The blog of author Dennis Cooper

John Waters Day *

* (rerun)


‘John Waters is a filmmaker, author and visual artist. He was born April 22, 1946 in Baltimore, Maryland. He is currently based in Baltimore and New York. John Waters became famous as “the pope of trash” (William Burroughs) and the “king of suburban exploitation” Waters’ work shows “gleeful irreverence and appreciation of the American grotesque.” His films, photos and writings make the transition from underground to mainstream without losing their aesthetic integrity. Among his best known films: Mondo Trasho, Multiple Maniacs, Pink Flamingos, Hairspray, Divine, Serial Mom, Pecker, and Cecil B. Demented. Author of Shock Value; Crackpot (recently reissued); Trash Trio; Director’s Cut; Art: A Sex Book.

‘John Waters is the son of Patricia Ann (née Whitaker) and John Samuel Waters. His father was a manufacturer of fire-protection equipment. John Waters grew up in Lutherville, Maryland, a suburb of Baltimore. At the age of seven, Jeff was inspired by the movie Lili, the movie grew his love for puppets. As a child John Waters would stage violent versions of Punch and Judy for children’s birthday parties. He was a child obsessed with violence.

‘As a teenage boy he received his first 8mm film camera from his grandmother. John Waters was also inspired by the B-Movie films shown at a local drive-in, which Waters watched through binoculars. John and his friends were anti mainstream culture, during the 1960’s him and his friends began shooting films in Baltimore. These films were screened to small audiences in the Baltimore area. John Waters went to Calvert Hall College High School in Towson, Baltimore but later graduated from Boys’ Latin School of Maryland.

‘John Waters first short film was Hag in a Black Leather Jacket the film was shown only once in a coffee shop in Baltimore, although in later years he has included it in his traveling photography exhibit. John Waters enrolled at New York University (NYU) but later left the academy after Waters and some friends were caught smoking marijuana on the grounds of NYU. Waters returned to Baltimore, where he completed his next two short films Roman Candles and Eat Your Makeup.

‘John Waters takes inspiration from all areas in the spectrum from “low” to “high” art. He has been influenced by such figures as: Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Herschell Gordon Lewis, Federico Fellini, and Ingmar Bergman. John Waters first film, Hag in a Black Leather Jacket (1964) starred John’s childhood friend and collaborator Mary Vivian Pearce. According to John Waters, the film is about a white woman and a black man’s wedding on the roof of John’s parents home. The man woos the lady by carrying her around in a trash can and chooses a Ku Klux Klansman to perform the wedding ceremony. John Waters first success came when Pink Flamingos (1972) debut in 1973. The movie is infamous for leading actor and long time companion of John Waters, Divine, and his performance which includes an unforgettable dog poop eating scene.

“I believe life is nothing if you’re not obsessed. I only think terrible thoughts, I do not live them. Thank God I am not my films. If audiences can laugh at my twisted ideas, what’s the great harm? I had a goal in life — I wanted to make the trashiest motion pictures in cinema history. Thanks so much for allowing me to get away with it.”‘ — The European Graduate School





Welcome to Dreamland
John Waters @ Marianne Boesky Gallery
Podcast: John Waters interviewed @ Bat Segundo Show
Where to send John Waters fan mail
John Waters interviewed by DC
‘The Grave John Waters: Still Laughing’
The John Waters Baltimore Tour
John Waters’ books
John Waters’ favorite films of 2012
John Waters interviewed by Drew Daniels
‘John Waters Picked up Hitchhiking’
‘John Waters’ Guide to Hampden’
John Waters interviewed by Gary Indiana



Werner Herzog discovers John Waters is Gay

Coming Out Is So Square

John Waters reads from ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’

The Wizard of Oz – commentary by John Waters

John Waters Misses Perverts

John Waters on “Free Speech”



‘I never call what I do art. I think that’s up for you to tell me. When people say to me, ‘I’m an artist,’ I think, ‘Yeah, I’ll be the judge of that. Let’s see your work.’ History will be the judge of it. However, I’m very serious about my career and everything I do, but I make fun. Hopefully in a joyous way. I love the seriousness and elitism of the art world. I think art for the people is a terrible idea. I did a piece that said ‘Contemporary Art Hates You’ [… And Your Family Too, 2009]. And it does. If you have ‘contempt before investigation’, which most people do, then it does hate you and you are stupid. I like that idea: you are stupid, because you won’t think to look in a different way. Seeing and looking are different. Real life is seeing and art is looking. If you’re successful, it’s a magic trick: you take one thing, and you put it in here, and it changes in one second, and then you can never look at that thing again the same way. That is what art is to me. If I go to galleries in New York, London or wherever, on the way home you can name an artist for every single thing you see, if you’re with somebody that knows art. If you don’t go to galleries as much, it’s not as easy, but art trains you to see. So, if you’re open for that, then art is the greatest magic trick of all. If not, you’re stupid.’ — John Waters



