Why John Waters Returning To Directing Is A Big Deal

Every creative is unique, but there is truly no one on this earth quite like Baltimore filmmaker John Waters. The writer and director has been shocking audiences for decades with his tawdry tales of punk-rock perverts, though he hasn't directed a film since his 2004 sex comedy "A Dirty Shame." That itself is a dirty shame, as Waters is a talented filmmaker whose unusual perspective and deep love for his weirdo protagonists is a much-needed rebuttal to polite society. Waters inspired multiple generations to let their freak flags fly, and his movie-making absence over the past 18 years has been sorely felt, but all of that is about to change.

Waters is finally returning to filmmaking and will direct a feature adaptation of his novel, "Liarmouth: A Feel Bad Romance." Since the NC-17-rated "A Dirty Shame" is now old enough to go see itself in theaters, it's more than past time for the Pope of Trash to pick up his toilet-brush scepter and crap-covered crown and unleash filthy treasure upon us all one more. 

The shame of A Dirty Shame

Waters' final film before his hiatus was "A Dirty Shame," a riotously raunchy NC-17 sex comedy about Sylvia (Tracey Ullman), a middle-aged woman who has a sexual awakening after a bad concussion. Prior to her bump on the head, Sylvia was pretty prudish, but afterward, she's a sex-crazed maniac who just wants to help other people enjoy their own sexual fantasies. She even meets up with a kind of concussion-sex-Jesus played by Johnny Knoxville, and he helps her fix her relationship with her estranged daughter, Caprice (Selma Blair). "A Dirty Shame" is a celebration of kink, embracing the odd side of the erotic and relishing in the joy of it all. 

"A Dirty Shame" performed poorly, in part because its rating kept it out of theaters and in part because people in 2004 just weren't ready for something this sex-positive and silly. Waters was so dispirited by this that he abandoned filmmaking, which broke my teenage heart.

Waters' madcap movie was almost created for me, however, a 17-year-old in 2004 with a fascination for fetishes. I loved the movie so much that I showed it to everyone who would agree to watch, including my own mom, and relished in the gasps and giggles of the people I watched it with. Sure, "A Dirty Shame" is filthy, but it's also fun and full of love, which is what makes Waters movies so special. 

A loving look at the grotesque

Waters is perhaps most famous for his 1972 ode to going overboard, "Pink Flamingos." The film ends with its star and frequent Waters collaborator Divine (pictured above) eating handfuls of genuine dog feces on camera. That's far from the most disgusting thing in the movie, but for whatever reason, it's the bit that people remember. (I think the "singing anus" is far grosser, but what do I know?) 

Waters early career was a refutation of high art, purposely creating the most low-brow and uncomfortable experience possible. His early films like "Female Trouble," "Multiple Maniacs," and "Dangerous Living" all followed the same group of performers who worked with Waters and called themselves the Dreamlanders, and while they are truly demented, the love that the Dreamlanders have for one another is evident in every frame. How else would they be able to perform such degrading acts and seem to be delighted by it? 

Just as there's a lot of love between the cast on Waters films, the director has a great deal of affection for his players. He's given them all the chance to play a wide variety of roles, and in the case of Divine, even wrote a film that gave her the kind of role most drag queens could only ever dream of.

A queer cinema icon

Divine, who was born Harris Glenn Milstead, was a drag performer who loved exaggerated and garish gender exploration, but he also wanted a chance to be seen as beautiful. While Milstead (who, according to the documentary "I Am Divine" was not transgender but saw his drag as a persona) was great at hamming it up and going way too far, Waters wanted to give him a chance to simply be a performer. In the 1981 film "Polyester," Divine stars as Francine, a suburban housewife whose husband runs a porno theater. Francine is the opposite of Divine's previous characters: she's a loving mother, a faithful wife, and a zealous Christian. Finally, she gets fed up with her husband and demands a divorce, then falls in love with the handsome Todd Tomorrow (Tab Hunter.) 

On top of the divine casting of Divine as a sweet suburban housewife, casting Tab Hunter as a heartthrob was a bit of brilliance. Hunter was an actor famous for playing a ladies man in the 1950s movies "Polyester" was riffing on. Not only that, but Hunter was a closeted gay man, keeping his sexuality secret from Hollywood in order to keep his career. Hunter eventually came out of the closet with his memoir in 2005, but Waters gave him a chance to be a part of queer cinema history with "Polyester." Divine and Hunter got along so well, they even did another film together called "Lust in the Dust" in 1985. Waters, a very openly gay man, has made space for queer performers in indie cinema, giving them chances that Hollywood wouldn't.

Demented forever!

The love that Waters has for his cast and crew also extends to the characters he writes about. The characters in his films are a motley collection of freaks, geeks, and weirdos, but he treats them all as if they're just as worthy as cinematic attention as James Bond or Superman. His characters can be good or evil, ranging from the homicidal homemaker played by Kathleen Turner at the center of "Serial Mom" to the heavyset teenager fighting segregation in "Hairspray," but he gives them all a kind of fatherly love. People who have felt like outcasts can find a lot to love in Waters' work, as he makes the people who live on the fringes the center of the story. 

"Cecil B. Demented" was the first John Waters film I ever saw, and it's my favorite movie of all time. "Cecil B. Demented" follows the cracked crew of a "guerilla" film, working under the direction of the self-named Cecil B. Demented (Stephen Dorff). It's a roast of popular cinema that makes fun of big-budget blockbusters and the MPAA with abandon, but it also makes sure not to let the film fanatics get away without a little loving ribbing, too. "Cecil B. Demented" gave me the blueprint for my own love of cinema, and helped give me permission to let my freak flag fly as a weirdo teenager living in suburban Georgia. 

Waters may be the "Pope of Trash," but he's also the patron saint of the pleasantly perverted, embracing sexuality, smashing gender norms, and allowing people to shine at their most authentic. I can't wait to see what he has in store with "Liarmouth," and hopefully introduce a whole new generation to my favorite filthy filmmaker.