At 65, John Waters has grown mature but he has decidedly not grown up nor slowed down. In his one-man show “This Filthy World” Friday night at Walker Art Center, he treated his audience to 80 minutes of jet-propelled provocation. They ate it up.
Waters, a film director, author, actor, photographer and raconteur, directed the 1988 film that inspired the Broadway hit “Hairspray,” but is best known for his infamous 1972 breakthrough, “Pink Flamingos,” a comedy of bad taste in which his star, 300-pound transvestite actor Divine, consumed dog droppings on camera. “If I discovered the cure for cancer tomorrow, that will still be in front of it in my obituary,” he said.
Waters was in Minneapolis to unveil his work as guest curator for a Walker exhibition titled “Absentee Landlord” opening Saturday. Putting together an art show isn’t all that hard, he said, likening it to a teenager decorating her bedroom. “They let me infect every part of the museum,” he said. Waters mashed the permanent collection into ironic combinations with imported artworks, piped audio of crashing, rending metal into the elevators, and sabotaged the architecture of one public restroom. Since the museum granted his every crackpot wish, Waters wondered aloud if there was anything the museum wouldn’t have allowed him to do. Perhaps he should have instituted Nudist Late Night Thursdays, he said.
Waters commented on the current entertainment scene, observing that it’s a good thing Michael Jackson never met Justin Bieber, reminisced about the eccentric citizens of his native Baltimore (“the goiter capital of America”), and saluted his cherished artistic accomplices who have all purchased adjoining gravesites. “We call it Disgraceland,” he explained.
Though he was bounced out of New York University at age 19 in what he says was the first pot bust ever on a college campus, Waters said he has no interest in today’s trendy drugs. “I’m not going to try salvia,” the psychedelic herb smoked by Disney star Miley Cyrus in an internet video. “It causes a hysterical outburst of laughing. I want to put it on the popcorn at my test screenings.”
Waters reminisced about his staunchly conservative parents’ reaction to his scandal-courting career as a cult filmmaker. His father exited one screening saying, “That was pretty funny. I hope I never have to see it again.” When he told his mother that the subject of his most recent project was sex addicts, she responded, “Oh. Maybe we’ll die first.”
While Waters’ aim has always been to tickle and titillate audiences by pushing them out of their comfort zone, he observed that everyone has limits. “Even Divine had limits. When he met Richard Simmons, he felt homophobic.” Recalling the tawdry charms of politically incorrect carnival freak shows, Waters imagined creating a tent show of modern abnormalities. “SEE the world’s skinniest model! SEE the man with no tattoos!”
Until then, there’s "Absentee Landlord," running at the Walker through March 4.