Divine Mini-Concert

‘I’m So Beautiful’

‘You Think You’re a Man’

‘Jungle Jezebel’

‘Walk Like a Man’

‘Shoot Your Shot’


John Waters on Denton Welch
from ‘Role Models’


Maybe there is no better novel in the world than Denton Welch’s In Youth Is Pleasure. Just holding it in my hands, so precious, so beyond gay, so deliciously subversive, is enough to make illiteracy a worse social crime than hunger. Published in the UK in 1945, ten years after the terrible accident in which the author, riding his bicycle, was hit by a car and permanently injured, this amazing (and thinly disguised) autobiographical novel is the graceful and astonishingly erotic tale of Orville Pym, a creative child who has lost his mother to some mysterious disease and “has not yet learned to bear the strain of feeling unsafe with another person.” Hating “other people” who imagined “that they understood his mind because he was a boy,” our elegant but damaged little hero, “longing for escape, freedom, loneliness and adventure,” wanders around the grounds of a hotel where he has been taken by his father to vacation with his older brothers.

Have the secret yearnings of childhood sexuality and the wild excitement of the first stirrings of perversity ever been so eloquently described as in this novel? When Orville discovers an old book on physical culture and begins frantically working out to improve his body, he worries that he isn’t sweating enough. Determined, he locks himself in the small bottom drawer of a dressing chest and, immediately “overcome with the horror of being a prisoner,” innocently fantasizes that he is in a dungeon he remembers from one of his aunt’s mid-Victorian novels. Orville instinctively welcomes the guilt of these thrilling, vaguely sexual yearnings, but he is just a child-how can he yet understand the friendly feel of future fetishes? He knows he is not like other boys, but the wonders of deviancy far outweigh any desire to fit in with his peers.

Orville yearns to be butch. Endlessly experimenting with fashion and different looks, he finally paints the toes and heels of his white gym shoes black, hoping to appear “daring and vulgar.” While he leaves his hair “rough” and appears in his new, supposedly masculine outfit, his brother humors him by saying, “My God you look tough.” But little Orville can’t help his feminine side. He has always been obsessed with broken bits of china he collects at thrift shops (“No one ever wrote more beautifully about chipped tea services,” a writer for The New York Times would comment decades after the novel was written). When Orville felt these girly items “pressing gently against his side” as he carried them in his pocket, “it gave him a sudden and peculiar pleasure, a feeling of protection in an enemy world.”

It isn’t easy being a creative child. As happy as Orville is when he’s alone, he still feels the urge to create his own drama. When he sneaks into an abandoned ballroom at the hotel and finds himself onstage (my parents actually built me my own little stage at the top of the stairs in our first house, where I performed endless indulgent “shows” for my very tolerant Aunt Rachel whenever she visited), our little master of masochism uncovers a musical instrument enclosed in a case with a broken strap. Suddenly inspired, Orville runs to the musician’s cloakroom and locks himself in, strips off his clothes, and starts whipping himself with the strap. In his furtive imagination, he was “Henry II, doing penance, at Beckett’s tomb . . . a convict tied to a tree in Tasmania. A galley slave, a Christian martyr, a noble hermit alive in the desert.” This kid knew how to play. God, I wished he had lived in my neighborhood. We could have really put on a show on my little stage!



13 of John Waters’ 17 films

Mondo Trasho (1969)
‘After an introductory sequence during which chickens are beheaded on a chopping block, the main action begins. Platinum blond bombshell Mary Vivian Pearce begins her day by riding the bus and reading Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon. Bombshell is later seduced by Danny Mills, a hippie degenerate “shrimper” (foot fetishist), who starts molesting her feet while she fantasizes about being Cinderella. She is then hit by a car driven by Divine, a portly blonde who was trying to pick up an attractive hitchhiker whom she imagines naked. Divine places her in the car and drives distractedly around Baltimore experiencing bizarre situations, such as repeated visits by the Mother Mary (Margie Skidmore) – during which Divine exclaims, “Oh Mary … teach me to be Divine”. Divine finally takes the unconscious Bombshell to Dr. Coathanger (David Lochary), who amputates her feet and replaces them with bird-like monster feet which she can tap together to transport herself around Baltimore.’ — Wiki




