This Filthy World

Dir: Jeff Garlin, 2006. Starring: John Waters. Stand-Up Comedy.
This Filthy World
In jest, John Waters has been given many pets names from the industry, the most amusing of which are “The Duke of Dirt” “The Baron of Bad Taste,” “The Sultan of Sleaze,” and my personal favorite, “The Anal Ambassador.” However, after viewing his interviews and TV appearances over the years and this stand-up tour, you understand how wonderfully silly and semi-appropriate these titles are. But, in all seriousness, John Waters might just be one of the most open-minded, witty, and modest social commentators of our time. This is in no way exclusive to his films, which are near-subversive in their moral assault towards the mainstream. With his appearances, lectures, and stand-up, audiences are given a touching, crude and hilarious back-story to Waters and his inspirations. One which can be revolting and, despite his pet names, quite literate.

Vincent Peranio, a production designer with whom Waters works regularly, designed the stage for the event, which was held at the Harry DeJour Playhouse in New York with an audience of college students. The set consisted of a giant catholic confessional, a tree, and overflowing metal garbage cans. The backdrop provided an appropriate reflection of the director's anarchic motivations as a boy to defy the Catholic church and do everything the nuns in his school forbade him. The trash cans speak for themselves and the tree...well, the students present should have had something hopeful and refreshing to look at.

Unlike most stand-up, the bulk of which I find quite boring, John Waters is expected to hold his own on the stage with sparse cutaway shots to a bunch of young adults who, as a whole, couldn't seem to get with the program. Usually half the fun in good stand-up is the audience reaction, which was severely lacking in this one. But, that added a lot of comedy to the entire show because Waters didn't seem to care or notice; he talked to everyone in the audience as if he was talking to old friends.

He starts by referring to his boyhood idols, which were The Wicked Witch of the West, Rhoda Penmark—the evil child in The Bad Seed—and Cyril Ritchard's version of Captain Hook in the 1960 version of Peter Pan. He then starts talking about his inspirations in cinema, as well as some of his favorite literature as a child. In the film world, Waters enjoyed the work of William Castle, especially The Tingler. He then gives praise to Jonas Mekas, an avant-garde film curator and critic with very high standards who exposed many to underground film. Through Mekas Waters heard of George and Mike Kuchar, who greatly influenced his own work. Aside from the obvious use of bad taste, the Kuchars poked fun at Hollywood and society with shorts like Pussy on a Hot Tin Roof, Hold Me While I'm Naked and Sins of the Fleshapoids. He mentions Warhol as a source of inspiration and notes that during the time these directors were making films, art and pornography were viewed as one and the same—an attitude which Waters wishes was still around.

He then goes into his adolescence, which was spent with his best friends, whom most of us know as Mink Stole and Divine. They shoplifted and went around Baltimore without location permits shooting short films, many with some ballsy plots. One was Hag in a Black Leather Dress ('64), about a wedding ceremony performed by the KKK for a black man and a white woman. Another was Roman Candles ('66), originally credited as his first film and stars Divine and Mink Stole, in which 3 home movies of the group and their delinquency is shot side by side. Eat Your Make Up sparked a lot of controversy due to the fact that it has Divine as Jackie Kennedy, reenacts the Kennedy assassination and has a plot where Jackie O. goes around kidnapping models and forcing them to eat their make-up. The Diane Linkletter Story ('70) caused the same outrage because it was based on Diane Linkletter's suicide in the paper, shot in a day and in art theaters before she was laid to rest.

The rest of the act consists of references to his films, with his favorite being Female Trouble. Aside from explaining the plots and where the inspiration came from, he also talked about how difficult it was to get them into theaters, how trying the rating and censorship issues were, and consistently being found guilty in court of obscenity. He then thanks many of the people who've been kind enough to show him in a good light after working with him, including Tracy Lords. He also talks about his friendship with Divine, which was quite touching.

In between the facts and histories, Waters inserts a lot of jokes that leave some jaws dropped in the audience. These range from glory holes in libraries, references to many stars, including Michael Jackson and Jodie Foster, and so much more. My favorite of the jokes is when Waters stresses the importance of having a literate sexual partner by saying, “If you go home with someone, and they don't have books, don't f**k 'em.” Another high point is Waters talking about the fact that even someone like him has limits in terms of expression, shunning the adult baby community and the bear community with gays. Speaking of gay, he also wishes that there would have been a volunteer all-lesbian army, which he thinks could have got many jobs done right. The list goes on. The act is simply a good time had by all, whether you're a Waters fans or just someone looking for stand-up that isn't forced and dull.

Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Oct 26, 2011 12:07pm
Soylent / Amoeba Banner
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