John Waters built his reputation on everything your parents warned you about.
Sex, violence, drugs, dog poop — there aren't boundaries in most of his films or writings, notorious works earning him the sobriquets Pope of Trash and King of Sleaze.
Waters, 64, wears those titles like shiny medals of dishonor. He's capable of saying anything, as when our telephone conversation turned to his underground classics Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble — both starring the late drag queen Divine, whom Waters points out bore a close resemblance to the recent mug shot of a grinning mass murder suspect in Tucson.
If that offends, don't attempt to sit through Waters' appearance tonight at the University of South Florida in Tampa. He'll speak on his favorite topic: This Filthy World, a gleeful confessional of obsession with pop culture's underbelly. Over the past decade Waters spoke twice locally on that subject, but the world keeps giving him new material.
"There might be a few old jokes left in there, but I'm always updating it," Waters said before settling in for a few questions:
. What's filthy about our world?
I use that term with a little bit of irony because to me "filth" is the only way to describe something that has lost its edge. When I was young they called it "camp." Nobody would dare say that word anymore, outside of a 90-year-old man in an antique shop talking about Rita Hayworth musicals. It's a word that doesn't count anymore.
To me "filth" has more of an edge, and people aren't quite as sure how to respond to that word. But it means the same thing.
. Has the world caught up to your filthy perspective?
I don't consider myself an outsider anymore. That's the final irony in my career. I'll be 65 in April, and I'll officially be old. At the same time my audience keeps getting younger and younger. To me that's the ultimate compliment. My movies are still out there; you can't get rid of them, like cancer, as my father would say.
. Was there ever a movie that you felt went too far?
There are plenty of them: bad romantic comedies, those big, broad, supposedly bad-taste, big-budget Hollywood movies. I loved The Hangover, but I'm talking about the ones that try too hard. Bad taste is not enough; it never was. I tried to use bad taste as wit.
I never just tried to be shocking. Pink Flamingos was in a time when porno had just become legal. The movie was reacting to the times, the death of exploitation movies. The day pornography became legal, exploitation films ended and Hollywood started making semipornographic movies. Cecil B. DeMented was one big joke about that whole idea.
. So Hollywood invaded your filthy turf?
If there was a kid somewhere today making the next Pink Flamingos, the next outrageous movie that's going to horrify his peers in a witty way, Universal and MGM would be looking for that film the same way they looked for the next Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity: Find a movie somewhere that cost $20,000, put $200,000 into it to beef it up, shoot a new ending and get some music. Then give (the filmmaker) a million dollars while (the studio) makes $70 million.
That's capitalism. They aren't ripping off those people. There has never been a better time for someone to make his first film. Nowadays anybody can make a movie on your cell phone and have it premiere at Cannes.
Steve Persall can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at tampabay.com/blogs/movies.