You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Locarno: John Waters on a Career Inside and Outside of Hollywood

It’s 50 years since John Waters made his first feature film, “Mondo Trasho” — a scuzzy, Divine-starring underground ride that set the tone for a career of joyously offending delicate sensibilities and expanding the boundaries of U.S. indie cinema, through such now-celebrated films as “Pink Flamingos,” “Polyester” and the original, pre-Broadway incarnation of “Hairspray.” With Locarno celebrating Waters’ films with a mini-retrospective and the Pardo d’onore Manor award for career achievement, we caught up with the 73-year-old to discuss cinematic rebellion, past and present.

Half a century ago, when you were releasing your first feature, you can’t have imagined that you’d now be getting career awards and retrospectives at a major film festivals.

I know, I love it. It’s so different, though. When I was growing up, people’s parents found my films and called the police. Now people say to me, “My parents love you, they showed me ‘Pink Flamingos.’” And I think, God, how old were you? But, well, they seem to have turned out all right.

See, you were making family films all along, and just didn’t know it.

Yes! It’s touching, sometimes, when I see a mother or father with their children that are obviously giving them big trouble, and they’re angry — and they’ve brought them to see me in a last-ditch effort to bond.

Locarno is showing your film “Cecil B. Demented” in the Piazza Grande — that’s not an obvious choice.

I usually try to pick the ones that maybe everybody hasn’t seen. I figure that most of the people that are going to come to my retrospective, even if they’re young, they’ve probably seen “Pink Flamingos” and “Female Trouble.” And look, I think the best movie I ever made was “Serial Mom,” but I like them all the same. I’m like a proud parent, it doesn’t matter to me. But sometimes you favor the ones that don’t do as well, because it’s like having a problem child.

It’s been 15 years since your last feature, “A Dirty Shame,” but you’re still so active creatively. Is filmmaking something you miss?

Well, I still deal with Hollywood all the time like I did before. And there’ve been development deals that didn’t work out: I had one to write a sequel to the musical (of “Hairspray”), and then a children’s Christmas movie called “Fruitcake” that didn’t get made. So it’s like I’m active in Hollywood and not active in Hollywood at the same time. Criterion keeps releasing these beautiful restorations of my films. But honestly, I think my books do better now. I’ve written a lot, I keep telling stories, I have a Christmas show where I do 18 cities in 21 days. So I’m busier than I’ve been in my entire life. So I have no bitter feelings about Hollywood. All my films are still pretty easy to see. Kids know who I am. I think I’ve had a great career in show business.

Still, has the support system for the kind of independent cinema you made fallen away in the industry?

Basically, in the last half of my career, they were Hollywood movies. I would pitch them and get them there, and six to eight million dollars was routine for that. Now they say, of course, you can make it for a million, but they still want movie stars. I can’t afford that. And I don’t want to go back where I started. I’m not going to be an anarchist at 75.

I know you watch and engage very actively with contemporary cinema — people eagerly await your annual top 10 every year. Do you think genuinely subversive filmmaking is still out there?

Oh, sure. Look at Gaspar Noe’s last movie, “Climax.” Or Lars von Trier — he still makes shockers. But they’re making movies in countries where governments support them and fund them. That’s wonderful. That’s socialism I’m for. I tell you, I’m shocked by Hollywood’s lack of ideas — but then, our government doesn’t even know what an art film is.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Paul Dano

    'The Batman': Paul Dano to Play The Riddler

    Paul Dano is in talks to join Robert Pattinson in Matt Reeves and Warner Bros. “The Batman,” sources tell Variety. Though the studio would not confirm the role, insiders believe the part Dano would be playing if the deal closes, is the classic comic villain The Riddler. Dano’s casting comes on the heels of Jonah [...]

  • Taylor SwiftMTV Video Music Awards, Arrivals,

    Vivendi's Third Quarter Results Up Nearly 17%, UMG Still Rising

    Vivendi saw its third quarter revenues increase by 16.7% to €3.97 billion ($4.4 billion) compared with the third quarter of 2018, once again boosted by the growth of Universal Music Group, while Canal Plus Group remained stable. For the first nine months of 2019, Vivendi’s revenues reached €11.3 billion ($12.5 billion), an increase of 14.6% [...]

  • This-is-Cristina

    FiGa Films Takes Salma Hayek-Exec Produced ‘This is Cristina’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    Leading international sales agency-production-distribution company, FiGa Films, has snagged all worldwide rights to “This is Cristina” (“Ella es Cristina”), the directorial debut of Chilean scribe Gonzalo Maza, who has co-written four of Sebastian Lelio’s films, including his Oscar-winning “A Fantastic Woman” and Berlin Festival winner “Gloria.” “It’s a pleasure to collaborate with Gonzalo, whose writing [...]

  • 180423_A24_Day_03B_0897.jpg

    How Bright Bulbs Enabled 'The Lighthouse's' Tough Black-and-White Shoot

    Early in principal photography on “The Lighthouse,” writer-director Robert Eggers asked cinematographer Jarin Blaschke, who was shooting on black-and-white film stock, if he thought they could capture the look they were going for digitally. Blaschke answered no: Digital wouldn’t let them achieve the texture they had in mind — “what we photography nerds would call [...]

  • Plaza Catedral

    Panama’s Abner Benaim Wraps ‘Plaza Catedral’ Starring Mexico’s Ilse Salas (EXCLUSIVE)

    Panama’s internationally best-known helmer, Abner Benaim (“Ruben Blades Is Not My Name”) has just completed the shoot for his second fiction feature film, “Plaza Catedral,” starring Mexico’s Ilse Salas (“The Good Girls”), and Manolo Cardona (“Narcos”). Salas plays a 42-year old grief-stricken woman, Alicia, who has severed her ties with married life and society. Her [...]

  • Mamoudou Athie

    'The Front Runner's' Mamoudou Athie Joins 'Jurassic World 3'

    Mamoudou Athie has joined the cast of the third installment in Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment’s “Jurassic World” saga. He joins Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, who will reprise their roles from the previous films, as well as Sam Neill, Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum, who starred in the original mega-hit “Jurassic Park.” Colin [...]

  • RealD Cinema China

    RealD Launches Premium Cinema Options Worldwide

    Tech company RealD built itself up as the most popular system for projecting 3D in the United States. But lately the novelty has worn off for the format. RealD hasn’t been content sit back and watch as the 3D boom flattened out, though. Now the company is entering the world marketplace with a pair of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content