Sunday, December 05, 2004
I have been dreading this letter for years. With each disappointing film (everything since Hairspray), I would rationalize putting the letter off with hopes for the next film. And I have seen each of them, and walked out on Cecil B. Demented, only to be talked into renting it on video a year later by my boyfriend Norberto, and I agreed, but only if he made us a batch of strong margaritas (Norberto makes killer margaritas!). And yes, I saw it to the end this time, and yes it's because of the margaritas, and we both moaned every ten minutes, and Norberto apologized at the end, and to this day porn is the only video I let him choose without a fight.
Anyway John, your latest film, The Dirtiest Secret, or Dirty Little Shame, or whatever the fuck you call it, was so stupid it doesn't warrant even remembering the title. What an awful fourteen hours that hour and a half felt like! I can't BELIEVE I sat all the way through it, but I can believe it's high time I wrote you this letter.
Listen, I'm fully aware of just how invaluable your earlier work was to my life. I was fifteen when I saw my first John Waters film. My friend Connie and I were walking by
the TLA Theater (or was it The Roxy?) in Philadelphia, on our way to trade pot for pills, and people were lining up to see Desperate Living. To be honest it was the crowd that attracted us, freaky, nasty, punky kids, and a couple of tall, vicious looking drag queens. The film wasn't new, the theater was having some kind of Favorite B Movie week, but I was from the country, and Connie from the suburbs, and neither of us even knew what a B Movie meant. Was B for Brilliant or Best? Judging by the crowd waiting to get in, we wagered it was Beastly, and we were joining the line. And we loved it, the deranged, impoverished slobs of Mortville, the weird lines, and equally weird plot.
Later that night we were getting high with friends and friends of friends who were fans of your work. These two guys I don't remember ever seeing again after that night were talking about growing up poor and knowing people like the ones in your films. And this incredible thing happened to me, I admitted to Connie and my friend Stan for the first time who I really was, where I had come from. They were both from a nice, clean suburban neighborhood, and both of their parents had been to college and drove Volvos and didn't get drunk and threaten to call the police on one another every night. Both Connie and Stan's parents were always making fun of the neighbors for not having enough class, and I was so embarrassed, especially considering that if their neighbors didn't have enough class, or anyone else in that neighborhood, there was no way they would approve of where I had come from. So I had lied, and said my mother was a graduate of Princeton, which was safe since neither Connie or Stan's parents had gone to Princeton.
But the true story was that my mother hadn't even finished high school, and was eighteen when I was four, and I have vivid memories of her washing my hair with hand soap from the dispensers in gas station restrooms, after sleeping in the back of the car because we had no place to live. And I remember one gas station attendant offering her $50 if he could be alone with me in the back room for 30 minutes. And I remember my mother throwing cans of Pepsi at him and screaming that she was going to kill him, and he gave her the $50 and bread and peanut butter to shut her up and get rid of us. And I remember eating my sandwich in the car while she drove away and I asked her, "Momma, why did you throw the Pepsi at him?" And she said, "BECAUSE I COULDN'T FIND ANYTHING SHARP ENOUGH TO STAB HIM WITH!" These accounts that night after seeing your movie John, well, they infuriated Connie and Stan, who never wanted anything to do with me again, but not because I had been poor, but because I had lied about not being poor, at least I guess that's why. I mean, Connie accused me of lying about being a liar, and it was the beginning of the end of a friendship based on lies.
Your earlier films help set me free and I am grateful to you for that. Not that they made me proud of where I came from, but they made it okay, and that it wasn't my fault. And that was a tremendous relief, and with that came all the insights of human behavior around poverty. For instance, when you're poor, some people really do think it's okay to do whatever they feel like doing to you, even other poor people, because you're seen as worthless, a zero, someone no one will ever miss. John, your earlier films champion the filth and crime of the poor as they struggle to survive.
And those earlier films are genius! Your later work though, John, it's just awful. Awful plots, awful writing, stupid gimmicks, and too many fucking movie stars. I'm not going to lie to you -- especially since you set me straight about lying years ago -- I do think I understand where you have gone wrong since Hairspray, which was your last great film (and even that wasn't nearly as good as Female Trouble, or Pink Flamingoes). First of all, back then you were surrounded by so much wicked genius you couldn't fail. I mean, c'mon, Divine! Edie Massey! Mink Stole! Cookie Mueller and others! They were who you were, they were you, and made you. Your earlier work had grit because these people WERE GRIT! Most of the core group from those days are dead now of course, and so is your inspiration. Not only that but you're seduced by Hollywood because Hollywood is seduced by you, and you've whored your essence to actors who couldn't do grit if you knocked their teeth out and made them eat Divine's famous dog turd even if it was so fresh that it hadn't yet hit the ground.
My advice to you is to back way the hell up, STOP using famous Hollywood "talent." Get back to your roots, get back to your real people, or are you too posh for that these days? Well GODDAMMIT DO IT ANYWAY! You've become a DISGRACE! And what I mean is that you've lost touch with disgrace! STOP writing these scripts of yours! Oh god, John, PLEASE stop writing right now! You need to find another group of genius, speed freak, dirty whores to inspire and drive your lines into wakefulness! The spiritual smut has left you John. I am truly sorry to have to tell you, but it's a fact.
Please, please, take my advice, because I will never again pay to see another one of your films. Not unless you find out what you've lost, and title the film It's Okay To Come Back Now Because I've Got My Dirty Little Mojo Back And This Is The Real Shit Again.
Much love, but tough love,