The “Pope of Trash” waxes Divine

This Filthy World

on November 24, 2006 by Chad Greene
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Johns Waters walks into This Filthy World through the door of a confessional -- an altogether fitting entrance for the filmmaker the late William S. Burroughs anointed the “Pope of Trash.” And, indeed, Waters' pulpit for this documentary recorded earlier this year at the Harry De Jur Playhouse in New York is also decorated with a set of dented trashcans piled high with black bags.

The outré auteur's performance here is anything but a throwaway, however. Delivering a monologue he's been polishing for decades, Waters not only explores his “early artistic negative influences” -- including directors Kenneth Anger ( Scorpio Rising ), William Castle ( The House on Haunted Hill ) and Andy Warhol ( Chelsea Girls ) -- but also, in chronicling his own artistic evolution from 1964's Hag in a Black Leather Jacket to 2004's A Dirty Shame, offers himself up as one.

“All young people need someone bad they can look up to, and I hope I can be that for you tonight. Sort of like a filth elder, if you will,” Waters says. “When I was young, ‘art' meant ‘dirty,' and that's the way it should stay, I think.”

Purposeful perversion and transgression of taboos are such Waters trademarks that, when the MPAA slapped Hairspray with a PG, he recalls lamenting, “I will never work again.” With deviant delight, he exults in the fact that, by purchasing tickets to Polyester -- with its infamous scratch-and-sniff “Odorama” cards — people all over the world were essentially paying him to smell a fart. “Communists, capitalists -- they're all fart-smellers,” he chuckles.

Waters also celebrates his late muse, Divine. The drag persona of his boyhood friend Harris Glenn Milstead, Divine really did eat dog shit in Pink Flamingos, Waters confirms. “I'm not a sadist,” he argues with a laugh, “it was one take.

“But even Divine had limits,” he adds. “The first time he met Richard Simmons, he felt homophobic.”

It's important to note, however, that Waters is not mythologizing himself here as the late -- and undeniably great -- Alfred Hitchcock did with the tacit cooperation of admirer/interviewer Francois Truffaut in the 1967 book, Hitchcock/Truffaut. Of Eat Your Makeup, his 1967 movie about a deranged governess who abducts fashion models and forces them to, yes, eat their makeup and “model themselves to death,” Waters wryly concedes, “It sounds a lot better than it is.”

Helmer Jeff Garlin (TV's Curb Your Enthusiasm ) -- who has directed HBO specials for both Jon Stewart and Denis Leary -- stays out of Waters' way here, understanding that, as with all one-man shows, it's ultimately up to the “one man” to win the audience over. And that Waters does with a surprising sweetness that -- despite the trashcans on stage -- has little to do with decay.

“Oh, this filthy world,” Waters sighs at one point. “It's a beautiful place, isn't it?”

Distributor: Red Envelope
Cast/Screenwriter: John Waters
Director: Jeff Garlin
Producers: Michele Armour and Jeff Garlin
Genre: Comedy documentary
Rating: Not rated
Running Time: 86 min.
Release date: November 17, 2006 Baltimore, November 24 NY, December 1 SF

Tags: Red Envelope, John Waters, Jeff Garlin, Michele Armour, Comedy/Documentary
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