From the early days of ‘Polyester’ to his latest project ‘Fruitcake’, John Waters has been on a mission to shock and awe movie patrons since the 1970s. Reknowned (or infamous?) for serving up steaming slices of sleazy suburbia, John Waters has gained a cult following which stretches beyond his beloved Baltimore. His films poke fun at both conservative and liberal values while creating debate about topics such as racial integration, body image, fame and sexuality.
5 – Cry Baby
‘Cry Baby’ stars Johnny Depp as Cry-Baby Walker, a “Drape” and juvenile delinquent who falls in love with Allison, an innocent, conservative “Square”. As war rages between the Squares and the Drapes, they just want to make beautiful music together. Packed with 50’s style musical numbers, the real stars of this movie are Cry-Baby’s band of loveable misfits. Pop culture buffs should note appearances by Traci Lords, Ricki Lake and Iggy Pop.
4 – Pecker
An unusually quiet film for Waters, ‘Pecker’ stars Ed Furlong as the titular hero, an amateur photographer whose snaps of down-home Baltimore life get discovered by an agent. Pecker is whisked away to New York and celebrated on the art scene, but his photographic subjects, including girlfriend Shelley (Christina Ricci) and foul-mouthed gay bar MC Tina (Martha Plimpton) object to the level of exposure and criticism they begin to receive. This has a fantastic cast full of bizarre, beautiful characters, like dotty Meemama (Jean Schertler) who speaks to the Virgin Mary.
3 – Cecil B. Demented
Melanie Griffiths stars as Honey Whitlock, an A-list film star with a reputation for demanding off-screen behaviour. Stephen Dorff plays Cecil B. Demented, a renegade film-maker so determined to have Honey star in his masterpiece, that he kidnaps her and forces her to be his leading lady. Cecil and his crew rampage around the Baltimore streets filming the movie, and Honey begins to identify with their cause. The film is (allegedly) loosely based on Patty Hearst’s kidnapping and subsequent radicalisation. Cecil’s crazed gang members have each taken on a muse from the film world to help guide their craft (including Kenneth Anger, Sam Peckinpah and Herschell Gordon Lewis), and with performances from Ricki Lake, Maggie Gyllenhall, Mink Stole and Alicia Witt, film geeks certainly get their money’s worth!
2 - Hairspray
I have only seen the original version of ‘Hairspray’, made in 1988 and starring Ricki Lake, Divine and Debbie Harry, so I can't comment on the 2007 re-make! Set in 1960’s Baltimore, it’s every teenager’s dream to dance on the Corny Collins show, the tea-time rock n’ roll TV programme. Black and white segregation is the order of the day, and it’s not just about the colour of your skin, but it’s also about the “colour” of your music. Tracy Turnblad (Lake), a die-hard “hair-hopper” gets a regular spot on the show, but at the same time is relegated to special education classes in school, where all the black teenagers are taught (to deliberately thwart their academic achievements). Tracy uses her fame to speak about her support for racial integration, and in doing so, puts lots of noses out of joint – none more so than Amber von Tussle, former queen of the airwaves and heiress to the Tilted Acres theme park fortune, and her white supremacist parents. Debbie Harry gives an unforgettable performance (with unforgettable hair) as Velma von Tussle and Michael St. Gerard who plays Link Larkin has (officially) the most attractive square jaw in the world. Despite the serious subject matter, ‘Hairspray’ keeps its spirits high throughout and the music alone makes me want to watch this film again and again!
1 – A Dirty Shame
Tracey Ullman stars as Sylvia Stickles, a repressed Baltimore woman who leads the local neighbourhood effort to stamp out all forms of “deviant” sexual behaviour. She is a self-proclaimed “neuter”, and hopes to convince others, including her exotic dancer daughter Ursula Udders (played by Selma Blair), back onto the straight and narrow by staging a “decency rally”. When she receives a blow to the head, her opinions are somehow completely overturned, and she joins Ray-Ray (Johnny Knoxville), a local mechanic and “sexual healer” in his campaign to spread free love amongst the citizens of Baltimore. ‘A Dirty Shame’ is a glorious celebration of kink, spreading the message that people should have the personal and political freedom to enjoy pleasure – however and wherever they may find it!
Tracey Ullman and Johnny Knoxville are hilarious in this movie and they are supported by Waters’ usual weird, wonderful characters. While some people may take offence at the subject matter, if you can look past the shock value, the film has a very serious point to make about censorship and morality. The film is available in all its uncensored NC-17 glory, and also in a heavily edited and fairly pointless R rated version – dubbed “The Neuter Version”.