Droolers who want to see something even more disgusting might not be happy with his subsequent movies, but that's what you get when you establish yourself as the Orson Welles of gross humor so early in your career.
What was he gonna do, kill somebody? Maybe, if it was funny, but killing somebody for real isn't funny. Eating dog shit for real is funny. Funny is what he's about. Gross and funny. Real gross, not American Pie, Hollywood gross.
I wrote one of the first reviews of Pink Flamingos, when I was the publisher of the underground paper in Baltimore. I wasn't shocked by the movie. I knew those people. That's how they behaved, or wanted to. I even moved into the apartment where Divine was raped by a giant lobster in Multiple Maniacs.
Ever since then, right up to today, when his new movie Cecil B. Demented is on the screen at Cinema 21, each low comedy, each cinematic mess has followed a pattern of set pieces, one-liners, big hair, queers, and social conscience. He'll tell you that his movies have no message, but he's lying. There are always clear targets--racism, for instance, in Hairspray.
The idea of Cecil B. Demented really stems from a scene in Female Trouble in which Divine, bouncing on a trampoline, holding a gun, points it at the audience and asks, "Who wants to die for art?"
Recently, in an interview with John, he told me he has always had people come up to him and say, "I would kill to be in your movies." Now he has taken those two ideas and put them together in one film. Cecil B. Demented is the ringleader/director of a group of outlaw filmmakers, out to destroy mainstream movies, while making their own. They kidnap a real star, played by Melanie Griffith, who is a real star in real life, and was not playing herself. Cecil forces her to act in the film.
She resists at first, but eventually becomes one of them. Sound familiar? I asked John if Patty Hearst, who always appears in his movies, was an inspiration. He corrected me, "You mean Patricia Hearst; Patty was her captive name." I think that answered the question.
Cecil, played by Stephen Dorff, and his horny crew, called the "Sprocket Holes," shoot their film in "ultimate reality," raiding plexes and film commissions at gunpoint, shooting them up while shooting film. They kill execs who make English-language remakes of foreign films. They even shoot up the popcorn machines.
No, John and his friends weren't like that back in the days when he would use barmaids (Edith Massey) and bums in his movies. But they would jump out of a car and shoot scenes without permission. He recalled, "In Mondo Trasho, Divine crawls through pig shit and the Virgin Mary appears to him. We didn't ask the farmer. We just jumped out and started shooting in his pigpen. I guess I might have said 'wrap it and run!' as Cecil does at one point."
Cecil isn't John, though. John is much funnier. "He's a political fantasy; a criminal whose career I'd follow," John said. "He's more of a megalomaniac than I am, he lacks a sense of humor about his mission, and more importantly, his parents don't love him. Now, maybe if my dad hadn't lent me the $2,500 it cost to make Mondo Trasho I'd be in cinema jail today, who knows?"
There are some memories brought to life from his underground movie-making experience, though. When they give Griffith a horrifying makeover, she looks in the mirror and says, "Oh, I look horrible!" The crew bursts into applause. "An old tradition on our films," he says. Another touch from his old days comes when Cecil asks Griffith to set her hair on fire. She does. When John asked Mink Stole to do that in 1969, she refused. Persistence (and a good special effects person) pays off.
I wish you could see the movie through my eyes. There are so many inside jokes that only a Baltimorean could get. And only a Baltimorean who doesn't live there anymore could feel the relief of no longer living there, walking out of the movie and into Gypsy's for a double shot.
Still, and again, Waters upholds Baltimore for the bad acid trip it has always been. And, friend, you don't know the half of it. You might think he's exaggerating, and he is, but not that much. I mean, have you ever seen a guy pissing on a fire hydrant at mid-day on a busy street corner in Portland? I have, several times, in Baltimore.
Cecil B. Demented was written before Pecker (released two years ago). Waters toasted the end of irony in Pecker, and told me last month that he was "weary of it." He's the only person qualified to put an end to irony, which has run its course, pretty much. There's plenty of it in Cecil B. Demented, though. And laughs. And things to go "ewwww" over. You expected less?