The Diane Linkletter Story (1970)
‘A loose, hypothetical reenactment of the final moments of radio and tv personality Art Linkletter’s daughter, made just days after the actual event. Two parents (David Lochary and Mary Vivian Pearce) wait for their daughter Diane (Divine) to come home, and discuss what kind of trouble she could’ve gotten herself into. Once she arrives, they fight, and then Diane jumps out the window and kills herself. Pearce and Lochary are pretty funny as the concerned parents, but Divine is surprisingly bland as the hippie daughter. It’s enjoyable enough, but certainly not great. There’s really just not much to it.’ — letterboxd

The entire film


Multiple Maniacs (1970)
‘Multiple Maniacs includes one of my favorite Waters’ scenes. Divine, the leader of a renegade band of freaks, is visited by the Infant of Prague after being raped. She is led to a church where Mink Stole gives her a rosary-job – bringing her to orgasm right in the church pew! There’s also the Cavalcade of Perversions, the infamous and inexplicable rape of Divine by Lobstora, and a re-enactment of the stations of the cross including a pig-out on Wonder bread and canned tuna. Thank you, Jesus! Thank you! John Waters: “I made this film, which glorified violence, at the peak of the hippie love generation. But hippies liked it. Part of its success was to offend my target audience in a humorous way. Of course, now that sounds much more calculated than I was.”‘ — Dreamland




John Waters On “Multiple Maniacs”


Pink Flamingos (1972)
‘For the few who haven’t memorized every nuance of this seminal camp work, Pink Flamingos follows the adventures of Babs Johnson (Divine), a fat, style-obsessed criminal who lives in a trailer with her mentally ill mother Edie (Edith Massey), her delinquent son Crackers (Danny Mills), and her traveling companion Cotton (Mary Vivian Pearce). Their little dream life of shoplifting, egg-sucking, and chicken-fucking is threatened when an eccentric couple, Raymond and Connie Marble (David Lochary and Mink Stole), “two jealous perverts” according to the script, try to seize Dawn’s title of “filthiest person alive” by sending her a turd in the mail and burning down her trailer. The Marbles kidnap hitchhiking women, have them impregnated by their servant Channing (Channing Wilroy), and then sell the babies to lesbian couples. As Raymond explains, they use the dykes’ money to finance their porno shops and “a network of dealers selling heroin in the inner-city elementary schools.”‘ — Bright Lights Journal





Female Trouble (1974)
‘Made a year before I was born, I didn’t actually see Female Trouble until 1988. I was 13-years-old. Browsing the shelves of the local video store, I was drawn to the video because its cover art announced “Warning: This movie is gross”. Accompanying this “warning” on the video box was a caricatured drawing of Female Trouble‘s two stars, Divine and Edith Massey. While watching the film later that day, I discovered that both Divine and Edith Massey were every bit the grotesque caricature suggested by the video’s cover design. How I managed to sneak the R-rated film out of the video store, I’ll never comprehend. More importantly, the impact the film had on me during this very pubescent time in my life is even harder to comprehend, because it changed the way I consumed film from that moment on. I remember watching the film with a mixture of horror and morbid fascination: never before had I encountered such a freakishly queer ensemble of characters and situations on screen. Upon viewing Female Trouble at such a young age, I could sense some weird awakening where all of a sudden it felt as if someone had flicked the queer switch in my head.’ — Daniel Cunningham





Desperate Living (1977)
‘Everyone in Desperate Living‘s Mortville has some horrible secret to hide. The mentally unstable Peggy Gravel (Mink Stole, in a superb display of overacting) and her 300-pound-plus maid Grizelda must take it on the lam after Grizelda smothers Peggy’s husband under her elephantine buttocks. They find themselves in Mortville, a shanty fiefdom ruled by the grotesque Queen Carlotta (the incomparable Edith Massey). The evil queen delights in tormenting her subjects, but Peggy and Grizelda soon team up with a pair of lesbian outcasts, and a rebellion is in the air. Notable for the absence of Waters regular Divine, this movie pushes the rest of the cast to their over-the-top best. Nasty, shabby, gross, and hilarious, this is John Waters at his best.’ — collaged




Polyester (1981)
‘Ordinarily, Mr. Waters is not everyone’s cup of tea – but Polyester, which opens today at the National and other theaters, is not Mr. Waters’ ordinary movie. It’s a very funny one, with a hip, stylized humor that extends beyond the usual limitations of his outlook. This time, the comic vision is so controlled and steady that Mr. Waters need not rely so heavily on the grotesque touches that make his other films such perennial favorites on the weekend Midnight Movie circuit. Here’s one that can just as well be shown in the daytime.’ — Janet Maslin, NYT




