John Waters: 'I've been doing this for 50 years so it's really thrilling to see that I haven't had to change that much'
- Katherine McLaughlin
- 20 August 2019
We catch up with the legendary cult filmmaker as he receives a lifetime achievement award at Switzerland's Locarno Film Festival
'I'm writing a novel right now called Liarmouth, about a woman who steals suitcases in airports,' reveals legendary cult filmmaker and troublemaker John Waters as we sit at the Hotel Belvedere in Locarno, Switzerland. 'I can't tell you any more than that.' Waters is at the 72nd Locarno Film Festival to receive the honour of a lifetime achievement award of which he says, 'It's exciting! Are you kidding? With no irony, you know. Maybe if you outlive your critics you get honours. I've been doing this for 50 years so it's really thrilling to see that I haven't had to change that much.'
The festival is showing retrospective screenings of Polyester in Odorama, and his outrageous guerrilla movies like Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble. It's been 15 years since Waters made an original feature film. His last, in 2004, A Dirty Shame was a filthy comedy inspired by the fact that head trauma can in very rare cases result in sex addiction and starred Tracey Ullman and Johnny Knoxville.
He's tried his hand at nearly every cultural tendril, had a healthy a career in art – 'At one of my exhibitions I put glory holes in the bathroom and called it architectural intervention … I gave it art terms!' – toured with his spoken word events and written a few books. What hasn't he tried? 'I can't sing! I have [written] in my new book, how I'm gonna be a rap star. If I could do it, I would exploit that.' Mr. Know-It-All: The Tarnished Wisdom of a Filth Elder is out in the UK in September, and it's a book that Waters describes as something of a handbook for the next generation. 'In a way it's about telling young people that you can fuck up and triumph! You just have to figure out how, which is negotiation and also learning about the business of what you're into which is incredibly important.'
He adores the youth and doesn't feel too nostalgic for the 'good old days', saying, 'I always think the future is better. I always say that people my age who say I had more fun than that, oh that just means you're an old fart and you have no influence any more. If I was young, I'd be a hacker. They're having fun on the dark web shutting down the government for the hell of it!' He cackles like an evil villain in a movie and adds, 'You have to have a look to be a memorable delinquent. The hacker doesn't really have a look yet. The problem is they don't have any fashion.'
With the film industry in flux, and streaming giants Amazon and Netflix changing the game, he says, 'I'm for all of them! Another person who can say yes when I want to make another movie, that's all I think about. Netflix, the first thing they ever produced was my spoken word show, The Filthy World, that was the first one they ever did. I'm not against it, they should have seen it coming. It's the same people who didn't see Uber coming because they were too lazy to stop it, or the hotel industry … how did they ever allow Airbnb to happen? Because they blinked! And they didn't fight it right from the beginning so they lost. Lazy lobbyists!'
As a contributor to Artforum, Waters comes up with the top 10 films of the year for the magazine. Last year his picks included Carlos López Estrada's Blindspotting and Xavier Legrand's Custody. He loves feel-bad art movies and Locarno has its finger on the pulse when it comes to this genre, but he hasn't managed to catch anything yet. Waters isn't giving anything away when it comes to his list, but does mention documentary, Circus of Books, about the LA Porn shop, 'This nice Jewish family ran it forever, the kids didn't know and it's the whole story of their life and when the kids found out! It's pretty good and Ryan Murphy's already bought the rights to it.'
Waters is also enjoying the new batch of horror releases including Jordan Peele's body of work, explaining how he liked both Get Out and US and oh, he does mention another little film, Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood by Quentin Tarantino, saying, 'I loved it. I'm a fan of every one of his movies. I think he's great and deserves every bit of success. I think it will win Oscars for Brad and Leo.'
Mr. Know-It-All: The Tarnished Wisdom of a Filth Elder is out Thu 5 Sep via Little, Brown Book Group.