In anticipation of John Waters’ visit, FilmScene dives into ‘Deep Waters’

“Deep Waters” series

FilmScene — begins Wednesday, Sept. 14 at 10 p.m.

Divine in a screenshot from John Waters' 'Multiple Maniacs'
Divine in a screenshot from John Waters’ ‘Multiple Maniacs’

Filmmaker and raconteur John Waters is returning to the Englert Theatre for “Filthier & Dirtier,” a special one-night engagement co-sponsored by FilmScene on Saturday, Oct. 1 (tickets $35-100). Waters last performed at the Englert during the 2011 Mission Creek Festival. Now, the pope is returning to Iowa City to bless unsuspecting ticket-holders with his presence.

The non-profit FilmScene has anointed John Waters as their 2016 Cinema Savant, an annual award that they will be presenting to the auteur Oct. 1. To help celebrate, FilmScene will be screening four of Waters’ films from Sept. 14-24 (see full schedule below). The films Multiple Maniacs (1970; recently restored), Pink Flamingos (1972), Female Trouble (1974) and Polyester (1981; presented in odorama!) are some of the director’s earlier efforts and have been specially selected for the “Deep Waters” Series.

In the 1980s, Naked Lunch author William S. Burroughs christened him “the Pope of Trash” on the cover of Waters’ book Crackpot, adding that “his taste in tacky is unexcelled.” With John Waters’ iconoclastic status in Hollywood, millenials will most likely recognize his films Hairspray, Cry-Baby and Cecil B. Demented. Waters makes the kind of movies (all of which are set in Baltimore) that would almost never play in small Iowa towns, especially in Representative Steve King’s district.

Film historians usually point to the dark comedy Pink Flamingos as Waters’ magnum opus, a midnight movie as cheap as the plastic lawn ornaments implied by the title. What started as a “home movie” turned into a celluloid exhibit depicting, according to a FilmScene news release, the exploits that occur when “Notorious Baltimore criminal and underground figure Divine goes up against a sleazy married couple who make a passionate attempt to humiliate her and seize her tabloid-given title as ‘The Filthiest Person Alive.’”

The producers of the AMC channel series Movies That Shook the World lovingly dubbed the film, “A violent belch from the underground that shook America to its core.”

The competition between Divine and the Marbles demonstrates Waters’ prophetic abilities when it comes to pop culture, foreseeing the age of so-called “reality” television through a camera lens instead of a crystal ball. Since the film’s initial release, millions of dim American eyes have gazed at Jersey Shore, the Jerry Springer Show and Honey Boo-Boo.

The word-of-mouth success brought by Pink Flamingos helped launch Waters’ career as a professional filmmaker. This allowed him to paint his obscene (but amusing) art on a larger canvas (with bigger budgets). His successful 1988 big studio comedy, Hairspray, was later adapted for the Broadway stage in 2002 and won numerous Tony awards before the musical was itself adapted into a feature film in 2007.

Waters has been doing the Mark Twain thing for decades — lecturing on numerous subjects of questionable taste at universities and theaters around the country. He also works as a prolific author, essayist, movie critic (or, more appropriately, a cinematic contrarian) and documentary narrator.

In Waters’ essay “How to Become Famous,” published in the same 1987 collection, Crackpot: The Obsessions, that Burroughs lauded, he writes: “If you think about it, getting famous is easier than getting a job. And face facts, everybody wants to be famous. More than rich, more than happy, more than successful.”

Waters has been right on the mark in predicting the credo of 21st Century America.

Tickets for the “Deep Waters” series are $6.50–9.


Multiple Maniacs
Wednesday, Sept. 14, 10 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 16, 10:30 p.m.
Sunday, Sept. 18, 3:30 p.m.

Pink Flamingos
Wednesday, Sept. 21, 10 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 24, 3:30 p.m.

Female Trouble
Friday, Sept. 23, 10:30 p.m.
Sunday, Sept. 25. 3:30 p.m.

Wednesday, Sept. 28, 10 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 30, 10:30 p.m.

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