Hairspray (1988)
‘Set in Baltimore circa 1962, HAIRSPRAY joyously details the last days of 50s-era American naivete, as the country moves from postwar complacency to massive social upheaval. Cult filmmaker John Waters enters the mainstream with surprisingly little fuss. John Waters finally hits his commercial stride in this film, parlaying his keen social observation and great compassion for society’s outsiders into a colorful and engaging comedy full of dancing, music and heartfelt nostalgia. Unfortunately, what should have been a celebration turned into sadness when Waters’s longtime friend and collaborator Divine, who was poised on the edge of stardom, died of a heart attack a mere two weeks after HAIRSPRAY opened nationwide.’ — TV Guide




Cry-Baby (1990)
‘Thanks to the success of Hairspray, John Waters was a hot property for the first time in his career. Everyone wanted to make his next movie, but it was Universal Studios’ Imagine Entertainment who ponied up the 12 million dollars it took to create this over-the-top movie musical. The cast of Cry Baby is absolutely outrageous. No one will ever top this bizarre combination of stars, punks and legends. Featuring former teenage porn star Traci Lords, punk progenitor Iggy Pop, a very large Ricki Lake, a rough and raunchy Susan Tyrell, prim and proper Polly Bergen, and everyone’s favorite Kim McGuire – better know to Dreamland Fans as HATCHETFACE! Those are just the major roles. The supporting cast boggles the mind. Patty Hearst, David Nelson, Mink Stole, Troy Donohue, Joey Heatherton, Joe Dallesandro and Willem Dafoe as a perverse prison guard. “Stunt casting is used a a negative term, but with Cry-Baby I certainly helped invent it. I had David Nelson married to Patty Hearst, with Traci Lords as their daughter,” said John. Unfortunately this was the first movie he made after the passing of Divine, and she is sorely missed in this misfit cast.’ — Dreamland


John Waters Behind the Scenes of Cry Baby


Serial Mom (1994)
‘There was one person who came up to me at the end of one shooting day. Right when they said ‘Wrap,’ he was standing right there – which is always kind of scary. And he said, ‘You’re not going to believe this, but listen to me for a minute. My mother is a serial mom, she killed my father and my brother.’ He started giving me specifics, details, and I remembered the case. It was in Baltimore, eleven years ago. I remember the names and everything. And he said, ‘Would you sign a “Serial Mom” banner to my brother and myself and put her name on it?’ I think he was telling the truth, but I don’t know. If not, he was incredibly ahead in his acting. It really seemed – and while he was telling me this, I could see one of the crew looking at us, not knowing what to do and wondering if he should get this guy away from me. But I was kind of interested. They couldn’t believe it. Their eyes were like – ‘Oh no!’’ — John Waters




John Waters introduces Serial Mom | BFI


Pecker (1998)
‘If you didn’t see the movie when it came out back in 1998, the film follows 18-year-old amateur photographer Pecker (Edward Furlong) (so named because he pecks at his food, also because it’s funny) on a rags-to-riches adventure in the world of high art. Pecker is just a blue-collar kid in Baltimore, with a mom who runs a thrift shop where she offers fashion advice to the homeless, a sister (Martha Plimpton) who recruits go-go boys to dance at the local Fudge Palace, and a grandmother, Memama (Jean Schertler), who is the “pit beef” queen of Baltimore when not conducting prayer meetings with her talking statue of Mary. Pecker’s snapshots of family, friends, and laundromat-owning girlfriend (Christina Ricci) catch the eye of hip Manhattan art dealer Rorey Wheeler (Lili Taylor) who becomes fascinated with Pecker’s photos and offers him a big exhibition in the offing, followed by overnight fame as the young man becomes the new darling of New York. Soon Pecker discovers that fame has its price.’ — IFC





Cecil B. Demented (2000)
‘CECIL B. DEMENTED is a celebration of anarchy, rampant immorality and anti-Christian bigotry imbued with a self-righteous philosophy favoring total artistic freedom. Although it shouldn’t be taken too seriously, the self-righteousness of this movie comes through loud and clear. The excesses of Hollywood and the vacuity of many mainstream movies, including some family movies, are certainly ripe for some good satire, but CECIL B. DEMENTED takes it to the nth degree while pushing a nihilistic pagan worldview. Not only that, but the movie’s unrelenting sexual crudities, foul language and homosexual attacks on Christianity and traditional family values are absolutely abhorrent, if not dangerous to the minds of everyone.’ — Christian Movie Review





