Saturday, 16 April 2011

Divine Trash

Steve Yeager's 1998 portrait of John Waters is required viewing for fans of Baltimore's most famous bad boy. The film spans Water's early life, his interest in putting on puppet shows for the kids of the neighbourhood, his love of Cinema which included Blood Feast and Bergman, his early film experiments inspired by Andy Warhol and Kenneth Anger 1, his first features, Mondo Trasho and Multiple Maniacs and the centrepiece of the documentary, filming Pink Flamingos, his breakthrough movie. Yeager's own footage which he shot during the making of Pink Flamingos is one of the major coups of the documentary. As well as lots of footage from the set (which shows Waters as a serious and demanding film maker), there's clips from rare films like Waters short The Diane Linklater Story and the still hard-to-see Mondo Trasho and Multiple Maniacs (the scene where Divine enjoys some rectal stimulation with rosary beads is intercut with a clearly disgusted Maryland censor!), plus the abandoned film Dorothy, The Kansas City Pot Head.

John Waters, filming Pink Flamingos, 1972
Yeager's roll call of Waters' family, friends and fans is impressive - we hear from Waters charming, slightly bemused but proud parents, his brother Steve, Divine along with the rest of Waters' repertory cast from his early films (seen in contemporary interviews, and archival footage) and a host of film maker admirers - Steve Buscemi, Jim Jarmusch, Herschell Gordon Lewis, Paul Morrisey, Jonas Mekas, the Kuchar Brother George and Mike, Ken Jacobs, Hal Hartley, and David O Russell. Of course Waters himself makes for great company and he's on fine form here, reeling off great stories from those heady days and paying an affectionate tribute to the late Divine whom he refers to as a dear friend, my star and my Elizabeth Taylor...

Steve Yeager interviews Divine in full regalia, 1972
But the final triumph of Divine Trash is that it concentrates on those early trailblazing days and mercifully spares us the later Waters' misfires which a wider career retrospective would have netted. Arguably Waters last great film was Polyester which was followed by a string of bland, and uninteresting films, but as Divine Trash makes clear, it was this vital early era that paved the way for a new generation of film makers who would make their own entry into the bad taste sweepstakes.

John Waters in 1998... "If I discovered the cure for cancer tomorrow, Pink Flamingos would still be ahead of that in my obituary"

Divine Trash was issued on DVD in 2000 courtesy of Fox Lorbor. Unfortunately, the DVD is now long OOP but can still be picked up cheaply so its worth seeking out. Picture quality is fine for the contemporary interviews, and is understandably more scrappier for the older footage, but overall its a very worthwhile disc. Highly recommended.

1. A title card at the end of the movie reveals that Kenneth Anger and Russ Meyer both declined to be interviewed for the film. Whatever about Meyer's refusal, it's interesting to speculate on Anger's no show - perhaps it was due to the presence of one of the interviewees, author Bill Landis whom Anger put a curse as a response to Landis' 1995 book Anger: The Unauthorized Biography of Kenneth Anger.


  1. I love John Waters - and this is definitely a must see for me. But I do have to ask - no love for anything after Polyester? Cry Baby, Hairspray, or Serial Mom?

  2. I do like Polyester and I would consider this the last of Waters' great run of films but Hairspray, Cry-Baby and the likes I never really dug. I appreciate that Waters was not simply repeating those early films (and in fairness they could only have been made in the early 70's) but for me the later stuff lacks the sheer punk attitude of Multiple Maniacs, Pink Flamingos, Female Troube...