Keeping up with John Waters

Pub date December 20, 2006
WriterK. Tighe
SectionArts & CultureSectionTrash

CULT MOVIES Cobbled and crumbling streets with a homegrown musk of fish, piss, and National Bohemian Beer wind through Charm City — a place where ragged and palsied vagrants stroke crack pipes atop benches reading “The Greatest City in America.” The dainty, dapper man serving me coffee from an antique tray couldn’t be further away from Baltimore.
His recent San Francisco appearance has been moved from the Fillmore to the Swedish American Hall. Cross-legged in a perfectly tailored black suit, John Waters chalks it up to the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle but adds, “Don’t worry — I don’t feel like Kevin Federline or anything.” It turns out the cult director is a fervent member of Team K-Fed. “I hope he gets the kids. I love a bad boy, and he is so clueless about how to deal with the press — but at least he wasn’t out this week showing his crotch.” Instead of dwelling on the deeper cultural nuances of Britney Spears, I’m just trying to figure out how this guy has time to keep up with the tabloids.
You see, John Waters — sultan of sleaze, underbelly fetishist, iconic if ironic impresario — has been very, very busy.
First, there’s the remake of the remake of Hairspray. The original 1988 film featured Debbie Harry, Sonny Bono, Divine, and Jerry Stiller — and launched the career of Ricki Lake. After easily reaching cult status, its Broadway musical version swept the Tonys — and now Waters is back with a third cast and a fresh eye: “Each time it has to be reinvented to work — otherwise why go there?” The new movie, which stars Michelle Pfeiffer, Queen Latifah, and Christopher Walken, comes out next summer and features John Travolta in the roll of Edna Turnblad. “Sitting there in the trailer with John Travolta getting into drag, it’s not so much different than Divine getting into drag — it’s a looong process.”
Though this latest version of Hairspray is directed by Adam Shankman, it has the full support of its creator. Some might say full frontal support — Waters shows his unwavering approval in the film’s first 30 seconds through a cameo as a flasher.
Meanwhile, stage director Mark Brokaw, Daily Show writer David Javerbaum, and Fountains of Wayne member Adam Schlesinger have teamed up with the Hairspray the Musical team to turn Cry-Baby, Waters’s 1990 movie musical, into another Broadway show. The film — starring Johnny Depp and Amy Locane — is the story of two ’50s teenagers tangled up in a star-crossed-lovers cliché. The menagerie of raunch and camp is fleshed out with some vulgar rockabilly (parts of the soundtrack are produced by Dave Alvin), tight clothes, and quite possibly the most unbelievable supporting cast of all time. “I cast it like I was having an insane dinner party with people from very different worlds,” Waters says. You can bet that Iggy Pop, Patricia Hearst, Willem Dafoe, Traci Lords, and even Polly Bergen had some wild times on set.
Waters recently collaborated with Jeff Garlin to adapt his infamously inflammatory monologue, This Filthy World, for the screen. The lewdly eccentric music compilation A John Waters Christmas (New Line) is in stores now, and A Date with John Waters (New Line), a smutty Valentine’s Day comp, will hit the shelves in early February. And just in case you still suspect the man of slacking off, he has also finished writing the screenplay for his next film — a children’s movie. Yeah, as in for children.

Fri/22, 7 p.m. Hairspray;
8:50 p.m. Cry-Baby
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