Make way for 'the Groom Reaper'
American cinema icon John Waters gave a lecture last Sunday in McConomy Auditorium. Waters is perhaps best known for the cult classic and '80s hit Hairspray, which has since been adapted into a Broadway musical, though he has created many other acclaimed films during his artistic career.
Born in 1946 in Baltimore, Md., Waters was always drawn to what others thought was bizarre and unnatural. He received a video camera for his 16th birthday and began exploring themes unaddressed by mainstream society through film. “It was me, my friends, and an eight-millimeter camera," he said. "We didn’t know anything about making movies at first; we had fun and learned from our mistakes.”
The films made by Waters and his friends — a colorful cast of characters who reappear in both his old and more recent films — were at first shocking to the public. Reveling in the lewd, grotesque, and frequently hushed-up and smoothed-over, Waters depicted incest, abortion, sexuality, and drugs in his early films, all of which were shot in Baltimore. One such film was Pink Flamingos, which starred drag queen Divine, a close friend of Waters'. “We took what the Chamber of Commerce was trying so hard to conceal about our town — then celebrated and amplified it,” said Waters.
Waters, who still lives and works in Baltimore, said he believes everyone can find something about where they come from to inspire them. Place of origin can play an important role in inspiring artistic work, Waters continued. Although Waters’ work has a raw, gritty quality to it that evokes elements of improvisation, he emphasizes the importance of the script. “All of my films have had scripts,” he said. “I’ve always written screenplays for my work and worked closely from them.”
Waters is an avid moviegoer, hitting the box office several nights a week. Among the directors whose work he's enjoyed lately are Gus Van Sant and Bruce LaBruce, though there are many others.
Waters will be appearing in a new series on CourtTV, Til Death Do Us Part, where he plays the role of “the Groom Reaper." On the show, Waters guides viewers through stories of doomed marriages that end with one spouse murdering the other. “It’s not so different from my real-life persona,” Waters said, speaking of the Groom Reaper. “I don’t really like weddings much,” he joked. “Maybe now people will take the hint.” Working on the series, he said, has been a good experience in that he hasn't had to worry about a budget.
Waters emphasized the importance of humor in his work — and in life in general. Describing humor as inherently political, Waters remarked that “if you can make someone laugh, maybe you can get them to listen to you. You’re not going to get anywhere by lecturing at them.”