A Dirty Shame (2004)
‘Imagine Russ Meyer remaking “Night of the Living Dead” with an everything goes all out orgy at the end and ending it all with one gigantic cumshot. Well, if you can imagine that, you’re probably on medication, but for the rest of us, the closest thing is John Waters taking the piss out of “Night of the Living Dead” and ending it all with everyone headbutting each other into orgasm just before everyone is covered in one gigantic cumshot, aka “A Dirty Shame”. “A Dirty Shame” is John Waters resurrected. While “Hairspray”, “Crybaby” and “Serial Mom” are great films, they lack the radical hysterical uproar against decency. One thing is making fun at suburbia by having fun not saying the F-word (or the brown word), another thing is having a housewife forcing her husband to “discover the oyster” at 9 am in their car in the middle of their neighbourhood. One thing is having a good soundtrack, another is playing an oldie where they sing “My pussy is wet and sour.” Not since “Polyester” has Waters been so fun to watch. Honestly, who else than Waters would have cameo David Hasselhoff to do nothing but take a shit? It will shock you, it will teach you new ways of play spin the bottle and it will make you feel normal once again.’ — DVD Beaver






p.s. Hey. I’m away in Marseilles hosting screenings of Zac’s and my films at Manifesta 13. If you’re there by some miracle, come to Videodrome 2 tonight at 8:30 pm and see LIKE CATTLE TOWARDS GLOW with us in person. Otherwise, I thought I would rerun this fun and glory-guaranteed post from the early days of this latest incarnation of the blog. Enjoy it as fully as you want/can please. The blog will see you with another rerun on Monday, and I’ll see you live with a newbie on Tuesday.


  1. John Waters began as a filmmaker but quickly evolved into a sensibility. By that I mean anytime anything important/ interesting / weird happens in the world I want to hear John Waters’ take on it — the same way I love to hear Fran Lebowitz’s take on all and sundry. Fpr some strange reason John Waters and I have yet to meet. We’ve been in the same immediate vicinity on many occasions over the years. The cloest was about 8 years ago at “Outfest” here in L.A. But alas I couldn’t find him in the opening night mob.I created a special feature on the “Cry Baby” DVD where I talk about it in the cotext of rock and roll movies and do a compare/contrast.

    So glad to hear he admires Denton Welch, though I’m not surprised. He probably first heard about him from Burroughs. I gave a copy of “In Youth is Pleasure” to Jack Smith who adored it.

    Waters’ “Passion roject” has long been a film adaptation of “A Confederacy of Dunces.” That would be great but I think he should make “The John Waters Story” starring Steve Buescemi as hm.

    My sale of Books, DVDs and CDs is still on. e-mail me!

  2. Okay, I just watched LIKE CATTLE TOWARDS GLOW and I’m stunned. It’s so beautifully cathartic and I love all the references (adaptations?) to/ of UGLY MAN. I adore the second short film (adaptation of your short story The Worst?) I loved the story, too, but it’s bizarre that the film adaptation is also perfect (I’m often skeptical of cinematic adaptations of my favourite books.) But wow! Now I can’t imagine any other cinematic adaptation for The Worst. I also love the opening short film obviously. And thank you for introducing me to the stunning Nicolas Hau – I have now followed him on Instagram; I hope this doesn’t sound like I’m objectifying him… it’s interesting, I was struck by his looks and especially his dead expression, and I kept imagining him with dark hair. According to his Instagram pictures, he mostly goes with dark hair. And the last one, which to me seems like a really brave adaptation of one of my other favourite stories Oliver Twink. Another random thing that blew my mind about LCTG is when I was living in Tehran, a close friend of mine and I were obsessed with Ma Mère, so we had sessions where we just sat in a darkened room and watched Ma Mère on repeat… it just makes me happy that Christophe Honoré was the producer of LCTG too. I don’t think I ever got to watch anything else by him, but now I think I should.

    Hope Marseilles is treating you VERY well.

  3. Hope you and Zac are having a fine weekend in Marseilles. Good to see the Waters day again, probably time I revisited some of the old favorites. So sad to see Ed Furlong back in the day, before all the problems. I enjoyed Pecker, though I was on a rather strange date when I saw it, so my memories of the movie are all colored by the date, haha.

    Just saw this, which is nicely done despite some moments of sentimentality:

    The puppets are definitely worth seeing.


  4. Here’s wishing you guys all the best for Marseilles! Lovely to see this JW cavalcade again too.

    The big news here is that yesterday saw the mighty Leeds United back in the Premier League! We were defeated by the champions Liverpool 4-3 but we gave them a right good scare with our intense psychedelic passing game. LUFC manager Marcelo Bielsa has now appeared on a giant mural on the city walls.

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