Monday, November 12, 2007

John Waters: This Filthy World (The SOB Review)

John Waters: This Filthy World (The SOB Review) - Fitzgerald Theatre, St. Paul, MN

*** (out of ****)

I'll never forget the moment in my life when I felt truly corrupted. It occurred when I was just a 16 years old high school junior in suburban Milwaukee.

At the time, the person whom I considered my most subversive friend invited me to join him and a couple other friends to go to the Oriental Theatre, Milwaukee's landmark film house -- then home to the midnight showing of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" -- to take in the John Waters Film Festival. Since I had never before even heard of this amazing auteur, I was merely along for the ride.

Now, this was long before "Hairspray" or "Cry-Baby," let alone Waters' first real commercially viable film "Polyester."

The bill for that fateful evening, more years ago than I care to admit, was a triple feature starring Divine: "Mondo Trasho," "Pink Flamingos" and "The Diane Linkletter Story."

The first was Waters' 1969 "gutter film" that followed the dastardly exploits of a hit-and-run driver. The second flick took the level of surprise to a previously unchartered territory by catching Divine eating dog feces immediately upon defacating. Waters had the audacity to film the last one just a day after Art Linkletter's daughter committed suicide, allegedly under the influence of LSD.

In recent years, Waters has become -- strangely enough and, most likely, much to his own horror --quite the celebrated mainstream icon, particularly as Hairspray has not only become a Tony Award-winning Best Musical, but more recently came full circle as a celebrated musical film.

So, the very evening that most of Broadway -- including the Neil Simon Theatre, home to Hairspray -- went dark with the first strike in over four years, I was striking out for St. Paul's Fitzgerald Theatre to see the one and only John Waters. The Fitzgerald may have been named for the great F. Scott and be best known for hosting Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion." But Saturday night, it giddily gave way to arguably the leading eccentric director today.

Waters, replete with his trademark pencil-thin mustache, looks and sounds much younger than his 61 years. With This Filthy World, he takes his audience through a 70-minute trek through his inspired life. It isn't so much a sentimental journey as a fascinating bizarro world of random discovery right through vignette after amusing vignette about each of his films and his life alongside them.

Despite his Catholic upbringing in Baltimore, Maryland, Waters became transfixed by the odd, and longed to tell tales no one else dared to tell. His goal admittedly was not to shock, but merely to surprise. Yet, in telling his life's story, Waters clearly revels in his own willingness to be daring. He gleefully claims "Hairspray" as his most subversive film ever, pointing to middle America enjoying two men singing lovingly to each other while cheering on its interracial couple.

Insidiously clever and armed with one of the sharpest and funniest, yet off-the-wall minds, it's no wonder that John Waters -- who's apparently always been on good terms with his devoutly Catholic parents (they've even helped finance his early efforts) -- has earned a well-deserved place, not only in America's consciousness, but also its hearts. It's a testament to his staying power that his romp down memory lane is so enjoyable.

So what's next for Waters? He hints at "Last Stall To The Left" about the Minneapolis airport stall that served as temporary home to Senator Larry Craig -- he even indicated that on Sunday, he'd be given a personalized tour before flying out of town. But on Broadway, he'll soon be represented by the stage musical version of Cry-Baby, based on his 1990 flick with Johnny Depp. Don't be surprised if he'll once again be the toast of the town.

Oh, and that subversive friend I mentioned at the top?

Well, we're better friends than ever, even after all these years. He's now an esteemed professor of film at not one, but two world-renowned universities. Like Waters, he's demonstrated that anyone can become respectable, almost in spite of any idiosyncrasies.

Part of my ongoing personal lessons in life is that I'm taking a page out of both of their books and am all the better for it.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

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At 12 November, 2007, Blogger Esther said...

Awww, what a great story! I'm glad you got to see John Waters in person after enjoying his films. I've seen some the early films, "Pink Flamingos," I think, but I probably should go back and watch some of the ones I missed. I probably caught up most of his work on DVD. Unfortunately, I didn't have a great friend to introduce me to his work in high school, like you did.

I do love "Hairspray," the original movie, the musical and the movie musical. (Although I admit the stage version is my favorite of the three). Talk about the "right" way to turn a beloved movie into a great musical!

At 13 November, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Esther, I remember being so scandalized after watching "Pink Flamingos" that I turned to that friend of mine and said, "What have you taken me to?" His reply, much to my horror/excitement as a 16 year old was "What did you expect for an X-rated movie?" I was shocked when all John Waters really intended was for me to be merely surprised!

At 22 May, 2008, Blogger Dale said...

I love hearing John Waters talk about anything. I didn't see this show but have the dvd of one of his tour stops and it didn't let me down. I remember being suitably horrified by some of his films as well but it didn't scare me off. I want him to guest host my blog at some point, I bet he'd do it.

At 22 May, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Dale, I would heartily recommend seeing him live. He spins a great yarn.

But guest hosting your site? Well, why didn't I think of that?! Let me know if it happens!!



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