sun from 1965, and many interviews are from the 70s. Since the interviews discuss John Waters’ film career, there are, naturally a few cross-over points, but the essential thing here is that we see an incredible overview of Waters’ life–from John in his 20s up to the last interview in the collection when he’s 65. He discusses his very first films made with a camera given to him on his 17th birthday by his grandmother, his university life at NYU which was aborted when he was expelled, and his  incomplete projects such as “an underground version of  The Wizard of Oz to be called Dorothy, the Kansas City Pothead.”  There’s a vast range of information here, including a filmography, the films that most influenced him (the Kuchar brothers, Russ Meyer, Kenneth Anger, Herschell Gordon Lewis), his film budgets (Pink Flamingos cost $12,000 and that “includes the car”) what he looks for in actors (including those who’ve turned him down), and even a home tour.  I particularly enjoyed John’s descriptions of working in a Provincetown book shop whose owner believed “the customer was always wrong.” The more recent interviews cover where he’ll be buried, the subject of gay marriage, the difficulty (impossibility) of funding independent film, and the question that lingers over John Waters’ career … has he sold out?

The interviews have a range of tone, and this is due in part to the dating of the interviews but also to the person doing the interviewing. One of the later interviews, for example, is conducted by Todd Solondz, a film director whose work has created no small amount of controversy, and there’s a previously unpublished interview conducted by James Egan (the book’s editor) in 2o10. The final interview in the collection was conducted in 2011 by Everett Lewis. There’s a treasure trove of quotes here, and I’ve included just a few:

John Waters on the Worst Film Ever:

But the worst movie I’ve seen in my whole life was Rocky. I needed a vomit bag watching that.

John Waters on controversy:

A lot of people were upset that we put the baby in the refrigerator. Well, it wasn’t like we had chilled it for a week; it was only in there for a few seconds.

John Waters on film:

I secretly think Patch Adams is as extreme a movie as Pink Flamingos, in that it scared me. I almost had a nervous breakdown watching it.

John Waters on film budget:

It’s been thirty years since 1964’s Hag in a Black Leather Jacket, which really cost no money because the leading lady stole the film.

John Waters on Original Sin:

I believe in everybody minding their own business, and I believe everybody’s born innocent.

John Waters on the difficulty of not looking normal:

But the problem was no one would ever let me in their house, because I had real long hair and looked weird

John Waters on politics:

The liberals are the easiest people to offend–although I guess I’m a liberal

John Waters on meta-meaning:

People are always trying to read stuff into my films, but I never said there was any message.

John Waters on his film characters:

Most people in my films are rotten people–they’re not nice or sympathetic characters. Especially in Female Trouble, I don’t think there is any person in the whole movie that has a decent bone in their body.

Joh Waters on censorship:

What can you say about the censor board? There’s not a person that could enjoy films that could see any reason for it. I can’t see any way to defend it from any level. The only kind of censorship that should be effective is don’t go if you don’t like it.

I think something must really be the matter with anyone who would take a job as a censor.

Jon Waters on creative film funding:

On a bicycle I sold diet pills that I’d gotten from Dr. Hiebert. I sold them to friends. It wasn’t that I was a major dealer, but it was once the only way to raise money for underground movies.

John Waters on Divine:

Divine was obsessed with Christmas, really wanted a christmas tree , so they sawed down a decorated one growing on someone’s lawn.

John Waters on watching television:

If you watch TV all the time, you might as well be a heroin addict; it’s the same thing.

John Waters on being gay:

I’ve always been out. I’ve never said I wasn’t gay, but people never have the nerve to ask me.

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