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John Waters doesn't push the envelope - he shreds it.
Published Oct. 2, 2014

Filth has been John Waters' bread and butter for 50 years now, long enough for statutes of limitations to run out and censors to die.

From his dog poo breakthrough in Pink Flamingos to his bestselling hitchhike chronicle Carsick, Waters is still flipping one-finger salutes to conformity, dripping with loving spite, gay esprit and sprinkles of truth.

Pointing a finger at you, LGBT whoever, trying to pass in society like Susan Kohner in Imitation of Life.

"Some gay people try to be so much like straight people that sometimes I have to throw a monkey in the wrench," Waters, 68, said, warping a metaphor by phone from San Francisco, and just warming up.

"I'm for coming in now. We have enough gay people. I think you should audition now, in front of a panel of experienced perverts, then get a gay I.D."

Laughter on the line. Waters waits, then understates: "I'm not gaily correct."

Audiences wouldn't have it any other way. Waters knows no other way. As the original equal opportunity offender, Waters never met a hypocrite he didn't spike, or a boundary that couldn't be obliterated. On occasion, he even makes GLAAD unhappy.

"I'm tired of gay people having to be good," Waters said. "You can't say this and you can't say that, oh, come on. Gay people without a sense of humor is torture.

"Let's keep a little of our outlaw culture, a little of our biting wit. Isn't that what we're famous for?"

Waters is, certainly. One outlet is This Filthy World: Filthier and Dirtier, a one-man show of spoken word witherings, updated since a videotaped 2006 concert.

A portion of the show is devoted to Carsick, inspired by hitchhiking from his hometown Baltimore to his San Francisco apartment. The book is divided into three sections; Waters' best fantasies of what might happen, his worst possibilities, and the truth. It's a sleazy, queasy read capped by better nature, like vomit with a cherry on top.

"Hitchhiking is always dangerous, always sexual, in the cliches," Waters said. "The reality is that everyone was great. There was little sex, no drama, no scariness.

"Scarier than that is never leaving your house, never trying anything to challenge you. That is much scarier than hitchhiking."

Waters can't always depend upon the kindness of strangers with his travel schedule, with two dozen speaking engagements before Christmas, and a recent Lincoln Center tribute to his half-century film career.

"I'm never going to get anything better than that, even after I'm dead," he said.

A decade has passed since Waters' last feature, A Dirty Shame.

"You know what? I might have made my last movie," he said. "My last two books were best sellers; my movie wasn't."

If Waters does make another movie, it'll be disturbing, just the way he likes them:

"I never understand when I hear people say: (in a yokel voice) 'I just want to see a movie that makes me feel good.'

"I don't want to feel good. I don't expect the motion picture industry to be a tranquilizer to me. I want a feel-bad French movie, Blue is the Warmest Color and its hardcore sex - that added a new level to porn - anything with Isabelle Huppert in it.

"That's entertainment."

Contact Steve Persall at or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

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High Waters' marks

1964: Waters debuts with Hag in a Black Leather Jacket, a short film about interracial marriage made for $30.

1969: Waters' first feature, Mondo Trasho, starring his transvestite muse Divine (nee Harry Milstead).

1972: Pink Flamingos shocks the nation with chicken kink and dog excrement.

1981: Polyester, starring '50s screen fave Tab Hunter and the scratch-and-sniff gimmick Odorama. Waters' first R-rated film.

1988: Waters gets a PG rating for Hairspray, a '60s integration satire later turned Broadway musical, then remade for the screen with John Travolta in 2007.

1990: Cry-Baby provides newcomer Johnny Depp with his first starring role.

2004: Waters' final movie to date, A Dirty Shame, stars Tracey Ullman as a sex addict.

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This Filthy World: Filthier & Dirtier

John Waters appears at the 25th annual Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Tampa Theatre, 711 Franklin St. Tickets are $33-$63, available at and the box office.

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